Project : East west rail - Oxford to Cambridge

Publication date 04 December 2020
Substantial revision 30 November 2021; Minor revision 17 January 2022

Oxford to Cambridge : east west rail in Hertfordshire

This is part three of our review into travel by rail in the Oxford to Cambridge arc.

As also in part two, much of our focus will be on the Abbey line. This is a single-track line, permitting a train either in the direction Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey or in the opposite direction but not both at the same time. Indeed the current service is provided by a single train.

There is a substantial change in our thinking commencing with the section "Updated summary diagrammatic map". East west rail at Watford becomes an option rather than a current proposal and is subsequently regarded as no more than a future possibility. Some readers may prefer to do no more than skim-read up to that point.

We commence with the revised summary diagrammatic map included in part two. We will further update this diagrammatic map later.

Drawings (diagrammatic maps) are displayed full size for clarity.


Revised summary southern option for Oxford to Cambridge arc central section

The final paragraphs of our part two conclusions are reproduced here.

We are proposing east west rail at Watford i.e. Rickmansworth to the Abbey line and a new line from Stevenage to Harlow Town. Of the options available to enable east west rail from Rickmansworth/Watford to Harlow, an extension of the Abbey line from St Albans Abbey via London Colney to Hatfield provides an interchange with Midland Main Line (MML) services and does not depend on the availability of paths on the MML. This extension of the Abbey line, coloured green on the diagrammatic map above, would seem to be the best option and is therefore our proposal.

We propose an extension of the Abbey line from St Albans Abbey via London Colney to Hatfield. We are also proposing east west rail at Watford i.e. Rickmansworth to the Abbey line and a new line from Stevenage to Harlow Town.

Railway lines are expensive and a new railway line is a significant proposition. Railway lines can be planned in advance by planning and safeguarding a route prior to any decision to proceed. Thus for example Crossrail was planned and safeguarded decades ago. We therefore propose :
i) that an extension of the Abbey line from St Albans Abbey via London Colney to Hatfield be planned and safeguarded;
ii) that a new line from Stevenage to Harlow Town be planned and safeguarded.

These proposals are the key outputs resulting from our research published in parts one and two. It is possible to follow the essence of our current thinking purely by reading this part, part three. Reading all three parts is only for stalwarts. In all cases, we would suggest commencing by reading this part, part three.

Part one : Oxford to Cambridge by rail : southern options for the central section

Part two : Oxford to Cambridge : east west rail at Watford

Parts one and two can also be accessed via List of articles

Radlett SRFI

Radlett Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) i.e. freight terminal on the former Radlett aerodrome site was discussed in parts one and two.

We will discuss co-existence between an extension of the Abbey line and the proposed Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett aerodrome site.

Radlett SRFI as proposed can be assessed by viewing the illustrative masterplan provided by the proposers Illustrative Masterplan who have also made available a site location plan Site Location Plan (both open in a new window or tab). These were also referenced in part one. It may be worthwhile to keep the first of these open whilst reading the following.

In light blue on our diagrammatic map above we have shown Thameslink via St Pancras and we can compare this with the connection to the MML required for Radlett SRFI with a new bridge over the MML. At the point that we designed the connection in light blue this was on the assumption that Radlett SRFI would not proceed, however we now find ourselves considering the potential for co-existence between an extension of the Abbey line to Hatfield and Radlett SRFI. It seems reasonable to attempt to align our connection in light blue with the connection required for Radlett SRFI. We now need to align the other parts of the infrastructure.

As illustrated below, a new rail link connecting Watford to Hatfield, coloured red, would cross the site of Radlett SRFI. It takes inspiration from the dismantled rail link from the Abbey line to the MML at Napsbury but turns to the east. Connecting directly onto the Midland Main Line (MML) overbridge as proposed for Radlett SRFI, it is clear this would imply a significant redesign of the plans for the SRFI. The overbridge would need to accommodate dual track.

A new rail link connecting Watford to Bedford, envisaged as enabling an Oxford to Cambridge service via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans (City) and Bedford, would cross the site of Radlett SRFI. This also takes inspiration from the dismantled rail link from the Abbey line to the MML at Napsbury. It is clear this would imply a significant redesign of the plans for the SRFI. There are a number of alternatives. We have illustrated two, of which the northern would be less disruptive to the current plans for the SRFI.

For either or both of these rail links, cut and cover might be considered prior to construction of the SRFI, although matters to examine would include rail gradients. We will not further examine cut and cover.

We are proposing an extension of the Abbey line from St Albans Abbey via London Colney to Hatfield, coloured green above and below. This would seem to co-exist with the plans for Radlett SRFI as currently envisaged. We did not engineer this, rather we observed it. This also would connect directly onto the MML overbridge as proposed for the SRFI, albeit dual track, but would not seem to imply change to the design of buildings as currently envisaged. As a first approximation the extension of the Abbey line might be located along the north eastern boundary of the SRFI i.e. form the boundary.

Napsbury Interchange as an MML interchange station as illustrated above would require car parking and presumably an access road from the A414. This would need to co-exist with Radlett SRFI which would, as proposed, be immediately adjacent. The access road from the A414 would potentially be shared with access to the SRFI.

At this point we observe an issue with Napsbury Interchange as proposed. The new track in the vicinity of the new bridge over the MML is not straight, albeit required for straight platforms. This is therefore not a suitable location for a station. This prompted a search for an alternative location. We decided to add a connection from St Albans (City) onto the green-coloured line and locate the new station south of this and which we have named Napsbury Lane. The results are now illustrated. Included is an illustration of the site masterplan for Radlett SRFI as proposed i.e. the shaded area.

In light blue we have shown the connection from the MML enabling a freight train into Radlett SRFI. This is as proposed and as illustrated on the illustrative masterplan referenced earlier.

A possible new station Watford Parade (or Watford Pond) on a tunnelled connection from Watford (Met) to Watford Junction, this as an alternative to the Croxley rail link also known as the Metropolitan Line Extension, was outlined in part two section "Rickmansworth to the Midland Main Line".

We have shown east west rail services via Watford Junction as described in part two. These are Oxford to Cambridge, Oxford to Stansted Airport and a Crossrail or Crossrail 2 circular service via Reading.

Extending the Abbey line : east west services at Watford Junction also co-existence with Radlett SRFI

The new station Napsbury Lane would be an interchange station. Some MML services might call at Napsbury Lane by turning off the MML between Radlett and St Albans (City), pass over the MML and then turn back on. As a preferable alternative, platforms on the MML itself could be considered. East west services via St Albans Abbey would also call at Napsbury Lane. Services via the red-coloured line from Watford to Hatfield would call neither at St Albans Abbey nor at Napsbury Lane.

Napsbury Lane is potentially located to the north of the A414 North Orbital road. As an interchange station, it is possible the station would not be designed for journeys commencing by car i.e. there would be limited or no car parking at the station. Alternatively a parkway station might be provided; this would need to be determined.

Napsbury Lane and Shenley Lane form the B5378. They provide a full interchange with the A414 in both directions.

Satellite view https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.7310299,-0.3158889,500m/data=!3m1!1e3

There would therefore seem to be the opportunity for an interchange at Napsbury Lane with buses on the A414. North of the station, Napsbury Lane joins Mile House Lane and which passes beneath the MML. Traffic lights added at the bridge would, we estimate, permit single-deck buses to use this route. Thus buses both eastbound and westbound on the A414 turning off to call at Napsbury Lane station, continuing via Mile House Lane and London Road to the City centre then return to the A414 : no purpose in these buses calling at the City station since Napsbury Lane provides the MML interchange.

It is possible that the capacity for vehicles turning on to the A414 in either direction from the B5378 is limited and that it would be undesireable for rail passengers to alight at Napsbury Lane, get into cars and potentially form a queue to turn on to the A414. To avoid this, perhaps exit from the station would be northbound only.

Connection to St Pancras

In light blue we have shown the connection from the MML enabling a freight train into the freight terminal. This is as proposed for freight. It is likely that a northbound freight train i.e. down from London on the down slow line would use a crossing on to the up to London slow line and then on to the connection to the freight terminal, i.e. a flat connection. Whilst a flat connection would be sufficient, we presume, for occasional freight trains, there are scenarios in which we envisage the connection also in use for passenger services. We suggest a flat connection would not be sufficient for passenger services. This implies that the design of the connection on to the MML would need to be updated. Possibly the up slow line would be realigned with the connecting line to the freight terminal crossing the up slow by means of an overbridge.

We have proposed three east west rail services via Watford Junction. These are Oxford to Cambridge, Oxford to Stansted Airport and a Crossrail or Crossrail 2 circular service via Reading. A service via St Pancras would be in addition.

St Albans Abbey & City

We have noted that a new rail link connecting Watford to Bedford, envisaged as enabling an Oxford to Cambridge service via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans (City) and Bedford, would cross the site of Radlett SRFI. As an alternative we might consider a link between St Albans Abbey and St Albans (City), coloured dark blue above. Essentially this would provide equivalent connectivity albeit via St Albans Abbey. We discussed such a link in part two, however the context here is different : because we are now specifically proposing an extension of the Abbey line from St Albans Abbey to Hatfield, any link between St Albans Abbey and St Albans (City) would co-exist with the extension of the Abbey line from St Albans Abbey to Hatfield.

In construction terms, this would need to be assessed. Another matter is that the connection on to the MML would be flat since we have been unable to find any alternative. This connection would be onto the western-most pair of lines and which are the MML fast lines.

