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Project : East west rail - Oxford to Cambridge

Substantial revision 29 September 2020
Minor update 21 December 2020

Oxford to Cambridge : east west rail at Watford

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

This review is lengthy. Summary conclusions are available at the end.

This is part two of our review. The part two summary conclusions are reviewed and modified in part three.

There has been much discussion for some years concerning the future of the Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey line. In this article we will discuss some options for this line, specifically within the context of travel in the Oxford to Cambridge arc, known as East West rail. We will also review and modify our conclusions from part one.

An Oxford to Stevenage corridor is discussed in part one of our review : Oxford to Cambridge by rail : southern options for the central section

Part one concluded with a summary diagrammatic map illustrating an Oxford to Stevenage corridor. The diagrammatic map is included here. Luton Airport Parkway, not illustrated, is to the south of Luton station on the Midland Main Line (MML).


Summary southern option for Oxford to Cambridge arc central section

Part one of our review hypothesises a possible route via Luton Airport Parkway and Bedford. The route is

Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans (City), Luton Airport Parkway, Luton, Bedford (or Wixams), Cambridge.

With a Luton Airport to Stevenage corridor we have a possible route

Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans (City), Luton Airport, Stevenage.

These two routes could potentially operate concurrently.

It should be borne in mind that our diagrammatic maps are intended to illustrate railway infrastructure and are not to scale. In terms of distance travelled, Oxford, Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans, Luton Airport and Stevenage to Cambridge is a very reasonable proposal.

Existing rail network

Since part one of our review was published, the East West Railway Company (EWR Co) has announced its preferred route for Bedford to Cambridge. A significant decision is that east west rail services will call at Bedford Midland station. Let us therefore commence by updating our diagrammatic map of the existing and planned rail network. We have also taken the opportunity to include the existing Luton Airport Parkway station, which is to the south of Luton station and which was previously omitted. We have also provided more complete information concerning dismantled lines.


Existing rail network with proposal for Bedford to Cambridge via Cambourne

The ECML has 4 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 2 tracks between Knebworth and Welwyn Garden City including two tunnels in succession, Welwyn North tunnel and Welwyn South tunnel and then Welwyn viaduct. This bottleneck might be expected to be working at capacity but for the fact that Welwyn North station is located on the bottleneck.

There are many dismantled railway lines in this area. These are not always clearly identifiable on openstreetmap.org whereas streetmap.co.uk level 3 includes contours and shows cuttings which serves to render dismantled lines easier to identify. The first is digitised and the second, we think, is not. As a general point which we ourselves are not intending to progress with Ordnance Survey, is there the prospect of useful information being lost ? Following the Stonehaven derailment, we found streetmap.co.uk useful for showing the steep contours beside the line.

The former Napsbury station had 2 platforms as an island platform pair located between the eastern-most pair of lines i.e. the slow lines. Photos of Napsbury station also the Ordnance Survey map of 1924 are to be found in the Middleton Press publication "St Pancras to St Albans".

We have not illustrated intermediate stations on the Abbey line. The station stops on this line are Watford Junction, Watford North, Garston, Bricket Wood, How Wood, Park Street and St Albans Abbey.

There was a connection to Napsbury used for construction of the Midland Main Line (MML) from the Abbey line which was pre-existing at that time. To the east of the Midland Main Line (MML) there was Napsbury hospital which had its own siding. These can be viewed by zooming in on the interactive historic map at interactive historic map (opens in new window or tab). Although the former station at Napsbury is not shown, from the 1924 Ordnance Survey map we know the station was immediately to the south of these two junctions.

Rickmansworth to the Midland Main Line

As part of Oxford to Cambridge via Rickmansworth and Watford, let us consider Rickmansworth via Watford Junction to the MML. On the diagrammatic map above, Rickmansworth is to the lower left and the MML is the line via St Albans (City) and Luton.

We commence by illustrating Rickmansworth to the MML by reference to the railway infrastructure that exists currently.

We suggest selecting the option to view a larger map, which opens in a new window or tab. Source : OpenStreetMap.org


View larger map : special offer : move around and zoom in (opens in new window or tab)

Once again, Rickmansworth is to the lower left, being currently served by Metropolitan Underground line services and services from Aylesbury to Marylebone. To the east of Rickmansworth is the Metropolitan line branch to Croxley and Watford (Met). To the east of this is Watford Junction station served by services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) i.e. the line via Kings Langley also Overground services via Watford High Street and terminating at Watford Junction. In a north easterly direction from Watford Junction is the Abbey line to St Albans Abbey. To the east of this is the Midland Main Line (MML), which is the line via Borehamwood and St Albans. Station stops on this line within the scope of the map as illustrated are Elstree and Borehamwood, Radlett and St Albans (City).

In terms of a rail connection via Rickmansworth to the MML, the observant will notice that there are a few gaps.

The following map shows the existing railway lines and stations around Watford. The station labelled Watford is also known as Watford (Met). Click the map for Wikimedia information.

Watford railways

The following map shows the planned route of the Croxley Rail Link, now generally referred to as the Metropolitan Line Extension (MLE) although we refer to it by its former name. This will, if constructed, enable Rickmansworth to Watford Junction. This time, the Abbey line is absent from the map. There is a triangular junction between Rickmansworth, Croxley and Moor Park. The chord between Rickmansworth and Croxley at this junction is known as the Watford North curve, albeit not in the vicinity of Watford North station on the Abbey line. The Watford North curve will need to be reinstated.

Our diagrammatic map earlier illustrates dismantled railway lines including in the Watford area. The Croxley Rail Link is oriented south west from Watford High Street making use of the start of a dismantled rail link to a former station Rickmansworth Church Street, not shown, and then turns north west, on a dismantled branch. It then requires a connection onto the existing Metropolitan line branch to Croxley and Watford (Met). This connection has been the subject of some debate. Click the map for Wikimedia information.

Croxley rail link map

As an alternative to the Croxley rail link, there could be a tunnelled connection from Watford (Met) to Watford North via Watford Junction, whilst retaining the connection from the Abbey line onto the WCML. An intermediate station Watford Parade (or Watford Pond ?) would be provided between Watford (Met) and Watford Junction. A tunnelled connection would not enable an extension of London Overground services on to the Abbey line to St Albans Abbey but which is considered unlikely due to the short platforms at intermediate stations on the Abbey line. An extension of Metropolitan line services on to the Abbey line would then be feasible but unlikely for the same reason. However it would be reasonable to plan the extension of Metropolitan line services via Watford (Met) to Watford Junction. The Croxley rail link was planned to enable Metropolitan line services to Watford Junction but with the likely loss of Watford (Met) station. This alternative brings Metropolitan line services to Watford Junction but without the loss of Watford (Met).

A tunnelled connection from Watford (Met) to Watford Junction might be envisaged as continuing eastwards with station stops at High Barnet, Cockfosters and Enfield Town although any such proposal would be beyond the scope of our discussions here. Project nickname : mind the Watford gap.

Returning to the Croxley rail link as envisaged and continuing our focus on Rickmansworth via Watford Junction to the MML, a crossing would be envisaged over or under the WCML at Watford, not provided by the Croxley rail link, i.e. connecting Watford High Street to Watford North via Watford Junction. We will not discuss this further here. After that, the remaining challenge is a rail connection from the Abbey line to the MML. For this, it may be helpful to return to the openstreetmap larger map. This effectively becomes the focus of our attention.