We have proposed three east west rail services via Watford Junction. These are Oxford to Cambridge, Oxford to Stansted Airport and a Crossrail or Crossrail 2 circular service via Reading. If all three of these services ran via St Albans Abbey and each operated as a 2 trains per hour (tph) service, platforming at St Albans Abbey would need to be evaluated.

We have noted in part two that although there is potential to upgrade much of the Abbey line to dual track, this would not be feasible north of How Wood until the approach to St Albans Abbey. It is clear that 6 trains per hour in each direction i.e. 12 trains per hour in total could not be accommodated on this single track section. Possibly the Oxford to Cambridge service and the Oxford to Stansted Airport service could operate as a single train from Oxford to St Albans Abbey where the train would divide to provide a service to Cambridge and a service to Stansted Airport. In the opposite direction, a train from Cambridge and a train from Stansted Airport would be attached at St Albans Abbey to form a single train to Oxford. This would introduce operational complexity and we doubt any such proposal would be well received.

Nevertheless with Oxford to Cambridge and Oxford to Stansted Airport operating as a single train on this single track section in addition to a Crossrail or Crossrail 2 circular service via Reading, each 2 trains per hour, there would be 4 trains per hour in each direction i.e. 8 trains per hour on the single track section. Even this would be difficult to accommodate and so we might envisage one of these services only operating as a 1 train per hour service.

The means of escape, as it were, is the red-coloured line from Watford to Hatfield which enables some services to not be routed via St Albans Abbey.

South West Herts 2018 Growth and Transport Plan

Hertfordshire County Council's South West Herts Growth and Transport Plan July 2018 is available here : Referenced papers and reports


South West Herts 2018 Growth and Transport Plan package 4

Package 4 on pages 25 and 26, illustrated above, considers the St Albans to Watford corridor. This includes an Abbey line "Park and Rail" Hub, ref SM13, with several alternatives. This is also referenced on page 118 of Hertfordshire County Council's A414 corridor strategy technical report, reference below.

Our proposals render this hub redundant. It is replaced by Napsbury Lane since, if Napsbury Lane is located in proximity to the A414, it can also provide an interchange for buses on the A414.

On page 25, ref SM16b includes a downgrade of the A405 with reallocation of 1 lane in each direction to buses only. This enables buses to compete with the Abbey line.

Also in the South West Herts 2018 Growth and Transport Plan, package 7 on page 34, ref SM23a,b are two alternatives for a new bridge over the Abbey line in the vicinity of Watford Junction. It seems odd to hypothesise building this bridge when it is unclear why the bridge is being built. How much disruption would there be to the Abbey line train service during construction ?

Cottonmill Lane crossing of the Abbey line

Page 126 of Hertfordshire County Council's A414 corridor strategy technical report refers to a new bridge over the Abbey line and which is illustrated on page 128. This would be as a replacement for the crossing at Cottonmill Lane. There is opposition to the proposal to close this crossing with a replacement path beside the line that would add to journey times. This matter needs to be resolved and a new bridge would seem to be the means to do so.

The A414 corridor strategy technical report is available here : Referenced papers and reports

Updated summary diagrammatic map

There is a substantial change in our thinking from this point. East west rail at Watford becomes an option rather than a current proposal and is subsequently regarded as no more than a future possibility.

Let us now update our summary diagrammatic map. In our part two conclusions, we discounted a Luton to Stevenage rail corridor and we take the opportunity to remove this corridor.

We add that the former Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable and Dunstable to Luton railway lines would have formed the starting point for a Luton to Stevenage rail corridor, however the conversion of Dunstable to Luton to a busway renders a Luton - Stevenage rail corridor implausible. These former lines can be viewed by zooming in on the interactive historic map at interactive historic map (opens in new window or tab).

In part two section "St Albans Abbey to Hatfield corridor" we suggested it would be reasonable to extend the Dunstable to Luton busway to Stevenage. In part one section "Welwyn and Stevenage to Luton" we noted there may be a good case for providing a busway directly both from Welwyn to Luton and from Stevenage to Luton. These extensions of the Dunstable to Luton busway are not specifically illustrated.

Napsbury Interchange is replaced by Napsbury Lane and with a connection from St Albans (City).

We have retained direct links between St Albans Abbey and City, between Watford Junction and St Albans (City) and between Watford and London Colney, the latter as coloured red. These are as discussed.

We have added to the Bedford - Tempsford - Cambridge line a facility for services from Bedford to join the ECML at Tempsford. Potential rail services are listed later and this will be useful for a number of these.

We have added chords between Bletchley and Luton, between Arlesey and Letchworth and between Welham Green and London Colney. These are discussed later.

We take the opportunity to clarify that Welwyn station is Welwyn Garden City (WGC) and that Letchworth is Letchworth Garden City.

We have not illustrated the original Bedford to Cambridge line, known as the Varsity line. By reference to more detailed maps, this ran from south of Bedford St Johns eastwards connecting to the ECML at Sandy, through Potton to the southern edge of Gamlingay, south of Longstowe, north of Kingston, the southern edge of Toft, then what is now the track of the travelling telescope, then what is now the Trumpington busway, connecting directly into Cambridge station. In contrast with the route proposed for the second Bedford to Cambridge line, the original did not require paths (space/time slots) on the Hitchin - Cambridge line. Useful maps : streetmap.co.uk and openstreetmap.org


East west rail in Hertfordshire and environs with Napsbury Lane
Bletchley to Luton

In both parts one and two we referred to a 2009 discussion paper "East West Rail Central Section - Operating Case" and which is available here : Referenced papers and reports

This discussed a Bletchley to Luton chord where it is known as the Stewartby chord : section 4.36 on page 27 and figure 4.2.

Arlesey to Letchworth

For an Arlesey to Letchworth link, it is worthwhile to zoom in at openstreetmap.org

Extending the Abbey line : new station at Napsbury Lane or London Colney

Later we will specifically propose a new line from St Albans Abbey and from St Albans City via London Colney to Hatfield. Here we discuss possible interim proposals. Some readers may prefer to do no more than skim-read this section.

Let us consider an initial implementation of an extension of the Abbey line to a new Midland Main Line (MML) station Napsbury Lane with a line to Hatfield via London Colney as a future project. This is illustrated below.


The Abbey line extended to the Midland Main Line

We calculate that a service every 30 minutes between Napsbury Lane and Watford Junction via St Albans Abbey can be provided by two trains with three drivers. The service changes direction at St Albans Abbey. A driver disembarks from the train southbound from St Albans Abbey towards Watford and boards the northbound train, the two platforms forming a central island. There is one driver on board at Watford and two at St Albans Abbey and Napsbury Lane where a driver is located at each end of the train to enable prompt turnround, particularly at St Albans Abbey where the train is in service. A less frequent service, for example off peak, can be provided by two drivers rather than three.

An additional station stop on the MML is a disadvantage. We now illustrate an alternative with the Abbey line extended to London Colney. The line to London Colney is planned as a through line, that is, London Colney station is located to permit a future line extension to Hatfield.


The Abbey line extended to London Colney

In this scenario there is no additional station stop on the MML. A service is envisaged as follows : Watford Junction and intermediate station stops to St Albans Abbey where the train changes direction, London Colney where the train changes direction, St Albans City. The service might continue further northwards but let us consider the case where the service terminates at St Albans City. There is a siding immediately to the north of St Albans City (zoom in at openstreetmap.org, also visit https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Midland-main-line-st-albans.jpg) which is, or was, used by a Thameslink service terminating at St Albans City and enabling the train to change direction. This Thameslink service would change e.g. by continuing further northwards, freeing the siding for use by our local service from Watford Junction.

There are several points to note concerning our hypothesised local service. Firstly, it is not primarily envisaged as providing an end-to-end service between Watford Junction and St Albans City since there is no reason to prioritise provision for any such connection. This is for two reasons: (i) for travel between Watford and St Albans by train, it suffices to arrive at St Albans Abbey, there being several choices for walking to the city centre, not necessarily up Holywell Hill. A choice is via Verulam Park opposite the station and turning north to walk past the Abbey. This is a particularly pleasant walk. The journey can also be made by minor roads. There is also a bus service between Watford and St Albans; (ii) Watford residents wishing to travel by Thameslink have the option of an existing bus service to Radlett. This takes approximately 30 minutes and is faster than travelling by bus to St Albans City, details at intalink.org.uk

Our hypothesised local service does not primarily provide an end-to-end service between Watford Junction and St Albans City, although the service may continue further northwards from St Albans City. Envisaged as operating every 30 minutes, it provides a service every 30 minutes between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey and which has been a subject of discussion for some years as a desireable improvement on the current service. Somewhat separately but as part of the same service, it provides a train service for London Colney to St Albans City and to Watford Junction via St Albans Abbey. If this were the only service at London Colney, passengers would change at St Albans City for Thameslink.

It is possible that there could be a Thameslink service to London Colney, changing direction either at St Albans City or, less likely, at St Albans Abbey.

We calculate our hypothesised local service operating every 30 minutes would require 4 trains. It has to be borne in mind that a train leaving London Colney and connecting on to the MML may be subject to delay, therefore the service timings cannot be tight. Time has to be allowed for changing direction at St Albans City when the train was delayed connecting on to the MML, so as not to continue running late.

Our hypothesised local service would be regarded as an interim solution pending full extension of the Abbey line via London Colney to Hatfield. This local service would then no longer operate, to be replaced by other services. It is possible that there would no longer be a direct rail service between Watford Junction and St Albans City. As indicated above, there is no reason to prioritise provision of a rail service between Watford Junction and St Albans City i.e. as a direct service. The journey would be made by changing trains.

We take the opportunity to note that Radlett SRFI builds over the dismantled rail link from the Abbey line to the MML at Napsbury and without evaluation. This would be, or would have been, useful for services via Watford Junction and St Albans City and is distinct from the case of local travel purely between Watford Junction and St Albans City : just a note in passing.

We have discussed an initial implementation of an extension of the Abbey line with either a new station Napsbury Lane or a new station London Colney. Both stations would be possible, in which case the first or our two illustrations applies but with London Colney as a new station rather than a future station.

Potential rail services

There is a wide range of potential rail services using the network illustrated in section "Updated summary diagrammatic map". Let us attempt to list at least some of them. Readers may be able to find others.

Note 1. These services change direction at Stevenage. Of the services listed, we would not expect more than one service in each direction every 30 minutes to change direction at Stevenage i.e. for travel via Knebworth and Watton at Stone. Such a service would make use of platform 5 and a new platform 0, on the assumption that the Hertford loop service currently terminating at Stevenage platform 5 would no longer use this platform, for example by continuing further northwards. This note applies to services 1, 2, 9, 10, 22, 23, 25, 1a, 2a, 16a, 16b, 16c, 21a, 21b, 21c, 26a, 27a, 28a.

Note 2. These services are routed via Watford Junction and St Albans City requiring infrastructure for Rickmansworth to Watford Junction and for east west rail at Watford. A direct link to St Albans City is obstructed by Radlett SRFI as currently planned. This note applies to services 4, 5, 12, 4a.

Note 3. These services require a facility at Watford Junction to change direction between Hemel Hempstead on the WCML and the Abbey line : no such facility exists currently. This note applies to services 26a, 27a, 28a.

Note 4. These services require infrastructure for Rickmansworth to Watford Junction and for east west rail at Watford. Unlike note 2, they are not routed via St Albans City. They are routed via London Colney. This note applies to services 1, 6, 9, 1a.

Note 5. Crossrail or Crossrail 2 circular services are discussed in our article Crossrail, or Crossrail 2, circular service via Reading This note applies to services 9, 10, 11, 12.


1. Oxford to Stansted Airport via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, London Colney, Stevenage and Harlow. This service changes direction at Stevenage - note 1. Note 4.

2. Oxford to Stansted Airport via Bletchley, Luton, London Colney, Stevenage and Harlow. This service changes direction at Stevenage - note 1.

3. Oxford to Stansted Airport via Bletchley, Bedford, Sandy, Stevenage and Harlow.

4. Oxford to Stansted Airport via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans City, Bedford, Sandy, Stevenage and Harlow. Note 2.

5. Oxford to Cambridge via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans City, Bedford and Tempsford. Note 2.

6. Oxford to Cambridge via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, London Colney, Stevenage and Letchworth. Note 4.

7. Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Luton, St Albans, London Colney, Stevenage and Letchworth.

8. Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Bedford and Tempsford.

9. Crossrail/2 circular service via Watford Junction, London Colney, Stevenage and Broxbourne. This service changes direction at Stevenage - note 1. Note 4, note 5.

10. Crossrail/2 circular service via Bletchley, Luton, London Colney, Stevenage and Broxbourne. This service changes direction at Stevenage - note 1. Note 5.

11. Crossrail/2 circular service via Bletchley, Bedford, Sandy, Stevenage and Broxbourne. Note 5.

12. Crossrail/2 circular service via Watford Junction, St Albans City, Bedford, Sandy, Stevenage and Broxbourne. Note 2, note 5.

13. Hertford loop service, currently terminating at Stevenage platform 5, extended via Sandy, Bedford and Bletchley to Oxford. Opportunity for travel between Oxford and Cambridge by changing at Hitchin. Provides an ECML regional interchange for Oxford at Stevenage. This frees up Stevenage platform 5 for use by a service changing direction at Stevenage.

14. Oxford to Peterborough via Bletchley and Bedford. Necessitates a west-to-north connection on to the ECML, not illustrated. Travel between Oxford and Cambridge by changing at Peterborough. Provides an ECML regional interchange for Oxford at Peterborough.

15. Thameslink via Radlett to London Colney changing direction at St Albans Abbey, Napsbury Lane or St Albans City.

16. Thameslink via Radlett and London Colney changing direction at St Albans Abbey, Napsbury Lane or St Albans City continuing via Hatfield. Destination not specified. Includes services 16a, 16b, 16c below : intended in conjunction with a local service from Watford.

17. Thameslink via Welham Green, London Colney and St Albans City to Bedford. Extensions of this service via Sandy, Stevenage and Broxbourne or Harlow with some similarity to services 16a, 16b, 16c could be added : these extensions potentially intended in conjunction with a local service from Watford but considered unlikely.

18. Thameslink via St Albans City to Bedford extended via Tempsford to Cambridge. We have reservations about this service, discussed later.

19. Thameslink via St Albans City to Bedford extended via Sandy and Stevenage to be a circular service.

20. Thameslink to Oxford via Luton and Bletchley.

21. Thameslink via Welham Green to Stevenage, continuing via Watton at Stone and Ware. Consists of services 21a, 21b, 21c below. These services change direction at Stevenage - note 1.

22. Service between Bedford and Harlow, via Luton, St Albans, London Colney, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage and Hertford East. This service changes direction at Stevenage - note 1. Alternatives are service 2 or 2a.

23. Service between Watford Junction and Welwyn Garden City. Watford Junction and intermediate stations to St Albans Abbey, London Colney, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City. This service changes direction at St Albans Abbey. With Watton at Stone to Hertford East, continues via Stevenage and Watton at Stone to Hertford East, changing direction at Stevenage - note 1. With Ware to Harlow, continues to Harlow, changing direction at Hertford East. This service could be extended to be Euston to Stansted Airport.

24. Service via Aylesbury, Bletchley and Luton. Possibly a Thameslink service to Watford Junction via Luton, Bletchley, Aylesbury and Rickmansworth.

25. Extension of the current Hertford East service to Stevenage by changing direction at Hertford East. This service could then change direction at Stevenage, note 1, and continue via Welwyn Garden City, London Colney and St Albans Abbey to Watford Junction. This service could continue beyond Watford Junction to Euston, providing an "out and back" service between Liverpool Street and Euston via Hertfordshire towns. This possesses similarities to service 23.

26. Service between Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Hertford North. This service takes into account that Hertfordshire County Council is headquartered in Hertford with satellite sites in Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead. Consists of services 26a, 26b below. Alternatively, a bus or coach service could be provided between Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Hertford North.

27. Service between Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Broxbourne. Consists of services 27a, 27b below. These are variations of services 26a, 26b.

28. Service between Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Harlow. Consists of services 28a, 28b below. These are variations of services 26a, 26b.

The following four services are Oxford to Stansted Airport services via Harlow modified to run to Cambridge instead of to Stansted Airport. They are modified versions of services 1 to 4.

1a. Oxford to Cambridge via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, London Colney, Stevenage and Harlow. This service changes direction at Stevenage - note 1. Note 4.

2a. Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Luton, London Colney, Stevenage and Harlow. This service changes direction at Stevenage - note 1.

3a. Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Bedford, Sandy, Stevenage and Harlow.

4a. Oxford to Cambridge via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans City, Bedford, Sandy, Stevenage and Harlow. Note 2.

Services 16a, 16b, 16c are Thameslink services via Radlett. In addition to changing direction at St Albans Abbey, Napsbury Lane or St Albans City, these services change direction at Stevenage - note 1.

16a. Thameslink via Radlett, London Colney, Stevenage and Broxbourne returning to London, perhaps Stratford or Liverpool Street.

16b. Thameslink via Radlett, London Colney and Stevenage, changing direction at Broxbourne (or vicinity) for Harlow and Stansted Airport or Cambridge.

16c. Thameslink via Radlett, London Colney, Stevenage and Harlow to Stansted Airport or Cambridge.

Service 21 consists of services 21a, 21b, 21c. These services change direction at Stevenage - note 1.

21a. Thameslink via Welham Green, Stevenage and Broxbourne returning to London, perhaps Stratford or Liverpool Street.

21b. Thameslink via Welham Green and Stevenage, changing direction at Broxbourne (or vicinity) for Harlow and Stansted Airport or Cambridge.

21c. Thameslink via Welham Green, Stevenage and Harlow to Stansted Airport or Cambridge.

Service 26 consists of services 26a, 26b.

26a. Hemel Hempstead, Watford Junction and intermediate stations to St Albans Abbey, London Colney, Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage, Hertford North. This requires a facility at Watford Junction to change direction between the WCML and the Abbey line : no such facility exists currently - note 3. This service also changes direction at Stevenage - note 1.

26b. Hemel Hempstead, Bletchley, Bedford, Tempsford, Sandy, Stevenage, Hertford North.

Service 27 consists of services 27a, 27b.

27a. Hemel Hempstead, Watford Junction and intermediate stations to St Albans Abbey, London Colney, Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage, Hertford East, Ware, Broxbourne. This requires a facility at Watford Junction to change direction between the WCML and the Abbey line : no such facility exists currently - note 3. This service also changes direction at St Albans Abbey, at Stevenage - note 1 and at Hertford East.

27b. Hemel Hempstead, Bletchley, Bedford, Tempsford, Sandy, Stevenage, Hertford East, Ware, Broxbourne.

Service 28 consists of services 28a, 28b.

28a. Hemel Hempstead, Watford Junction and intermediate stations to St Albans Abbey, London Colney, Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage, Hertford East, Ware, Harlow. This requires a facility at Watford Junction to change direction between the WCML and the Abbey line : no such facility exists currently - note 3. This service also changes direction at St Albans Abbey, Stevenage - note 1 and at Hertford East.