From How Wood station on the Abbey line, north of Bricket Wood and south of Park Street, zoom in to view as necessary, in a north easterly direction is a dismantled rail link to the MML at Napsbury and built to mainline standards. This is shown on this map in green, with a road named Branch Road running parallel. It was provided to enable construction traffic for what is now the MML via the Abbey line, which was pre-existing at that time. There is still evidence of it, notably the railway embankment, also a bridge buttress on Watling Street. We understand the bridge over the River Ver still exists. The dismantled rail connection continued over land flattened to become the former Radlett aerodrome and on which developers plan to construct Radlett SRFI, discussed in part one. It is this dismantled link that has provided the inspiration for a proposed rail link between Watford Junction and St Albans (City). Reopening this dismantled railway or the provision of a similar connection, probably further to the south, would provide a link from Watford and the Abbey line to the MML. We refer to this as a direct link, for reasons explained later.

This early map shows the now-dismantled link to the MML at Napsbury, lower brown star. Park Street and Frogmore station was subsequently relocated and is shown at its former location i.e. in the vicinity of the present-day How Wood station. The map also shows the line from St Albans Abbey towards Hatfield, also now dismantled. Click the map for Wikimedia information.

The Victoria history of the County of Hertford Abbey Line

The current design for Radlett SRFI builds over the dismantled rail link to the MML at Napsbury and without assessment.

Some options for extending the Abbey line

Let us illustrate some options for extending the Abbey line, in addition to a direct rail link between Watford Junction and St Albans (City).

Options for Abbey line rail connections

The Abbey line could be extended to St Albans city centre with a new station which we refer to as St Albans Cathedral. The new station would probably benefit from a good business case. Any such proposal would however give rise to some discussion, perhaps less so if it were light rail.

Additionally a footpath could be provided with signs via Verulam Park from the Abbey station to the city centre.

The Abbey line could be connected to the Midland Main Line (MML) by linking St Albans Abbey and St Albans (City) stations. This would probably benefit from a good business case. Ideally this would be for conventional rail and offer through services. It might pass to the south of London Road business park with an alternative means of access to the business park to be determined : https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=17/51.74502/-0.33126

The 45 Grosvenor Road office block, vacant at the time of writing, is shown at openstreetmap.org. This office block seems to be a constraint. It can be seen from the Alban Way, i.e. the trackbed of the former railway line from the Abbey station to Hatfield and now a footpath and cycle track. The office block is located on the northern side of the Alban Way and between the A1081 London Road, the MML and Grosvenor Road.

Satellite view : https://www.google.com/maps/@51.7458644,-0.3272026,500m/data=!3m1!1e3 (click on Map for map view).

There seems to be minimal space between this office block and the MML therefore we have envisaged through services via the Abbey station and St Albans (City) connecting on to the MML immediately to the south of the Alban Way i.e. on the assumption that the office block remains in place. At least one other office block in this vicinity and to the west of the MML has been replaced by apartments : Beaufort House is now Elmshall Place.

As an alternative to through services, a link between St Albans Abbey and St Albans (City) stations could provide for a local service terminating at a bay platform at St Albans (City) as conventional rail or as a light rail link. There seems to be no space for an additional track alongside the existing tracks of the MML between 45 Grosvenor Road and the MML and so this additional link, if 45 Grosvenor Road remains in place, would need to make use of a different alignment. The two possibilities are firstly to the west of 45 Grosvenor Road or secondly to pass beneath London Road and the MML using the two existing bridges. In the second case turning northwards to arrive at St Albans (City) would be far too tight a curvature for conventional rail. We did consider conventional rail to Camp Road on the Alban Way where trains would change direction and make use of a gentler curve to arrive at St Albans (City). Due to turning back at Camp Road it would be reasonable to presume a station stop at this location however there does not seem to be any logical reason to provide a station here. Thus, for example, it would seem to be a pleasant walk between Camp Road and the City station via the Alban Way and then northwards and there would be no purpose served in replicating this by means of a train journey. Later we will illustrate the option of an alignment to the west of 45 Grosvenor Road i.e. the first of these two possibilities without knowing how this might be achieved.

The option of light rail could be considered and connecting from the Abbey station on to Cottonmill Lane although we have not attempted to assess any further details on this. Cottonmill Lane where it is parallel to the Alban Way could also form the basis for conventional rail.

In part one, section "Oxford to Cambridge via Watford Junction", we dismissed the idea of a link from St Albans (City) to the Abbey station on the grounds that it would connect onto the existing single-track line. Here we propose making use of the head of the dismantled railway and therefore we are provided with dual tracks on approach to the Abbey station.

Direct access for pedestrians from Sainsburys to St Albans Abbey station would be helpful.

The Abbey line could be extended to a new station London Colney via a "Saints link", being a connection from St Albans or Saint Albans Abbey to St Pancras or Saint Pancras. The "Saints link" would need to cross over the A414, unless the existing bridge for the MML is of sufficient span to permit an additional track.

The "Saints link" can be assessed by means of a north-south public footpath to the west of the clubhouse. This footpath can (or could) be accessed from the Alban Way or from Cottonmill Lane. However there is no footpath beside Cottonmill Lane from here to Sopwell and the road is banked - not a good route for walking. Access from the Alban Way is perhaps the better option : https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=17/51.74259/-0.32906

Radlett Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI), also known as Radlett freight terminal, is planned currently with a south-to-west connection for access from the Midland Main Line (MML), illustrated in purple above. We have illustrated three alternatives for a rail link between Watford Junction and St Albans (City) in each case rendering unnecessary the south-to-west connection. For the southernmost of these three, Radlett SRFI is accessed via the Abbey line.

New station at London Colney

An option could be to extend the Abbey line to a new station London Colney (or Napsbury). The extended service from Watford Junction would run to London Colney via St Albans Abbey with trains changing direction at St Albans Abbey. This service would run on a new track from St Albans Abbey to London Colney and would not make use of the existing tracks of the MML.

There are various options for the new station at London Colney. This could be the terminus for a service from Watford Junction or from Oxford via Aylesbury and Watford Junction. There could be a connection on to the MML southbound. There could be a connection on to the MML northbound. If the new station at London Colney were to be alongside the MML, there is an open question as to whether this would also become a new station stop for Thameslink services. We would certainly suggest a design that would enable this.

If a new station London Colney were also to be a station stop for Thameslink services, an Oxford to London Colney service could provide an interchange here with a new Thameslink service to Cambridge via London Colney. The latter service would potentially require electrification of the Bedford to Cambridge line and which is not currently envisaged.

Part one of our review discusses train services to facilitate a reduction in car dependence, also congestion reduction on the M25 motorway. For such services via Watford, a connection on to the MML would be essential : a passenger interchange at London Colney would represent a significant disadvantage in terms of rail connectivity and business case. Such services would benefit from a direct link from Watford and the Abbey line to the MML, failing which, a connection on to the MML requiring change of direction at both St Albans Abbey and London Colney.

Watford via St Albans Abbey to the MML northbound

With a northbound connection on to the MML at London Colney, we would have a route from Oxford to Cambridge via Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey, London Colney and St Albans (City). Trains would change direction at both St Albans Abbey and London Colney.