28b. Hemel Hempstead, Bletchley, Bedford, Tempsford, Sandy, Stevenage, Hertford East, Ware, Harlow.


Regional ECML services via Stevenage and Broxbourne to Liverpool Street or Stratford are within scope of our project : "ECML two track section between Knebworth and Welwyn". Such services are not considered here.

The following have not been included :
Oxford services via Hertfordshire towns returning to Oxford.
Cambridge services via Hertfordshire towns returning to Cambridge.
Cambridge to Stansted Airport via Hertfordshire towns.
Western circular service Bletchley, Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans City, Luton, Bletchley. Note 2.
Eastern circular service Bedford, Luton, London Colney, Stevenage, Sandy, Bedford.
Figure of 8 service by combining the above two services.
Outer circular service Bletchley, Aylesbury, Watford Junction, London Colney, Stevenage, Sandy, Bedford, Bletchley.
No doubt there are others.

The line between Tempsford and Cambridge is used by services 5, 8, 18.

The line eastwards from Bedford joining the ECML at Tempsford for Stevenage is used by services 3, 4, 11, 12, 13, extensions to 17, 19, 3a, 4a, 26b, 27b, 28b.

The chord between Bletchley and Luton is used by services 2, 7, 10, 20, 24, 2a.

The Marston Vale line i.e. the line between Bletchley and Bedford is used by services 3, 8, 11, 3a, 26b, 27b, 28b.

Direct travel between Luton Airport Parkway and Stansted Airport is provided by services 2, 4.

Direct travel between Aylesbury and Luton is provided by services 4, 5, 12, 4a, 24. Note 2 applies to all of these except service 24.

Passenger rail study phase two

We referenced England's Economic Heartland (EEH) Passenger Rail Study Phase One in part two. EEH has now published Passenger Rail Study Phase Two, available here : Referenced papers and reports

The Passenger Rail Study Phase Two can be compared with the work by consultants Atkins in 2014, which was discussed in parts one and two of our research. There are two immediate differences (i) Passenger Rail Study Phase Two embraces a significantly larger geographic area; (ii) Passenger Rail Study Phase Two includes journey pairs (or passenger flows) for which there is already an existing train service, specifically excluded by Atkins in 2014.

Both the research by Atkins published in 2014 and the research by EEH published in July 2021 indicate for each pair of towns the value of a direct rail link between them. Atkins refers to those of greatest economic value as very high priority journey pairs, the next ranking being high priority journey pairs. EEH refers to those of greatest economic value as high value flows, the next ranking being medium value flows.

Noting the differences between the work by Atkins and this EEH Rail Study Phase Two, it is worthwhile to keep studies such as this in perspective. For example, it would be possible to ask what percentage of currently-undertaken journeys are not listed : we think the percentage would be reasonably high.

Passenger Rail Study Phase Two shortlists a total of 36 flows and which are listed in that document in tables 11, 12 and 13. An illustration of all 36 flows is included as figure 6 on page 21 and reproduced below.

Map by EEH of high and medium value flows

Passenger Rail Study Phase Two Figure 6. Map of high and medium value flows. Dark blue denotes high value flows and light blue denotes medium value flows.

Our proposals for east west rail in Hertfordshire can be evaluated against the high and medium value flows in the phase 2 study. We have only considered services 1 to 12 of our list in section "Potential rail services". We have provided this in a pdf-format document as two tables : The value of east west rail in Hertfordshire (pdf format, opens in new window or tab).

We suggest that our proposals for east west rail in Hertfordshire provide a good response to the EEH phase two study.

St Albans to Hatfield

Let us now consider the merits of a line from St Albans Abbey and from St Albans City to Hatfield in terms of the services that can be provided. This is distinct from section "Extending the Abbey line : new station at Napsbury Lane or London Colney" where we discussed an extension of the Abbey line either to Napsbury Lane or to London Colney but initially no further.

We are here assuming that east west rail at Watford is a future possibility and therefore there are no through services via Watford at this point. The list of potential rail services is reduced.

The EEH phase two high and medium value flows that are most relevant to us can be listed from the first table in our above pdf-format document : The value of east west rail in Hertfordshire.

For Northampton - Oxford, a service from Oxford to Watford Junction might be considered if Rickmansworth were to be connected to Watford Junction.

For Cambridge - Manchester, the only option in this context is to change at Bletchley although a service from Watford Junction to Cambridge might be considered for which there is a route via the Abbey line and London Colney or a route via the WCML and Bletchley.

Any Cambridge - Oxford service could continue to Bristol, Reading or Southampton and therefore we have omitted Cambridge - Bristol, Cambridge - Reading, Cambridge - Southampton.

The remaining high and medium value flows are:
St Albans - Stevenage,
Aylesbury - Luton,
Cambridge - St Albans,
Oxford - St Albans.

It is obvious that three of these flows can be satisfied by service 7, Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Luton, St Albans City, London Colney, Stevenage and Letchworth. These flows are St Albans - Stevenage, Cambridge - St Albans, Oxford - St Albans.

For Aylesbury - Luton, if there is a service between Aylesbury and Bletchley, then change at Bletchley for service 7 to Luton. Service 7 requires a chord between Bletchley and Luton which would enable service 24, a direct service between Aylesbury and Luton via Bletchley. East west rail at Watford would enable service 4, 5, 12 or 4a but note 2 earlier applies.

Service 7 provides an ECML interchange at Stevenage for Oxford. As from 25 October 2021, FirstGroup open access service Lumo (lump with one letter changed) is offering low-cost rail travel between Edinburgh and Kings Cross with services calling at Newcastle, Morpeth and some at Stevenage.

There would reasonably be a Thameslink service via London Colney, either service 16 or 17.

With a link between Watton at Stone and Hertford East, a service can be envisaged between Watford Junction and Hertford East via the Abbey line and changing direction at Stevenage i.e. service 23. The Hertford loop service would change to no longer make use of Stevenage platform 5 e.g. by being extended northwards. A new platform 0 at Stevenage would be needed.

Alternatively, in conjunction with service 21a, 21b or 21c, we might anticipate a service from Watford Junction to Welwyn, not requiring paths (space/time slots) on the ECML two-track section between Welwyn and Knebworth - more on this later, section "ECML capacity". Platform 4 at Welwyn could be shared with the existing service from Moorgate terminating at Welwyn, each continuing to local sidings for turnback prior to returning to Welwyn platform 4 for the return service.

This youtube video shows trains at Welwyn including the service from Moorgate terminating at Welwyn. The view is taken from platform 2.
A train from Moorgate to platform 4 can be viewed as from 1 minute 23 seconds, also as from 9 minutes 39 seconds with brakes squealing.
Train departure for Moorgate from platform 4 to use the flyover can be viewed at 5 minutes 13 seconds.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwGocDmItzk

The service from Moorgate terminating at Welwyn arrives at platform 4 and uses the flyover for the return service to Moorgate. With knowledge of the timetable, use of the flyover by this service can be viewed on the opentraintimes.com website at OpenTrainTimes : signalling at Welwyn Garden City (both open in a new window or tab).

An alternative to service 23 is service 22, Bedford to Harlow via Luton, London Colney and Stevenage. This service changes direction at Stevenage. An alternative to service 22 is service 2, Oxford to Stansted Airport via Bletchley, Luton, London Colney, Stevenage and Harlow, or service 2a, Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Luton, London Colney, Stevenage and Harlow.

In conjunction with service 17, there would seem to be no need for a station at Napsbury Lane. However a Welham Green to London Colney chord, required for service 17, would be disruptive to a business area.

Earlier we indicated we have reservations regarding service 18. Although apparently a quick win if the line via Cambourne is built, it satisfies the Cambridge to St Albans medium value flow but nothing else. Service 7 satisfies this flow in addition to other flows. If service 18 is not implemented and noting that service 5 cannot run, there being no east west rail at Watford in this scenario, the only service using the line via Cambourne is service 8.

A longer term proposal for Bedford to Cambridge is within scope of our project : "ECML two track section between Knebworth and Welwyn".

A facility for services eastwards from Bedford joining the ECML at Tempsford can be used by a number of services, however it is not specifically required in this scenario of a St Albans to Hatfield line.

Three services at London Colney

With a Bletchley to Luton chord, a line from St Albans Abbey and from St Albans City via London Colney to Hatfield, an additional platform at Stevenage and a line from Watton at Stone to Ware, it is reasonable to propose three services, all via London Colney.

These three services are :
(i) Service 7, Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley, Luton, St Albans City, London Colney, Stevenage and Letchworth.
(ii) Service 23, Watford to Hertford East via St Albans Abbey (change of direction), London Colney, Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage (change of direction) and Watton at Stone. This service could change direction at Hertford East and continue further afield. An alternative to service 23 is service 22, Bedford to Harlow via London Colney.
(iii) Service 17, Thameslink via Welham Green, London Colney and St Albans City probably to Bedford.

No requirement here for a new station Napsbury Lane.

Without an additional platform at Stevenage for whatever reason, it would be reasonable to plan for a service between Watford and Stevenage and a service between Stevenage and Broxbourne, both services to be determined.

East west rail at Watford is a future possibility. If implemented, service 7 could be replaced by service 6 Oxford to Cambridge via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, London Colney, Stevenage and Letchworth. This service would operate via St Albans Abbey, providing a direct service for the flows St Albans - Stevenage, Cambridge - St Albans and Oxford - St Albans all at St Albans Abbey and not at St Albans City. For Aylesbury - Luton, change at London Colney either for service 17 or service 7, one of which would need to be running.

Service 6 does not require paths on the MML, unlike any service on a Luton to Stevenage corridor and which we discounted earlier.

Let us now illustrate this.

Options for connecting Rickmansworth to Watford Junction were briefly described earlier in section "Radlett SRFI".


St Albans to Hatfield railway line
Light rail (trams) at London Colney

Light rail at London Colney might be considered. With a conventional rail line from St Albans Abbey and from St Albans City to Hatfield, light rail at London Colney could connect onto the St Albans to Hatfield line both westwards and eastwards sharing track with conventional rail. An interchange with the Midland Main Line would be required. There would be no conventional railway station at London Colney in this case.

With reference to our list of potential rail services earlier, conventional rail service 7, or service 6 with east west rail at Watford would operate. There would be no Thameslink service at London Colney, passengers changing from light rail.

We have not provided an illustration for this and details would need to be determined. This approach could provide greater flexibility in planning the St Albans to Hatfield corridor particularly since there is no conventional railway station at London Colney in this case.

ECML capacity

The ECML has four tracks from Stoke tunnel, south of Grantham, to London Kings Cross, except between Peterborough and Huntingdon and between Knebworth and Welwyn Garden City. There are only two tracks between Knebworth and Welwyn Garden City including two tunnels in succession, Welwyn North tunnel and Welwyn South tunnel and then Digswell viaduct. This bottleneck might be expected to be working at capacity but for the fact that Welwyn North station is located on the bottleneck.

Our project : "ECML two track section between Knebworth and Welwyn" hypothesises Crossrail services to the West Anglia Main Line (WAML) and via Ware, Stevenage on to the ECML. This makes use of our proposed line between Watton at Stone and Ware, also required for a Watford to Hertford East service. This line enables capacity release on the ECML two track section between Knebworth and Welwyn, in other words, taking pressure off the two track section between Knebworth and Welwyn Garden City by diverting some ECML trains via the WAML. Therefore our proposed services that require paths on this ECML two track section are not regarded as limiting the capacity of the ECML.

The proposed line from St Albans to Hatfield necessitates a new bridge over the ECML. We suggest this could be of sufficient width for dual track, providing a second role for this bridge. With trains on the bridge passing on the right, we have passive provision for a future ECML service from London terminating at Hatfield.

Alternatively, a second role for this bridge could be to make provision for east west conventional or light rail terminating at Hatfield station. With conventional or light rail from Watford terminating at Hatfield also serving London Colney, change at Hatfield for service 21, Thameslink via Welham Green to Stevenage, continuing via Watton at Stone and Ware.

Combining these two secondary roles provides the facility for Thameslink services to change direction at Hatfield and continue via London Colney as an alternative to a Welham Green to London Colney chord. This is a variation of service 17. Presumably two new platforms would be required at Hatfield. In all cases it seems sensible to plan for a fifth track on the ECML from the bridge to Hatfield station to the east of existing tracks, whether or not the decision was made to construct it.

Impact on the Alban Way

The Alban Way is a much-appreciated route for walking and cycling between St Albans and Hatfield making use of the trackbed of the former St Albans to Hatfield railway line. Since we are proposing a new railway line between St Albans and Hatfield, it is natural to ask what would happen to the Alban Way.

The new proposed railway line is further to the south than the former line. The new proposed line runs via London Colney, the former line via Smallford. Let us now illustrate this.

Abbey line with trains passing at How Wood

The former line commenced at St Albans Abbey station. The new line commences at St Albans Abbey station and makes use of the trackbed of the former line passing beneath Cottonmill Lane and then turns southwards.

The Alban Way remains open. At the point the Alban Way passes beneath Cottonmill Lane, this bridge is now used by the new line as proposed. The Alban Way will require a new means of crossing Cottonmill Lane. Photos are available in the next section "A new line from St Albans Abbey".

A new line from St Albans Abbey

We will now illustrate a new line from St Albans Abbey making use of the head of the former line from St Albans Abbey to Hatfield, now the Alban Way.

We commence by illustrating the geographic area from the Abbey line to the Midland Main Line (MML).

Illustration as a static map : Vicinity of St Albans Abbey station (opens in new window or tab, click with magnifying glass).

Illustration as an online map (opens in new window or tab)

Source : openstreetmap.org © OpenStreetMap contributors

On the left is St Albans Abbey station, being the terminus of the Abbey line. On the right are the tracks of the Midland Main Line (MML) including a bridge over London Road. From the top of the map running southwards is Cottonmill Lane, to the east of the Abbey line. This passes in proximity to the Abbey line. At this point the Alban Way passes beneath it, the Alban Way being the former trackbed of the dismantled railway line from St Albans Abbey station to Hatfield; the Alban Way is now a footpath and cycle way. The Alban Way crosses the river Ver and then through a built-up area along Orient Close.

We need follow the Alban Way no further since all options for a new railway line branch off it before we reach Orient Close.

The new railway line would make use of the Alban Way then cross the river Ver. In the case of the Abbey line extended to London Colney and Hatfield, the new line would then be oriented southwards, parallel to the MML. By zooming in on the online map, London Road business park and the golf clubhouse are indicated. The new railway line would pass to the west of the clubhouse or just possibly to the east as it turns southwards.

The Alban Way is a footpath and cycle way and the connectivity it provides would be retained albeit with some adjustments, for example with bridges over the new line. At this early stage, we only have an outline and details including the location of bridges for pedestrians and cyclists could not as yet be identified.

The following images, courtesy of Google street view, serve to illustrate the proposed new railway line. Firstly, a view of St Albans Abbey station. The sole platform in use is on the right. There is a disused platform in the centre of the photo and we would anticipate two or more platforms at the expanded station.


Room for expansion at St Albans Abbey station

Secondly, a view of the Alban Way from Cottonmill Lane looking eastwards. To the right of the photo, Cottonmill Lane turns to be on a similar alignment to the Alban Way.


Cottonmill Lane eastwards

There are photos of the former railway line at smallford.org including a photo of the former line passing beneath Cottonmill Lane looking eastwards (photo opens in a new window or tab).

Thirdly, a view looking westwards from the same bridge on Cottonmill Lane. The existing Abbey line is not visible but is in proximity. On the left of the photo, the retail units are on the far side of the existing railway line. They are accessed from Cottonmill Lane by means of a nearby crossing of the railway line :
https://www.instantstreetview.com/@51.741788,-0.336598,180h,5p,0.4z
This view of the crossing including the gate is more recent :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.7412848,-0.3370197,3a,75y,90h,73.43t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sAF1QipM9E0atwr7vbOY08-_RasTh79r61i5yOQ-BEtA-!2e10!3e12!7i5760!8i2880

The link above and some below may extend over more than one line.


Cottonmill Lane westwards

A satellite view confirms there is no obstruction preventing connection of the new line to the Abbey line :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.7421663,-0.3373274,334m/data=!3m1!1e3

There is a photo at smallford.org looking towards the former gasworks adjacent to St Albans Abbey station : the Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey line is this side of the gasworks but cannot be seen in the photo looking westwards (photo opens in a new window or tab).

A view of the bridge on the Alban Way, again looking westwards, demonstrates that the bridge would need to be rebuilt to its former state :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.7421328,-0.336974,3a,75y,270h,90t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sAF1QipM8-cd0afzVerO4FL8y9N4f610oWiMYQaY_eels!2e10!3e11!7i5760!8i2880

The former St Albans London Road station illustrated below is located on the Alban Way unsurprisingly. It is adjacent to London Road.

All options for a new railway line would branch off the Alban Way before we reach Orient Close. Therefore there would be no new railway line at the former St Albans Road station.


Former St Albans London Road station

A review of Hertfordshire - Essex Rapid Transit (HERT)

Hertfordshire County Council's plans include a South Hertfordshire east west road-based Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project centred on the A414. Formerly known as the A414 Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project, also known as the South Hertfordshire MRT project, it is now known as HERT, Hertfordshire - Essex Rapid Transit.

It seems clear that HERT has grown out of a long-term plan to close the Abbey line, there having been previous proposals to convert the line into a busway. The idea is that the Abbey line is converted for use by MRT vehicles. MRT vehicles from Watford turn off the converted Abbey line prior to reaching St Albans Abbey, connecting possibly westwards to Hemel Hempstead and certainly eastwards to Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City on to the A 414 North Orbital Road.

A new interchange is added to the A 414 for this purpose, apparently for access to the Abbey line "Park and Rail" Hub ref SM13 in the South West Herts 2018 Growth and Transport Plan referenced earlier. Observers note that there is insufficient space for the proposed "Park and Rail" Hub. In other words, the idea is to build the infrastructure associated with conversion of the Abbey line for MRT vehicles whilst claiming that something else is being built, also known as deception.


The Abbey line and the A 414

We suggest viewing this map online (opens in new window or tab)

Source : openstreetmap.org © OpenStreetMap contributors

The concept of Mass Rapid Transit is or was being taken forward in Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford. In Cambridge, these were planned as rubber-tyred vehicles running and steered on tarmac. Reference : section 4.2 at Affordable Mass Transit for Cambridge and the Wider Region (pdf format, opens in new window or tab). However there is plenty of debate, reference for example Cambridge transport: The case for light rail over busways to get city moving (opens in new window or tab).

In the case of HERT, a lane on the A 414 may be converted for use by MRT vehicles which will be rubber-tyred buses. During the pandemic we have learnt that people use their cars as PPE, a term that would have had little significance prior to the pandemic. There is much to suggest that there may be further pandemics. In these circumstances, is it a good idea to reduce the capacity of congested major roads? The idea seems to be to force a mode shift from car to bus/MRT : never likely to be popular.

Both rubber tyres and brakes create particle pollution which, we understand, pollutes water courses.