Prior to illustrating a northbound connection on to the MML at London Colney, let us illustrate the Abbey line existing infrastructure.

Abbey line existing infrastructure Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey

Let us now illustrate possible infrastructure for a northbound connection on to the MML at London Colney.

Watford Junction to MML via St Albans Abbey and London Colney

In normal operation, a train would arrive at St Albans Abbey from Watford as a train departs St Albans Abbey in the opposite direction for Watford. For a service every 30 minutes, trains would also pass between Watford North and Watford Junction. If the journey time between St Albans Abbey and London Colney is approximately 5 minutes and if the time for trains to change direction both at St Albans Abbey and at London Colney is 5 minutes, a train would leave London Colney for the MML at the same time as a train from the MML arrives at London Colney.

Normally, a train from St Albans passes Watford North before a train from Watford. The additional track located between Garston and Watford North stations is envisaged to facilitate recovery from late running when a train from St Albans waits to let a train from Watford to be the first to pass Watford North station. However recovery from late running is by no means a straightforward proposition since trains travelling in opposite directions are synchronised at St Albans Abbey. For regional services, for example a service between Oxford and Cambridge, a service may run late for a number of reasons, including the late-running of other services. The infrastructure as envisaged could be appropriate for a local service not track-sharing with other services, one possibility being perhaps a service that terminates in a bay platform at St Albans (City). For regional services, a more extensive infrastructure upgrade would be appropriate.

We have illustrated infrastructure that permits a service every 30 minutes between Rickmansworth and the MML with services changing direction at both St Albans Abbey and London Colney. In this arrangement, there is no requirement for London Colney to be a station stop on the MML itself. Thus there is no requirement for an additional station stop at London Colney either for Thameslink or for longer-distance services on the MML. London Colney is served by a service between Watford Junction and St Albans (City).

We have illustrated a northbound connection on to the MML from Radlett SRFI. This would require the design of Radlett SRFI to be reworked. Freight trains via London would make use of a turnback siding on the MML.

To summarise Watford to the MML northbound, a direct link from Watford to the MML northbound takes inspiration from the dismantled line running north east from How Wood to the MML. Alternatively, an indirect link with services changing direction at both St Albans Abbey and London Colney takes inspiration from the dismantled line from St Albans Abbey towards Hatfield, then turning southwards on what we have termed the "Saints link" to a turnback point at London Colney and thence onto the MML and with a disused platform at St Albans Abbey being brought back into use.

Freight to Radlett SRFI and Watford Junction to London Colney local service

We will now turn our attention in a different direction with a southbound connection on to the MML. Taking account of the proposal for Radlett SRFI, we will discuss a local service between Watford Junction and London Colney. We are here excluding services from Watford Junction connecting on to the MML. Thus we are discussing two matters : Radlett SRFI and a local passenger service. These two matters are illustrated below.

Freight turnback for SRFI on link line to St Albans Abbey and options for local service between 
Watford Junction and London Colney

A freight train from the MML makes use of the link line from London Colney towards St Albans Abbey and then turns back to proceed to the SRFI. A member of SRFI staff drives the train into the SRFI. For the reverse procedure, a member of SRFI staff drives the train onto the link line from London Colney towards St Albans Abbey and the freight train driver then takes over to connect onto the MML and onwards.

A passenger service operates between Watford and London Colney via St Albans Abbey. This shares the single track between St Albans Abbey and the vicinity of London Colney with freight trains. The passenger service does not operate when the track is occupied by a freight train. Freight trains are infrequent and we are here supposing that freight trains can be timed so as to not disrupt the timetabled local passenger service. Alternatively, dual track might be considered.

Let us now turn our attention to the local passenger service. The infrastructure illustrated caters for several possibilities including a possible new station Tippendell located between How Wood and Park Street stations. Named after the nearby Tippendell Lane, this station would replace both How Wood and Park Street stations. It is equipped with a facility for trains to pass, known as a passing loop. The line is elevated in this vicinity which implies that costs for construction would be greater than for a station constructed on flat ground. Because the line is elevated, this would be no more than a passing loop, that is, there would be no dual track upgrade to the existing line either northwards or southwards from Tippendell station. If trains in each direction pass at Tippendell, time has to be allocated for this and which adds, let us say, 3 minutes to the journey time in each direction between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey. This station is hypothesised as a replacement for both How Wood and Park Street stations and which would close. The closure of an intermediate station on the Abbey line is calculated to save 1 minute from the journey time. Overall 3 minutes are added to the journey time but a minute is deducted for each of the two stations that close and so the overall journey time increases by one minute. It may however be safer to assume an increased journey time of 2 minutes.

Tippendell station would provide improved access to the Abbey line for residents of Chiswell Green.

Views in the vicinity :
1. To the west of the railway line, view northwards of path beside railway line, the railway bridge being on the right :
https://www.instantstreetview.com/@51.721558,-0.342349,0h,0p,1z
2. To the east of the railway line, view southwards of footpath through Park Street play area, the railway bridge being on the right :
https://www.instantstreetview.com/@51.721651,-0.341761,171.99h,4.41p,0.4z

Let us now consider the scenario in which Tippendell station would be constructed. A service every 30 minutes with two trains could be provided by three drivers. At Tippendell, the station is equipped with a central island with two platform faces enabling a driver to disembark from a southbound train and board a northbound train. Assuming the journey time from St Albans Abbey to London Colney is five minutes, we arrive at a service every 30 minutes with two trains and with the following characteristics. South of Tippendell, there is one driver on board who, at Watford Junction, walks to the other end of the train to proceed with the service northwards, the turnround time here being six minutes. North of Tippendell, there are two drivers on board the train with a driver at each end. The turnround time at St Albans Abbey is three minutes and at London Colney is four minutes.

Whilst more detailed calculations are essential before getting out a shovel to start constructing Tippendell station, it might we demonstrated that these timings provide the basis for a service that could be implemented in reality. However it is abundantly clear that there is no facility whatsoever to recover from late running. We suggest that this might be accepted. To compensate and permit recovery, the service every 30 minutes would operate for a limited period - for example during the morning and evening peaks - and at other times the service frequency would be timetabled to be less strenuous, perhaps a train every 40 minutes or every 45 minutes, enabling more time allocated for turnround.

A more relaxed service every 30 minutes could be provided by the use of three trains, each train with one driver. The timings for this are those from the previous section for trains from Watford onto the MML except that, instead of connecting on to the MML, trains turn round at London Colney. In particular, a train would arrive at St Albans Abbey from Watford as a train departs St Albans Abbey in the opposite direction for Watford. The infrastructure for this is as in the previous section, with dual track between Watford Junction and Watford North. Again, additionally, dual track between Watford North and Garston provides the capability to recover from late running. The turnround times are approximately 12 minutes at London Colney and nearly 30 minutes at Watford Junction. We suggest neither of these sections of dual track would be required for the previous scenario - i.e. a service every 30 minutes with two trains - nor for the next scenario, which follows.