England's Economic Heartland (EEH) provides an illustration of transport projects in the Oxford to Cambridge arc. The illustration is : transport projects in the Oxford to Cambridge arc (opens in new window or tab, click with magnifying glass). This is available on pages 7,8 of the 2021 spending review document available here : Referenced papers and reports

South Hertfordshire Mass Rapid Transit (labelled MT) runs between Hemel Hempstead, Watford and Harlow. It is clear that this has become a widely-scoped and therefore expensive proposal.

South Herts MRT was referenced in part two with the following MRT illustration :

A414 Mass Rapid Transit

The idea is to improve Hertfordshire's competitiveness albeit with doubts as to whether it would actually do so since road capacity is reduced. Mode shift from car to rail is more plausible than car to bus/MRT and would not require reduction in road capacity.

Hertfordshire's rail strategy of 2019 was also referenced in part two. Figure 5 in the section West Coast Main Line illustrates Watford Junction as a "super-hub", included below. It clearly illustrates MRT competing with the Abbey line. The railway line itself would provide an ideal alignment for MRT and therefore the competition leads to closure of the railway line and conversion to a bus link.

There seems to be a plan to invest in a link between Watford Junction and St Albans City stations, presumably on the assumption that the Abbey line could not be connected to the MML, given that Radlett SRFI builds over the former link to the MML at Napsbury as discussed earlier. The idea seems to be that a bus link competes with the Abbey line and that the Abbey line cannot compete.

The plan fails to take into account that there is no reason to prioritise provision for any such connection, as noted earlier in section "Extending the Abbey line : new station at Napsbury Lane or London Colney". This suggests capital investment in a plan that is not soundly based.

Moreover in section "South West Herts 2018 Growth and Transport Plan" earlier we noted a plan to downgrade the A405 with reallocation of 1 lane in each direction to buses only. This enables buses to compete with the Abbey line. Once the Abbey line has closed, it is converted for MRT use. Therefore the capital investment is in two links between Watford and St Albans, not just one, adding to the cost.

Mass Rapid Transit at Watford Junction

The current plan is that MRT vehicles will also use a former railway line from Watford to Rickmansworth. This seems to undermine the aspiration for an Aylesbury - Rickmansworth - Watford service.

Question 1 : Does South Herts MRT put the Abbey line at risk of closure ?

Answer : Yes. However the approach taken by Hertfordshire County Council has been to simply assume that there is no realistic prospect of east west rail in Hertfordshire as an alternative to south Herts MRT. We hope to have shown that the assumption is incorrect.

Question 2 : Can rail services be designed that specifically provide what south Herts MRT is hoping to achieve ?

Answer : Yes. Services 27a, 28a. However these require a facility at Watford Junction to change direction between the WCML and the Abbey line : no such facility exists currently - note 3 earlier.

Without such services, there is no specific provision for rail travel eastwards from Hemel Hempstead. Bus or coach travel eastwards from Hemel Hempstead could therefore be envisaged coexisting with a full implementation of east west rail.

Question 3 : What bus services might there be ?

There would seem to be a case for a bus/coach service eastwards from Hemel Hempstead. We have suggested that the aspiration of a Luton - Stevenage rail corridor be replaced by extension of the Dunstable - Luton Airport (guided) busway to Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City.

It would be reasonable to combine these into a Hertfordshire-specific plan for bus/coach links and services specifically to complement east west rail in Herfordshire. We therefore propose a project name :

HEADWEST : HEmel hempstead And Dunstable from WElwyn and STevenage.

HEADWEST is proposed as a replacement for HERT at substantially reduced capital costs, with bus links separated from the road network, with buses or coaches not MRT vehicles and without reduction of road capacity on major routes.

Question 4 : How does south Herts MRT compare with east west rail in Hertfordshire ?

Let us return to the research published by Atkins in August 2014. This was discussed in parts one and two of our research.

Referenced discussion papers, research papers and engineering reports are available here : Referenced papers and reports

very high priority journey pairs

Source : East West Rail Consortium website, research paper August 2014, Figure 4.


high priority journey pairs

Source : East West Rail Consortium website, research paper August 2014, Figure 5.

The research indicated for each pair of towns the value of a direct rail link between them.

Rail service 7 Oxford, Bletchley, Luton stations, St Albans, Hatfield, Welwyn G. C., Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Cambridge is clearly a good starting point. Other services can contribute, for example for the Bedford - Stevenage very high priority journey pair by use of the line eastwards from Bedford joining the ECML at Temsford. Potential services using this line were listed earlier.

In contrast, south Herts MRT fails to respond to the research by Atkins.

South Herts MRT also fails the tests set by EEH Rail Study Phase Two. It does not respond to the high and medium value flows listed earlier : St Albans - Stevenage, Aylesbury - Luton, Cambridge - St Albans, Oxford - St Albans.

South Herts MRT is not an asset when compared with east west rail in Hertfordshire.

Question 5 : Should the entire south Herts MRT project be brought in for review ?

Answer : Yes. All the towns in the MRT illustration have railway stations. With the possible exception of eastwards travel from Hemel Hempstead, we have made proposals for all journeys to be by rail. From the text at top left of the MRT illustration, south Herts MRT aims to enhance Hertfordshire's competitive advantage but with doubts as to whether it would actually do so. Even if the aims were to be realised, this would be at the expense of regional travel beyond the borders of the project.

South Herts MRT undermines an improved east west rail network and therefore undermines the economic growth of the Oxford to Cambridge arc as a whole. Therefore the south Herts MRT project should be brought in for review.

It does not make sense to plan conversion of the Abbey line for MRT vehicles.

Both in response to the research published by consultants Atkins in August 2014 and in response to England's Economic Heartland (EEH) Passenger Rail Study Phase Two, we are proposing new railway lines St Albans to Hatfield and Watton at Stone to Ware.

Interim proposal for the Abbey line

The current train service is provided by a single train and, as a result, the time interval from one service to the next is a minimum of 45 minutes. There is widespread agreement that this time interval is too great. A service every 30 minutes would be desirable, however this would require two trains and of course crews for each of these trains. The operating costs thereby increase.

There has been a study into a passing loop at Bricket Wood, that is, the infrastructure enabling two trains to pass, thus enabling a service every 30 minutes. The study suggested the increased operating costs for two trains on the line would not be fully offset by the increase in revenue. The current service requiring a subsidy, it thus suggested the subsidy for two trains operating on the line would be greater than for a single train. The end-to-end journey time being 16 minutes, the train crew would spend nearly half of their time turning round at Watford Junction and at St Albans Abbey, which is more time than is necessary. We do not think that a passing loop at Bricket Wood is likely, although we would certainly have no objection.

It is widely understood that there is ticketless travel on the line, there being ticket barriers solely at Watford Junction.

An interim proposal for the Abbey line could be for two trains on the line to pass further north than the midpoint. The turnround time at the Abbey station would be greater than at Watford. On arrival at the Abbey station and by arrangement with the unions, the train crew would undertake ticketing responsibilities, details to be determined, forming a multidisciplinary team. This would probably include closure of ticketing barriers prior to passengers leaving the train, reopening the barriers prior to train departure. Passengers who persistently travelled without a ticket would identify themselves by postponing their departure from the station or by arriving early. It seems likely that revenue would increase and potentially therefore the overall required operating subsidy might decrease.

It seems that the trains could pass at How Wood and we provisionally suggest this is where the train passing facility would be provided. Trains would be timed to arrive at opposite platforms at the same time, the journey time end-to-end remaining at 16 minutes. To facilitate recovery from late running, there would be dual track southwards from How Wood towards the M25 bridge.

During the autumn leaf fall period, it is possible a service every 30 minutes would be maintained, with trains passing to the south of How Wood.

Abbey line with trains passing at How Wood

This is our interim proposal. It aims to bring a contribution towards a general target of reduction in rail costs, albeit a matter not discussed here, since the staff have more than one responsibility. It is envisaged as interim, prior to implementation of a St Albans to Hatfield railway line.

The Abbey line is being undermined

For more than 30 years, attempts have been made to undermine the Abbey line. The early history of attempts to undermine the line is to be found in the book "The Watford to St Albans Branch", formerly published by Oakwood Press now incorporated into Stenlake Publishing . This is one of the carefully researched and insightful series of books known as the Locomotion Papers. At the time of writing, the publisher's webpage for this book was located at Watford to St Albans Branch (both open in a new window or tab).

The book has been updated in the second edition by Geraint Hughes, who was Passenger Transport Policy Manager for Hertfordshire County Council from 1991 to 2005. The book documents, until 2008, the history of the line and of the campaign to secure its future. For those who want a future for the Abbey line, it makes interesting reading. The first edition of this book has a pink cover, the second edition having a brown cover. It is the second edition that documents, until 2008, the campaign to secure the future of the line. Should the book go out of print, the publisher may be able to provide a waiting list.

An example in this book of an attempt to undermine the Abbey line was the proposal in 1983 to cut through the line for the purposes of constructing the M25 motorway. The proposal to truncate the line from Watford at Bricket Wood station was thankfully rejected by British Rail (page 99). However in 1989 British Rail's Property Board submitted a planning application to St Albans District Council for the closure of the Abbey station and construction of new office blocks on the site (page 109). Thankfully an action group was hurriedly formed. There were four planning applications all of which were rejected by the council. This was followed by a public inquiry which resulted in a recommendation and decision from the Secretary of State in July 1992 that the refusal be upheld.

A further threat emerged in 1995 with a proposal to replace modern electric trains by slow and unreliable 36-year-old diesel units. The reasons for this change were unclear (page 110). There was a galvanising of local opinion and the plan was scrapped. At the time of publishing the book in 2008, the expectation was that a passing loop would be added at Bricket Wood, at the mid-point of the line from Watford to St Albans Abbey, enabling two trains to pass, thus enabling service frequency to be increased. Subsequently it was announced that there was no business case for construction of the passing loop.