The next scenario and also the final one we will discuss for a local service between Watford Junction and London Colney is a service every 20 minutes with three trains. In this scenario the infrastructure we outlined for Tippendell is instead provided at Bricket Wood. Additionally there would be dual track southwards from Bricket Wood for some distance, possibly as far as Garston station. As for Tippendell, the station is equipped with a central island with two platform faces enabling a driver to disembark from a southbound train and board a northbound train. Trains pass at Bricket Wood or somewhere south of Bricket Wood on the dual track section. Trains also pass at St Albans Abbey. The means by which trains are timetabled is that a train from London Colney arrives at the western-most platform at St Albans Abbey, then a train from Watford arrives as soon as possible afterwards at the eastern-most platform, that is, the two trains have crossed paths.

In this scenario, timetabling is calculated so that the journey time between Watford and St Albans is no greater than the current 16 minutes. We suggest this could prove to be feasible although more detailed calculations would be necessary. Provisional estimates for turnround times are five minutes at Watford, four minutes at St Albans Abbey and five minutes at London Colney. There is only limited capability for recovery from late running and so a service every 20 minutes would operate only for a limited period prior to switching to a service frequency timetabled to be less strenuous.

There has been discussion of a passing loop at Bricket Wood based on that at Penryn. This was conjectured in a different scenario of a service between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey with ample time for turnround at each terminus. It seems likely that the transit delays for trains at a passing loop based on that at Penryn are greater than those for trains passing on a section of dual track with a more conventional arrangement. We would not advocate a passing loop based on that at Penryn in this scenario where turnround times are relatively tight.

If there is only one driver on each train, drivers walk from one end of the train to the other at each of Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey, London Colney and St Albans Abbey a second time before returning to Watford. Drivers would certainly get fit. As an exercise for the reader, if drivers walked from one end of the train to the other only at Watford Junction, with two drivers on each train north of Bricket Wood, how many drivers would be needed ? If there were one driver less than that, how much exercise would the drivers get ?

We have illustrated infrastructure for connection to Rickmansworth although this would not necessarily apply in this case.

The business case for a local service between Watford and London Colney will be more viable if London Colney is also a station stop for at least some Thameslink services and which our illustration is not intended to preclude : the MML itself is not illustrated.

An additional possibility is that a southbound connection on to the MML at London Colney might offer the potential for a Thameslink service commencing at St Albans Abbey. In conjunction with a line northwards from St Albans Abbey, there is the potential for an MML loop line.

Upgrading the Abbey line

In general, much of the Abbey line has the potential to be upgraded from single track to dual track. There is a notable exception to this, from How Wood northwards until the approach to the Abbey station. At How Wood station, the terrain is flat to the south but not to the north.

Opposite Park Street station is an embankment down to the River Ver.

A third point of observation would be the Abbots Avenue West overbridge from which the railway cutting can be admired, alternatively, by travelling on the train.

An additional noteworthy point is the bridge over the M25 located to the north of Bricket Wood and south of How Wood and which is single track.

Local service to Hatfield

Here we discuss a local service between Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey and Hatfield making use of the dismantled line from St Albans Abbey to Hatfield. We will not identify the terminus in Hatfield. The aim here is for the new line to be single track through the built-up area of St Albans. To achieve this, as a train from Hatfield arrives at the Abbey station, a train departs from the Abbey station for Hatfield. To the east of St Albans in open country a section of dual track is envisaged. Because trains are synchronised at the Abbey station, we envisage this as a local service. Thus, even if the line connected to an ECML station, through services would be unlikely.

Local service between Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey and Hatfield

For a service every 30 minutes, trains pass at the mid-point between Garston and Bricket Wood. Trains are synchronised departing northbound from Garston and southbound from Bricket Wood, the turnround time at Watford being around 14 minutes.

For a service every 20 minutes, trains pass just to the south of How Wood. To facilitate this, trains would be able to pass at How Wood. A train arrives at Watford Junction a couple of minutes before a train leaves from Watford, with a turnround time at Watford of around 22 minutes.

A more frequent service might be a tram service. For this a tram-passing facility would be available within the built-up area of St Albans and which we might envisage as being located to the east of Camp Road. We have not illustrated any upgrade to Abbey line infrastructure in this case. Possibly a tram could run every 10 minutes.

Reopening the former line, even as single track through the built-up area of St Albans, would be disruptive to housing, probably in more than one location.

The existing dismantled line is well used for walking and cycling and there could not reasonably be any loss of facility in this respect. Whether rerouted or alongside the new line, the facility to walk or cycle between St Albans and Hatfield would necessarily be retained. This is potentially a challenge. All bridges on this line were originally built to accommodate dual track, with the curious exception of the bridge over the River Ver located to the east of Cottonmill Lane and to the west of London Road. The Colney Heath Lane bridge has been rebuilt and would now only accommodate a single track line.

To pass beneath the MML it is perhaps possible that the bridge could be shared, with a footpath and cycle track alongside the railway track, a suitable divider providing separation. On the Avon Valley preserved railway there is a shared bridge with a footpath and cycle track alongside a low speed single track line : Avon Valley Railway gallery (opens in new window or tab). What other examples are there ? The Frimley single passing beneath the South West Main Line shares a bridge with a footpath but the footpath was closed some years ago.

Through services via Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey and City
Through services via Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey and City

Here we envisage through services via Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey and City operating every 30 minutes in each direction. If the current local service between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey continued to operate, it would compete for direct travel between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey with the through services and which would not be a viable business proposition. Therefore the local service would not continue at least when through services were scheduled. Intermediate stations would be served as station stops on through services however passengers on through services would not be delighted to be sitting on trains calling at minor station stops of which they were previously unaware, resulting in a trade-off. It is well known that Park Street and How Wood stations are within walking distance of eachother and both are amongst the least-patronised stations in Hertfordshire. Opposite Park Street station there is a footpath alongside the railway line that leads to How Wood station, an alternative route for walking being via local roads. A straightforward proposition could be to review and upgrade the footpath alongside the railway line between the two stations and then consider either Park Street or How Wood as a candidate for closure or possibly both with a replacement Tippendell Lane referenced earlier.

If How Wood station were to close, it should be noted that there is a crossing of the line at this point and therefore closure of the station should include as integral to the plan the replacement of the crossing by a bridge over the line.

If Park Street station were to close, it is possible that the car park would be retained for rail passengers.

Passenger numbers are included in the draft Hertfordshire rail strategy 2019 referenced later and are reproduced here in descending order. We have omitted Watford Junction since we are here considering patronage of the Abbey line.

St Albans Abbey 169,036

Watford North 101,716

Garston 80,540

How Wood 33,592

Bricket Wood 21,618

Park Street 21,428

Not only How Wood and Park Street, which are in proximity to eachother, but also Bricket Wood are amongst the least-patronised stations in Hertfordshire. We do feel it would be better for passengers on through services if the number of intermediate stations reduced from five to three. Watford North and Garston are the most-patronised of the five intermediate stations. In outlining through services we feel that some flexibility is appropriate to cater for services that call at three intermediate stations and services that call at four. Thus for example we could envisage a service calling at three intermediate stations hourly and a service calling at four intermediate stations hourly. This could result in 2 trains an hour calling at Watford North, Garston and a combined How Wood/Park Street station and a service hourly at Bricket Wood. We are not here formulating any plan but rather hypothesising possible calling patterns for through services.

With this hypothesis we have illustrated infrastructure that caters for flexibility in the number of intermediate station stops for through services. Services in opposite directions are timed to pass at St Albans Abbey where there is a disused second platform that has the potential to become a second platform in use. This timing reduces the probability of pathing conflicts for the section of the line between How Wood and St Albans Abbey which is inevitably single-track.

We have illustrated the link between St Albans Abbey and St Albans (City) as single track and the same observation applies here. It is worth noting that dual track here would be useful : if a southbound train on the MML is running late, a train at St Albans Abbey could progress until it is waiting to enter the MML and then do so as the southbound train leaves the MML. This is envisaged as a flat double junction since we have been unable to find any alternative.

In normal operation a train from St Albans (City) arrives at St Albans Abbey two minutes before a train from Watford Junction. When the second train has arrived, the train from St Albans (City) then continues to Watford Junction. With three intermediate stations stops, the train passes the next in the opposite direction in the vicinity of Watford Junction. If the train is late departing St Albans Abbey for some reason, train passing can take place between Watford North and Garston.

With four intermediate stops, the train from St Albans Abbey passes the next in the opposite direction between Watford North and Garston. If the train is late departing St Albans Abbey for some reason, train passing can take place between Garston and Bricket Wood.

We did attempt to timetable trains with five intermediate stops and found that operations became tightly-timed which would not be desireable. In the case of either three or four intermediate stops, there would seem to be capacity to recover from two or three minutes of late running. Where services are running late beyond this, service cancellation would be necessary without entering the Abbey line, failing which, all subsequent services remain synchronised with the late-running train and so are also late-running. It would be possible to plan infrastructure that permits greater flexibility.

Hertfordshire provides local bus information at intalink.org.uk including local maps for Bricket Wood and How Wood. What if there were an hourly bus service from Park Street, How Wood and Bricket Wood to Watford and an hourly bus service from Bricket Wood, How Wood and Park Street to St Albans ? It is then possible that a train service would call twice an hour at Watford North and Garston, hourly at Bricket Wood and hourly at a combined How Wood/Park Street station. We have not outlined infrastructure for this. We know that there is stability for at least some bus services in this area, notably bus 321 and green line 724 which have been operating since at least the 1970's. If tickets were exchangeable between bus and train we might envisage buses and trains timed to complement each other i.e. buses and trains co-ordinated to provide a local service to Watford and to St Albans approximately every 30 minutes at Bricket Wood, How Wood and Park Street.

At times when no through services are running and if there is no infrastructure at St Albans (City) for termination of a local service, it is possible that a local service would be provided between Watford and St Albans Abbey.

Local service to St Albans City

Distinct alignments for through services via St Albans City and a local service to St Albans City were discussed earlier in the section "Some options for extending the Abbey line". In the case of a local service to St Albans City, we are unable to suggest any suitable alignment and so this case cannot be considered as any more than hypothetical.

Local service every 20 or 30 minutes to St Albans City

In terms of the frequency of a local service, there are two distinct cases to consider, the first being a service every 30 minutes. Trains pass at How Wood and do not call at Park Street. There is a central island platform pair at How Wood. There is one driver for the journey between Watford Junction and How Wood and two drivers for the journey between How Wood and St Albans (City). The service is provided by two trains and three drivers. The train from St Albans arrives at How Wood two minutes prior to the train from Watford, giving time for a driver to cross to the opposite platform. Dual track on the Watford side of How Wood until the M25 bridge is useful since it permits the train from St Albans to continue its journey without waiting for the other train. The infrastructure is very different from that we have outlined for through services.

The turnround time is approximately 10 minutes at Watford Junction and 4 minutes at St Albans (City). At both St Albans stations there is a driver at each end of the train to permit rapid turnround, envisaged as 3 minutes at St Albans Abbey. A driver departing Watford Junction at 09:00 is on duty to St Albans (City), then to How Wood, then to St Albans (City) then to Watford Junction for arrival there at 10:20, departing Watford Junction at 10:30 if still on duty.

Although not illustrated, it is possible that there is a direct link from Watford Junction to St Albans (City) in addition to this local service. We do well to consider operations at Watford Junction. Firstly, regional services as described earlier e.g. from Oxford to Cambridge or to Stansted Airport. Secondly, Metropolitan line services presumably to Watford Junction. Thirdly, Overground services to Watford Junction as currently. Fourthly, the local service we are envisaging here. There has to be a priority assignment for these services. The local service is likely to be last in the pecking order and therefore with increased probability of running late. To compensate for this i.e. reduce inconvenience, there is a case for a local service every 20 minutes and this is the second case to consider.

Trains pass at St Albans Abbey with the train from Watford arriving two minutes before the train from St Albans (City). There is dual track from the vicinity of Garston station through Bricket Wood until the M25 bridge. Trains do not call at Park Street. Between Watford and St Albans (City), the service is provided by three trains. We assume there is only one driver on each train and that the turnround time at St Albans Abbey is 4 mnutes.

Timings depend on the number of intermediary station stops. With only three i.e. Watford North, Garston and either Bricket Wood or How Wood, the turnround times are approximately 6 minutes at Watford and 8 minutes at St Albans (City). With four intermediary stops, the turnround times are approximately 4 minutes at Watford and 8 minutes at St Albans (City). A turnround of 4 minutes at Watford might be regarded as rather tight, however these timings would provide the basis for a service between Rickmansworth and St Albans (City).

Increasing the frequency of the existing Abbey line train service

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.

We might hypothesise that the operator of Radlett SRFI be required to pay the subsidy for this increased frequency of service. In such a case, it is unlikely that the developer of Radlett SRFI would be required to incorporate a Watford Junction to St Albans (City) link into their design, hence effectively precluding it.

The debate concerning how to achieve a more frequent service on the Abbey line has been ongoing for some years. We propose that the goal posts are moved, to consider options for extending the Abbey line, with a service frequency of at least every 30 minutes at least at peak times integral to each option. Some of these options would be subject to business case evaluation. A plan would then be put in place. With a plan for the future of the line, the existing infrastructure would be enhanced to enable greater frequency of the existing service and this would be phase one of the plan.

List of options for extending the Abbey line

Here is a list of options for extending the Abbey line although there are likely to be additional possibilities.

The Abbey line could be extended northwards to Hemel Hempstead.

The Abbey line could be extended northwards to Stevenage.

The Abbey line could be extended to a new station St Albans Cathedral.

The Abbey line could be extended to provide a local service to Hatfield. Later we will introduce an alternative not making use of the Alban Way and which would permit through services.

The Abbey line could be linked from St Albans Abbey to St Albans (City) either for through services or local services.

The Abbey line could be extended to London Colney with a northbound connection on to the MML.

The Abbey line could be extended to London Colney with a freight turnback siding for Radlett SRFI.

With both a link between Watford Junction to St Albans (City) and a new station on an extended Abbey line at London Colney, there is likely to be an alternative route to St Albans Abbey as a result i.e. not via Park Street station. Park Street station serves few passengers and is also located within relatively easy walking distance of How Wood station. If Park Street station were to close, we would have a new route for the Watford to St Albans service, which would be Watford Junction, Watford North, Garston, Bricket Wood, How Wood, London Colney, St Albans Abbey. This would seem to have the potential to serve more passengers than the current service.

With a crossing over or under the WCML at Watford, the Abbey line service might reasonably be extended via Watford. We would highlight a possible all-stations-stop service between Rickmansworth and St Albans Abbey.