A proposal to convert the Abbey line to light rail operation was subject to public consultation between January and March 2010. The email address in both of these documents should be presumed to be out of date. The consultation report was published in September 2010. Subsequently newsletters were published, of which that of May 2013 was noteworthy. Both documents are available here : Referenced papers and reports

Providing a more frequent service with conventional rail was briefly discussed in sections 2.61 - 2.63 of the consultation report. An independent study into a conventional rail passing loop at Bricket Wood some years later in 2019 established that it was possible to compensate for the capital expenditure, but not the operating costs. This study was referenced in the previous section.

There is a further point that might be made. Conventional rail signalling has a habit of being expensive and would be required for two trains operating on the line. Conventional thinking is that the costs of this would be greatly reduced if incorporated into a project to resignal the main line at Watford, such resignalling occurring from time to time as technology is refreshed. It is sad to note that resignalling of the main line at Watford took place on the same timescales as the proposal to convert the Abbey line to light rail operation. Let us hope that the proposal to convert the Abbey line to light rail operation was not designed as a smoke screen to distract from the opportunity for cost-effective signalling of the Abbey line. That is, let us hope that the proposal was not made with the deliberate intention of failure subsequent to the resignalling of the main line. The newsletter of May 2013 announced the failure of the proposal to convert the Abbey line to light rail. The costs which would be incurred in the conversion, plus the costs of a stand-alone operation, were deemed too great for the proposal to proceed although the actual values of those costs have been difficult to obtain by the public.

The current proposal for Hertfordshire - Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) has a similar predecessor Central Herts Passenger Transport System (CHPTS) documented on pages 111 and 114 of the above book. It became apparent that CHPTS was a proposal to close the Abbey line and following opposition was abandoned.

The Bricket Wood station heritage trust ( https://bricketwoodstationtrust.org.uk/ ) aims to restore the old station building at Bricket Wood. Let us hope this isn't a plan for an Abbey line museum, in the hope of encouraging supporters of the line to come to terms with closure of the line. From the website, the Department for Transport has awarded a grant of £ 250,000. We would suggest that a bridge to replace the Cottonmill Lane crossing, referenced earlier and below, is higher priority.

It seems clear that HERT has grown out of a long-term plan to close the Abbey line, there having been previous proposals to convert the line into a busway. The idea is that the Abbey line will be converted for use by MRT vehicles in a later phase of the HERT project. In the first phase of the HERT project, the infrastructure associated with conversion of the Abbey line for MRT vehicles is built whilst claiming to be building the access road or roads for an Abbey line "Park and Rail" Hub, ref SM13 in the South West Herts 2018 Growth and Transport Plan referenced earlier. This is deception, as stated earlier.

In order to give the impression that the Abbey line will remain as a conventional rail line, a proposal has been submitted to the government by Hertfordshire County Council for a passing loop at Bricket Wood, even though it is clear there are no prospects of this succeeding. There is a reference to this in England's Economic Heartland (EEH) Passenger Rail Study Phase Two referenced earlier and available here : Referenced papers and reports . On page 31 we read "Abbey line SOBC" and on page 34 we read "Abbey Line SOBC (RYR)". SOBC refers to Strategic Outline Business Case. RYR refers to the government Restoring Your Railway fund, which will consider factors over and above economic when evaluating a railway reopening. The proposal submitted by Hertfordshire County Council for the Abbey line cannot be anything other than smoke and mirrors : that ought to be obvious since attempts to undermine the Abbey line have been a constant feature for many years. Hertfordshire County Council is creating a misleading impression. The Department for Transport has indicated that it will not respond to the SOBC for several years i.e. playing for time. This confirms a misleading impression is being deliberately created whilst the Abbey line is undermined, for example reallocation of 1 lane on the A405 in each direction only for buses enabling buses to compete with the Abbey line.

HERT includes Watford, this being confirmed at https://www.futuretravelwatford.com/longer-journeys and (6 July 2021) at
https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/19421195.hert-transport-scheme-replace-mlx-west-watford/
MRT vehicles will travel between Watford and the A414 by conversion of the Abbey line. It seems that in an early phase, they will use the A405 downgraded with reallocation of 1 lane in each direction to buses only, the competition then leading to closure of the Abbey line, as noted earlier. From this we know that MRT vehicles will be rubber-tyred buses and not light rail trams, since trams require rails and no-one would propose rails along the A405 to be superseded by use of the Abbey line. If trams were intended, there would be no plan to downgrade the A405. MRT vehicles will not be light rail vehicles.

Network Rail, as owner of the national rail infrastructure, provides information concerning services or lack of them. The following articles in the Watford Observer are of interest :
17 June 2021 :
https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/19378783.delays-explained-watford-junction-st-albans-abbey/
23 June 2021 :
https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/19391298.trains-watford-junction-revised-timetable/
Speed restrictions were in place because the line was not being properly maintained. It became apparent that these speed restrictions lasted throughout the summer of 2021. Trains did not run slowly during heatwaves but in case there might be a heatwave : that would seem to be an excuse, not a reason. Network Rail is undermining the Abbey line.

We noted earlier the plan to close the Cottonmill Lane crossing with a replacement path beside the line that would add to journey times and without specifically proposing a bridge as a replacement for the crossing. This has created opposition :
13 August 2018 :
https://www.hertsad.co.uk/news/where-is-the-cottonmill-railway-crossing-petition-5143638
The petition referenced in the article seems to have disappeared from the council's website. By recollection, there were something of the order of 2000 signatures. Network Rail had previously closed the crossing without notice :
30 August 2015 :
https://www.hertsad.co.uk/news/misused-level-crossing-footpath-on-st-albans-estate-must-reopen-5033530
We suggest this would have been in co-operation with Whitehall so as to create a storm of protest, for which we suggest a reason below.
25 September 2018 :
https://www.stalbansreview.co.uk/news/16901850.neighbours-angry-proposed-replacement-cottonmill-lane-level-crossing/
Network Rail subsequently announced the crossing would stay open :
28 December 2018 :
https://www.stalbansreview.co.uk/news/17324199.network-rail-halts-plans-close-cottonmill-crossing-st-albans/
however this is inevitably subject to review :
19 August 2020 :
https://www.stalbansreview.co.uk/news/18660590.warning-level-crossings-abbey-line-watford-st-albans/
It is clear a bridge or similar is the means to resolve this issue, particularly since the crossing is evidently much in use and essential for access to a retail park and supermarket. By failing to propose a bridge, the opposition created is artificial. If conversion of the line to a busway is proposed with, in this case, no necessity to close this crossing, then the opposition to the proposed closure of the crossing is leveraged as opposition to the railway line. Once again, underhand tactics are being employed.

If a bridge to replace the Cottonmill Lane crossing is not popular, one possibility could be to provide a bridge but also retain a crossing controlled in an appropriate manner. When no train is in the vicinity, the crosing would be available. When a train is in the vicinty, the crossing would not be available. Details would need to be determined.

Some of the links below may extend over more than one line.

It seems clear that HERT has grown out of a long-term plan to close the Abbey line. The idea is that the Abbey line is converted for use by MRT vehicles. MRT vehicles from Watford turn off the converted Abbey line prior to reaching the Abbey station on to the A 414 North Orbital Road. What would happen to the residue of the Abbey line north of the point where MRT vehicles turn off it ? It seems that this would be converted into a footpath and cycle track connecting on to Griffiths Way, which runs parallel to the Abbey line in St Albans. We will now demonstrate this. Towards the end of Griffiths Way there is a footpath and cycle track that leads to the Cottonmill Lane crossing, satellite view :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.7428075,-0.3408321,613m/data=!3m1!1e3
It may be helpful to zoom in slightly. The commencement of the footpath and cycle track off Griffiths Way is on the right :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.7420137,-0.338443,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sn8lBpijYku-9PjvRujA3bg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192
As a minor point, additional access from Griffiths Way on to the footpath and cycle track :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.741943,-0.3381301,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sXBvb7PLYWnfZod3SevAhyQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
The footpath and cycle track ends at the Cottonmill Lane crossing :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.741318,-0.3370677,3a,75y,90h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAF1QipPvAbx0M3CahlHqBZp55Y0M97tEaZwEy3roQhgs!2e10!7i5760!8i2880
By using the buttons to rotate the view, the footpath and cycle track could continue along the Abbey line. Finally, at the moment, the footpath and cycle track continues on the other side of the railway line :
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.7412666,-0.336978,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAF1QipM0UE5VxM3Mn3_naWeDwi2zpNmvRD_stV3f1Azz!2e10!7i5760!8i2880
However it is clear that this would serve to provide access from Cottonmill Lane on to the footpath and cycle track as converted from the Abbey line. Once this is complete, the Abbey station site is no longer required for public access. It can then be sold off for development. The planning application submitted by British Rail's Property Board in 1989 is then brought to fruition.

As part of the process of undermining the Abbey line, there is no signposting of routes for walking to the Abbey station. However, as ever, subtlety is employed : some press releases include a signpost indicating the route to St Albans City station and to the Abbey station, creating the false impression that routes to the Abbey station are signposted. Presumably this signpost is somewhere in St Albans : perhaps it has been provided specifically for the purpose of press releases.

There may also be a lack of signposted routes for walking to other stations on the Abbey line, unknown.