The Abbey line service could be extended to Watford High Street. Although there is potential overlap with the previous option, there are separate characteristics to this option. Perhaps the existing service would be extended to a terminus at Watford High Street.

A414 Mass Rapid Transit

Hertfordshire County Council's plans include an east west road-based Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project centred on the A414. The A414 corridor strategy technical report is available here : Referenced papers and reports

Page 58 of this document provides an illustration :

A414 Mass Rapid Transit

New Hertfordshire rail strategy

Part one of our review of travel in the Oxford to Cambridge arc referenced the Hertfordshire rail strategy dated June 2016. A draft 2019 update to this strategy is available here : Referenced papers and reports

In the section Midland Main Line, we read "A new rail link between Stevenage and Luton (a distance of only 15 miles by road) would provide a connection between the East Coast and Midland Main Lines, and could form part of East West Rail. As well as providing new rail opportunities across the two main lines, it would directly link the two towns with a combined population of over 300,000 and Luton Airport." Clearly this is envisaged as via Bletchley whereas we are discussing a route via Watford Junction.

Figure 5 in the section West Coast Main Line illustrates Watford Junction as a "super-hub". It clearly illustrates Hertfordshire's east west road-based Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) competing with the Abbey line. The railway line itself would provide an ideal alignment for the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and therefore the competition leads to closure of the railway line and conversion to a bus link. We will return to this question later.

Mass Rapid Transit at Watford Junction

In the section Chiltern Line, we read "The county council has aspirations for a new service from Watford Junction to Rickmansworth and Aylesbury. This would provide new connectivity with the South West Hertfordshire conurbation, and new regional links to Aylesbury and beyond. Previous proposals for the scheme utilised the new viaduct that would have been constructed for the Metropolitan Line Extension. With the cancellation of this scheme, new infrastructure would have to be provided in the form of a new viaduct or a route via the old railway line to Rickmansworth." Earlier we outlined an alternative possibility of a tunnelled connection from Watford (Met) to Watford Junction.

Returning to the research published in August 2014

On 8 August 2014 consultants Atkins published "East West Rail - Central Section Conditional Outputs Statement". Atkins researched the potential for rail travel in the Oxford to Cambridge arc by considering 26 towns and cities as pairs. For example, they determined the potential for travel between Luton and Stevenage and between Oxford and Cambridge. In each case, a direct rail link between the two towns was hypothesised. Comparison could then be made with, for example, journey time by car. Pairs of towns that already have a direct rail link were excluded, for example, travel between Bedford and Luton. With a list of pairs of towns and cities (26 x 26), the results were then ranked, the first two ranks being very high priority journey pairs and high priority journey pairs. The published results included illustrations :

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.

In part one we initially focused on the very high priority journey pair between St Albans and Cambridge. Part one of our review concluded with the following summary diagrammatic map, also included earlier.


Summary southern option for Oxford to Cambridge arc central section
Adding connectivity

Noting the high connectivity results for Harlow in the Atkins research, we have decided to revise our summary diagrammatic map as follows.

Revised summary southern option for Oxford to Cambridge arc central section

The changes are substantial and we will now list our reasons.

As a result of the high connectivity results for Harlow, we have added a rail connection from Stevenage to Ware and from Ware to Harlow Town. Part one hypothesised a service between Oxford and Stevenage and which is now extended to become a service between Oxford and Stansted Airport via Stevenage and Harlow.

Hertfordshire's east west road-based Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project was referenced earlier. A service between Oxford and Stansted Airport via Stevenage and Harlow with complementary bus/coach services is an alternative to the MRT, as also is a shorter service between Rickmansworth, Watford, Stevenage and Harlow.

The aspiration for any services terminating at Harlow Town is that they will not require paths on the West Anglia Main Line (WAML).

The service from Moorgate on the Hertford loop, i.e. via Hertford North, accesses Stevenage station platform 5 without requiring paths on the ECML. The service can be viewed on the opentraintimes.com website at OpenTrainTimes : signalling at Stevenage (both open in a new window or tab).

As a result, we have opted to illustrate all east west rail services accessing Stevenage from the south, although there is no reason to insist on this. Effectively we are being provided with east west rail connectivity at Stevenage, although trains will need to change direction at Stevenage and we would benefit from at least one additional platform.

We were thinking that Luton Airport Parkway station on the MML would be replaced by a new station at Luton Airport itself however we have decided to withdraw that assumption.

Given that the East West Railway Company (EWR Co) has announced its preferred route for Bedford to Cambridge with east west rail services calling at Bedford Midland station, we have updated our summary diagrammatic map to reflect the situation in which we now find ourselves. The green-coloured connecting lines from the Midland Main Line (MML) to the Bletchley - Bedford line are no longer required, although we do envisage services from the Midland Main Line (MML) connecting on to the line to Cambridge.

A link between St Albans Abbey and St Albans (City) stations was discussed earlier.

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

Relocation of a railway station

We have discussed a possible new station London Colney located on the MML. As from now, we are renaming this station Napsbury Interchange. A new station London Colney is hypothesised separately on a new line from St Albans Abbey to Hatfield, coloured green, being an extension of the existing Abbey line via London Colney to Hatfield. This new line would be an alternative to a Luton to Stevenage corridor and is an extension of the "Saints link" referenced earlier.

Luton to Stevenage corridor

There would be two east west rail services :

(i) Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans (City), Luton Airport Parkway, Luton, Bedford, Cambridge

(ii) Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans (City), Stevenage (change of direction), Ware, Harlow, Stansted Airport.

Neither service calls at Welwyn nevertheless there are high connectivity results for Welwyn in the Atkins research. It seems reasonable in the case of a Luton to Stevenage corridor to hypothesise local east west rail services : Welwyn to Watford Junction, Welwyn to Luton Airport Parkway and Luton, Welwyn to Harlow and also Luton and Luton Airport Parkway to Harlow.

At this point it may be helpful to zoom in on Welwyn Garden City station at openstreetmap.org and also refer to the wikipedia article
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welwyn_Garden_City_railway_station

There are four platforms at Welwyn Garden City and a flyover to the south of the station. Platform 1 is the eastern-most and is only used occasionally. Platform 4 is the western-most and is used for the service from Moorgate terminating at Welwyn and which uses the flyover for the return service from this platform to Moorgate.

We note that a southbound service arriving at Welwyn platform 1 could proceed to a turnback siding, then use the flyover to access platform 4 and so return northbound. That is, we have the infrastructure necessary for east west rail at Welwyn. At this point let us assume an upgrade to the ECML to provide four tracks between Welwyn and Knebworth and that, by arrangement, paths are then available for local east west rail services to Welwyn.

We would seem to have the infrastructure for east west rail services at Welwyn. Moreover, by reference to the wikipedia article, if trains providing this service are a little shorter than trains for London commuter services, there are 4 sidings at Welwyn available for local east west rail services. We do indeed seem to have what we need for east west rail services at Welwyn.

A question is how east west rail services to Welwyn would interact with the suggested ECML upgrade. The following diagrammatic map provides a representation of the Luton to Stevenage corridor.

Luton to Stevenage corridor with connections to existing lines

We have attempted to illustrate a corridor rather than draw a line on a map although we have assumed that the corridor is to the south of Stevenage and to the north of Welwyn. There are three alternative connecting chords to Welwyn which we will now discuss.

  1. This is a connection for east west rail from Watford and from Luton on to the ECML to Welwyn. A service from Oxford to Stansted Airport could also be routed via Welwyn : Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans (City), Welwyn (change of direction), Stevenage (change of direction), Ware, Harlow, Stansted Airport.

  2. This is a different connection for east west rail from Watford and from Luton to Welwyn not requiring paths on the ECML. It is a purpose-specific new rail connection to Welwyn and we outline it as an alternative to an ECML upgrade. A service from Oxford to Stansted Airport could be routed via Welwyn as for note 1. This purpose-specific rail connection takes inspiration from the Dunstable, Luton, Harpenden and Welwyn dismantled line which ran via Sherrardspark, being to the north-west of the station.

    Interestingly it is possible that Welwyn North station, possibly relocated, could be served by this purpose-specific rail connection, raising the question as to what service would be provided at Welwyn North, also with the potential to replace ECML services at this station and so increase ECML capacity.

  3. A connection for east west rail from Harlow on to the ECML to Welwyn as an alternative to note 1. This would necessitate east west services travelling twice between the Hertford loop and the ECML. A service from Oxford to Stansted Airport could be routed via Welwyn : Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans (City), Stevenage (change of direction), Welwyn (change of direction), Ware, Harlow, Stansted Airport.

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

We noted earlier that a southbound service arriving at Welwyn platform 1 could proceed to a turnback siding, then use the flyover to access platform 4 and so return northbound. This would possess some similarity with the existing service from Moorgate terminating at Welwyn which 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).

St Albans Abbey to Hatfield corridor

To our summary diagrammatic map earlier we have added an alternative to a Luton to Stevenage corridor, being St Albans Abbey via London Colney to Hatfield. This would be an extension of the existing Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey line and was not included in our earlier list of options for extending the Abbey line. We are provided with the means for a service from Watford via St Albans Abbey (change of direction), London Colney and Hatfield to Welwyn. Since there are currently only 2 tracks on the ECML between Knebworth and Welwyn, there would be free paths for such a service connecting on to the ECML and terminating at Welwyn. We are here taking inspiration from the existing Moorgate to Welwyn service.

We have illustrated Watford to Hatfield not via St Albans Abbey. This would be useful for example for freight via Watford if Radlett SRFI were to be relocated alongside the line to Hatfield.

We have also illustrated Watford to Bedford envisaged as providing the service we have previously discussed Oxford to Cambridge via Bedford : Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans (City), Luton Airport Parkway, Luton, Bedford, Cambridge. This requires east west rail at Watford Junction. Possibly this would connect onto the MML eastern-most pair of lines.

We have illustrated a connection for a Thameslink service turning off the MML with an open question as to whether such a service would run to St Albans Abbey or to Watford. We have assumed this would connect onto the MML eastern-most pair of lines. Neither this junction nor the junction for Watford to Bedford would be flat.

Current Thameslink services run on both the western-most pair of lines and the eastern-most pair, the western-most pair being shared with East Midlands Railway and serving platforms 3 and 4 at St Albans City. Some Thameslink services on the eastern-most pair terminate northbound at St Albans City platform 2 and change direction in a centrally-located siding in order to recommence service southbound at platform 1.

How many platforms might there be at St Albans Abbey ? Might the adjacent car park (Sainsburys) become multi-storey ?

Our discussion concerning the calling pattern at intermediate station stops between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey in section "Through services via Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey and City" also applies here. If tickets were exchangeable between bus and train we might envisage buses and trains timed to complement each other i.e. buses and trains co-ordinated to provide a local service to Watford and to St Albans approximately every 30 minutes at Bricket Wood, How Wood and Park Street.

A partial implementation of a St Albans Abbey to Hatfield corridor could terminate at Napsbury Interchange as a station stop on the MML and designed to permit future extension via London Colney to Hatfield. Assuming the journey time from St Albans Abbey to Napsbury Interchange is 5 minutes, by reference to section "Freight to Radlett SRFI and Watford Junction to London Colney local service" and with a new station Tippendell on the Abbey line, a service every 30 minutes between Watford Junction and Napsbury Interchange could be provided by two trains with three drivers.

We have envisaged Napsbury Interchange as an interchange station on the MML. However with both a Thameslink service turning off the MML and a Watford to Bedford service, we suggest there would be little use of the interchange station. In this case, we might envisage one or two bridges over the MML and no interchange station, thus, no new station stop on the MML : it depends on what services are planned.

An alternative scenario to Thameslink could be an extension of a Medway Towns service via HS1 using Javelin trains currently terminating at St Pancras to or via St Albans Abbey.

Regarding our proposal for Aylesbury Interchange as a station stop on High Speed 2, (article : Proposal for Aylesbury Interchange on High Speed 2 ) we might envisage a service possibly Thameslink from Brighton via St Albans Abbey and Watford to Aylesbury Interchange.

Given a service from Watford via St Albans Abbey (change of direction), London Colney and Hatfield to Welwyn, a cut-down MRT could operate between Welwyn and Harlow.

With east west rail at Watford Junction, with 4 tracks on the ECML between Knebworth and Welwyn and with rail connections from Stevenage to Ware and from Ware to Harlow Town we have the infrastructure for the service we have previously discussed between Oxford and Stansted Airport via Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, St Albans Abbey (change of direction), Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage (change of direction), Ware and Harlow. This service interchanges with a service to Bedford and also with a Thameslink service. The cut-down MRT is then phased out.

In this case it is reasonable to suggest that the Dunstable to Luton busway would be extended to Stevenage.

Outer London rail consortium

We would like to suggest that the potential for east west rail via Watford Junction be brought within the scope of the East West Rail Consortium. Of the various services that might be considered, firstly, Oxford to Cambridge via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, St Albans, Luton Airport Parkway, Luton and Bedford. Secondly, Oxford to Stansted Airport via Aylesbury, Watford Junction, Stevenage, Ware and Harlow.

We suggest it would be reasonable to consider the creation of an Outer London rail consortium.

Our article Camberley : coming in from the cold proposes a London commuter service via Bagshot, Camberley and Frimley.

In part one, we suggested a circular service making use of Crossrail 2 via Oxford and Cambridge. As an update, it would seem reasonable to suggest a service via Stevenage and Ware and not via Cambridge. The service would operate clockwise and anti-clockwise on the following route :

Broxbourne, St Pancras, Victoria, Clapham Junction, Wimbledon, Surbiton, Weybridge, Woking, Brookwood, Camberley, Wokingham, Reading, Oxford, Aylesbury, Rickmansworth, Watford Junction, Stevenage, Ware and Broxbourne.

This route can be followed on our summary diagrammatic map :

Summary diagrammatic map : our projects in relation to one another (opens in new window or tab, click with magnifying glass).

We hypothesise that such a service might contribute to a reduction in car dependency and of congestion on the M25 motorway, that is, significant modal shift to rail.

Without Crossrail 2, a modified version of such a service might operate from London Waterloo to either Kings Cross or Moorgate or Liverpool Street.

We are proposing Aylesbury Interchange (AI) as a station stop on the High Speed 2 railway line (article : Proposal for Aylesbury Interchange on High Speed 2 ). An Outer London rail consortium might consider the merits of this proposal.

We are pleased to announce a proposed name OL-Rac, Outer London Rail Consortium or OL-Anorac, Outer London Another Rail Consortium, unless someone has a better idea.