A shuttle bus was provided on an experimental basis between St Albans Abbey and St Albans City stations however there was a lack of publicity. It seems the experiment was designed from the outset to fail. This would be part of an impression by officials to have made an effort to save the Abbey line from closure when in fact it was smoke and mirrors.

Some notes for users of the train service follow.

Train times are available from the train operating company or at National Rail Enquiries (opens in new window or tab) where details include the name of the train operating company.

The situation on the Abbey line can be monitored by use of departure boards, Watford Junction being a good choice. There are departure boards at Real Time Trains and at Open Train Times. Open Train Times also provides signalling diagrams, that for Watford Junction is Signalling at Watford Junction (all open in new window or tab). The signalling diagram can be displayed in one window with a departure board in another. At the time of writing, this tells us that the train on the Abbey line may not be suitably equipped to provide the signalling diagram information. We have met something similar before, with the proposal in 1995 to replace modern electric trains by slow and unreliable 36-year-old diesel units. Although that proposal was abandoned, in this case we now have an inappropriate train in use on the line.

The service is provided by one train running from Watford to St Albans and back, repeatedly. There is no other train on the line. This used to be one of the most reliable services in Britain and there is no valid reason for that to have changed.

We would suggest that, given that the service is being undermined, there is little purpose in complaining to the train operator, since the train operator takes orders from Whitehall. It is probably best if Westminster MPs are provided with information, since at least in theory this can result in civil servants conducting themselves in a manner compatible with the impression being given in public. Whitehall has never indicated that it is undermining the Abbey line and therefore it should not be doing so. Cases where it would be appropriate to contact the train operator would include operational matters, safety and claiming refunds.

The press is also useful for news concerning the Abbey line : the Watford Observer https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk
the St Albans and Harpenden review https://www.stalbansreview.co.uk/
and the Herts Advertiser https://www.hertsad.co.uk/

For walking between St Albans City and St Albans Abbey stations, there is information here :
https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/st-albans-city-to-st-albans-abbey.123110/
We do not know whether this suggested route is illuminated after dark. The route can be followed by use of online maps e.g. openstreetmap.org and streetmap.co.uk.

What if the Abbey line is to have a future ?

Our proposal, different from the proposal for a passing loop at Bricket Wood, is that trains pass further to the north than Bricket Wood with greater turnround time at St Albans Abbey than at Watford Junction. With the train crew responsible for ticketing at St Albans Abbey, there is the opportunity for greater revenue protection. Whilst the financial outcome would be difficult to predict, there would certainly be lessons to be learned from this and, in any case, this is envisaged as an interim arrangement prior to extension of the line via London Colney to Hatfield.

Summary diagrammatic map again updated

Earlier we updated our summary diagrammatic map. We now update the map again, this time to remove Napsbury Lane. We also take the opportunity to remove lines that have been discussed but which, at the end of the day, do not form part of our proposal. These are : St Albans Abbey to St Albans City, Watford to Bedford which is obstructed by Radlett SRFI and Watford to Hatfield and St Pancras which is also obstructed by Radlett SRFI.

This update reflects our decision that east west rail at Watford becomes an option rather than a current proposal.

This, hopefully final, update to our summary diagrammatic map has been included in the following section and with title "East west rail in Hertfordshire and environs".

Outline business case

To provide an outline business case, let us commence by stating what our proposals are.

East west rail in Hertfordshire and environs

We are proposing a railway line between St Albans and Hatfield, a Bletchley to Luton connecting chord and an extension of the Hertford East branch to Stevenage. These are illustrated above.

Transport planning begins by collecting and analysing data. Fortunately for us, analysis has already taken place. Consultants Atkins undertook this and published results in 2014. This was commissioned by the then East West Rail Consortium, now the East West Main Line Partnership. The business case for a new railway line is essentially based on the extent to which it supports economic activity and facilitates economic growth, alongside environmental benefits. Atkins indicated for each pair of towns the value of a direct rail link between them, referring to those of greatest economic value as very high priority journey pairs, the next ranking being high priority journey pairs. The illustrated results were included earlier and are also included here.

very high priority journey pairs

Source : East West Rail Consortium website, research paper August 2014, Figure 4.


high priority journey pairs

Source : East West Rail Consortium website, research paper August 2014, Figure 5.

By comparing these illustrations with the preceding illustration of our proposals, it is clear that a rail service Oxford, Bletchley, Luton stations, St Albans, Hatfield, Welwyn G. C., Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Cambridge is a good starting point. This is particularly clear from the high priority journey pairs rather than the very high priority journey pairs. In our list of potential rail services earlier, this is service 7.

Our proposal to extend the Hertford East branch to Stevenage, along with the option of a Ware to Harlow connecting line, arises from the high connectivity results for Harlow in the above illustrations.

To complete this, let us list the 8 very high priority journey pairs and consider how the journey is undertaken.

Northampton - Cambridge : change at Bletchley either for the service to Cambridge via Bedford or for service 7.
St Albans - Cambridge : service 7.
Bedford - Cambridge : direct service between Bedford and Cambridge or change at Luton/St Albans for service 7.
Luton stations - Cambridge : service 7.
Bedford - Stevenage : either change at Tempsford or change at Luton/St Albans for service 7.
Luton stations - Stevenage : service 7 or bus/coach service.
Luton stations - Welwyn G.C. : service 7 or bus/coach service.
Luton stations - Harlow : With both the Hertford East branch extended to Stevenage and a Ware to Harlow connecting line, change at Stevenage from service 7. Our list of potential services includes service 22, Bedford to Harlow, which would provide a direct service. With neither the Hertford East branch extended to Stevenage nor a Ware to Harlow connecting line, service 7 and change at Cambridge, or change at Bedford and at Cambridge. With the Hertford East branch extended to Stevenage but without a Ware to Harlow connecting line, change at Stevenage from service 7 and at Broxbourne.

It should be apparent that service 7 is useful and therefore that there is a good or very good business case for a railway line between St Albans and Hatfield with a Bletchley to Luton connecting chord i.e. the infrastructure required for service 7.

An extension of the Hertford East branch to Stevenage does not benefit from such a clear business case, nevertheless we do not think it should be precluded.

Other services can contribute, for example for the Bedford - Stevenage very high priority journey pair by use of the line eastwards from Bedford joining the ECML at Temsford. Potential services using this line were listed earlier.

Following the work published by Atkins in 2014, Network Rail was commissioned by England's Economic Heartland to produce Passenger Rail Study Phase Two. This was published in 2021. This also serves to show that there is a good business case for a railway line between St Albans and Hatfield with a Bletchley to Luton connecting chord. This was included earlier in section "Passenger rail study phase two" and section "St Albans to Hatfield". We will not include it here.

Question : If the business case for a St Albans to Hatfield railway line is good, what is the significance ?

Answer : Let us compare this with the Metropolitan Line Extension (MLE or MLX) which relocates the terminus of the Metropolitan line from Watford (Met) to Watford Junction. This has been subject to a political decision to implement it, funded by TfL, followed by a decision to withdraw funding. When politics is placed on one side, the salient point is the business case. We understand that the business case is weak, however the project largely overlaps with a separate project, the aspiration of Watford - Aylesbury rail connectivity. If the business case for these two projects were to be assessed as one, it is possible indeed likely that the business case would be stronger. However, to the best of our knowledge, there has been no formal business case analysis for these two projects combined as one.

When we compare this with a St Albans to Hatfield line, the capital costs of a St Albans to Hatfield line would be much greater than for the Metropolitan Line Extension but with a much better business case and therefore, when political matters are equal, with much greater prospects of success.

In summary : our proposals

In response to the research published by consultants Atkins in August 2014 and in response to England's Economic Heartland (EEH) Passenger Rail Study Phase Two published in July 2021, our research demonstrates that there seems to be a good business case for a railway line between St Albans and Hatfield. Let us illustrate this line.

St Albans to Hatfield railway line

The Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey line would connect into the St Albans to Hatfield line, potentially as light rail or as conventional rail. As conventional rail, there could be a service from Watford Junction to Welwyn Garden City or further afield.

Let us now illustrate this in the wider context of the Oxford to Cambridge arc.

East west rail in Hertfordshire and environs

With a Bletchley to Luton connecting chord, illustrated above, we might anticipate a service between Oxford and Cambridge via St Albans and Stevenage. This would operate via Bletchley, Luton stations, St Albans City, London Colney, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage, Hitchin and Letchworth.

By changing direction at Hertford East, there seems to be potential for the service to Hertford East to be extended to Stevenage. Alternatively, there seems to be potential for a service between Watford Junction and Hertford East via Welwyn Garden City by changing direction at Stevenage.

Our research demonstrates that there is value in a line eastwards from Bedford joining the ECML at Tempsford. We have illustrated this above, also a chord between Arlesey and Letchworth. However these do not specifically form part of our proposals.

East west rail at Watford is regarded as a future possibility, in which case a service between Oxford and Cambridge via St Albans and Stevenage could operate via Aylesbury and St Albans Abbey, not requiring paths (space/time slots) on the Midland Main Line. We infer that the Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey branch line, a subject of discussion for many years, should be retained as a conventional rail line.

Hertfordshire County Council's plans include an east west road-based Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project centred on the A414, known as Hertfordshire - Essex Rapid Transit (HERT). The planning of a rail network is higher priority than the planning of a bus network. Evaluation of the business case for a St Albans to Hatfield line and any decision to proceed is higher priority than Hertfordshire - Essex Bus Rapid Transit (HERT). HERT is not an asset when compared with east west rail in Hertfordshire.

It should be borne in mind that our diagrammatic maps are intended to illustrate railway infrastructure and are not to scale.

 

This article has provided part three of our review into travel in the Oxford to Cambridge arc.

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