Watford Junction station

There are plans to redevelop Watford Junction station and build offices above the station. Such plans close off options for the future and seem to be the result of 1960's thinking that regards rail travel as a thing of the past, boxing in and limiting railway lines and stations and preventing future expansion. Thus for example the redevelopment of land at Kings Cross in central London but which would have been extremely useful for High Speed 2 : High Speed 2 therefore terminates at Euston having lost the opportunity for a station combined with High Speed 1 i.e. St Pancras. A further example was the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street without resolving problems with passenger flows. Specifically, we suggest there needs to be provision for east west rail at Watford.

Garden Village

Park Street Garden Village is proposed as an alternative to Radlett SRFI. It would be helpful if the design, albeit at an early stage, were reworked to incorporate options for rail developments in this area.

Stevenage to Harlow via Hertford

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

This discussed Stevenage to Harlow and Stansted Airport via Hertford : sections 4.42 and 4.43 on page 30. We are proposing Stevenage to Harlow to the north of Hertford, in which case passengers from Hertford change trains in order to access new services.

Concerning construction of a chord to enable services from Hertford East to Stansted Airport, the following information in the discussion paper is of interest : sections 4.44 to 4.46 (page 30) and figure 4.4 (page 31). We are proposing a longer chord directly to Harlow Town, the aspiration being for any services terminating at Harlow Town that they will not require paths on the West Anglia Main Line (WAML).

Some of the challenges that would be associated with a new line through Hertford are listed in the first paragraph at Disused stations : Hertford North station (first site) (opens in new window or tab).

England's Economic Heartland

England's Economic Heartland (EEH) considers transport infrastructure in the Oxford to Cambridge arc. In part one of our research section "Corridor boundaries" we raised doubts about the boundaries of this arc. There is good news : Hertfordshire is entirely within the scope of England's Economic Heartland (EEH) as illustrated :

EEH membership

Network Rail with EEH has conducted a review of the existing rail network, the Passenger Rail Study Phase One. This is available on the EEH website : phase one rail study (pdf format, opens in new window or tab).

The terms GJS, generalised journey speed, and GJT, generalised journey time are employed.

On page 7 "This baselining exercise has highlighted some key connectivity gaps that exist across the Heartland. These may inform potential strategic priorities for EEH to consider as part of future rail enhancement projects. These corridors are:
Northern Arc: A corridor linking North Oxfordshire with Northamptonshire and on to Peterborough
Central Arc: Linking Swindon and Reading through Oxford to Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich via Milton Keynes and Bedford, overlapping with the East West Rail corridor
Southern Arc: Linking the southern edge of EEH north of the M25 corridor."
There is an accompanying illustration not reproduced here. It is the southern arc that is of specific interest to us.

Key nodes are illustrated on page 13, an illustration we appreciate :

EEH key nodes

We will select just a few highlights from the document.

On page 52, "St Albans Abbey and St Albans City stations are over a mile apart, which leaves passengers with lengthy connection times as a result."

On page 63 "The GJT from St Albans to Watford Junction via the Abbey Line stands at 50 minutes and the GJS is slow at just 23 mph. The slow GJS is a direct result of the 50-mph maximum line speed and the frequent stopping pattern of the services along the way." We would presume that the infrequent service at most every 45 minutes is a factor, albeit mentioned earlier in the same paragraph. The implication is that there would be greater utilisation if there were fewer intermediate stops, a matter we have discussed.

On page 64 "It will be quicker for a person to walk from the centre of St Albans to the centre of Hatfield, as opposed to making the journey via rail because of the need to go via London. This illustrates how the rail offering from St Albans to both Hatfield and Welwyn is simply not a viable journey."

For case study 7 St Albans on page 65, "For destinations south of the East West route, the new railway [ i.e. Oxford to Cambridge via Sandy/Tempsford ] will provide little benefit" and "rail journeys to locations nearby on the southern fringes of the Heartland are particularly poor".

For case study 11 East West rail on page 81, "An identical situation exists in the south of the region where East West [ i.e. Oxford to Cambridge via Sandy/Tempsford ] doesn't provide a faster alternative to travelling via London."

On page 82, "The Southern Arc. The concept of the Southern Arc is similar to that of the Northern Arc, but with the benefits of potentially relieving pressure on the orbital road network in this area, most notably the M25 and A414, promoting modal shift and decarbonisation. It would enable an increase of rail usage and create journey opportunities where rail doesn't currently offer a viable alternative to other transport means. By linking the radial main lines at this point creates the potential for a London orbital route." We can only agree.

Phase 1 studies the existing rail network. Phase 2 will establish the economic benefits of providing better rail connectivity in the future. What will be the results of phase 2 ?

Here is our response to the EEH public consultation 14 July - 6 October 2020 : Response to England's Economic Heartland consultation 2020 (pdf format, opens in new window or tab).

Campaign group Railfuture's response to the EEH public consultation Railfuture's response to England's Economic Heartland consultation 2020 (pdf format, opens in new window or tab) proposes rail for the southern corridor at 3.2C and reviving the Croxley rail link at 9A.

A new line from St Albans Abbey

We have discussed a number of options for 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 will now illustrate use of the head of the former line.

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

We suggest selecting the option to view a larger map, which opens in a new window or tab. Source : OpenStreetMap.org


View larger map : special offer : move around and zoom in (opens in new window or tab)

On the larger map 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 the A 1081 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.

With the exception of reopening the former line all the way along the Alban Way to Hatfield as discussed in section "Local service to Hatfield", we need follow the Alban Way no further since all options for a new railway line would 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, the new line would then be oriented southwards, parallel to the MML. By zooming in on the 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 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 ).


Cottonmill Lane westwards

It is clear that much is to be determined, including the retention of facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.

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).

The former St Albans London Road station is located on the Alban Way unsurprisingly and adjacent to London Road. With the exception of reopening the former line all the way along the Alban Way to Hatfield as discussed in section "Local service to Hatfield", there would be no new railway line here.


Former St Albans London Road station

We have not planned any new line beyond the St Albans geographic area. In the case of an extension of the existing Abbey line via London Colney to Hatfield, there would potentially be a new station stop on the MML although this depends on what train services are planned to St Albans Abbey and Watford Junction stations. There would be a new station at London Colney, location to be determined. The new line would connect onto the existing East Coast Main Line (ECML) possibly in the vicinity of the A 1000 South Way. Zoom out on the openstreetmap.org map for possibilities or view the earlier large openstreetmap.org map.

Conclusions

Our 2016 research into travel in the Oxford to Cambridge arc, referenced in part one of our research, made no reference to the Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey line. Since then there has been a focus on the Bedford - Sandy - Cambridge corridor and effectively a decision to progress this corridor. As our research shows, there is therefore the opportunity to consider additionally a Southern Option for travel in the Oxford to Cambridge arc. The Abbey line becomes key to the achievement of this.

It would be reasonable to draw up a list of options for extending the Abbey line then proceed to business case evaluation for some of these options. A plan would then be put in place. With a plan for the future of the line, the existing infrastructure would be enhanced to enable greater frequency of the existing service and this would be phase one of the plan.

We have suggested it would be reasonable to consider the creation of an Outer London rail consortium.

The current design for Radlett SRFI (freight terminal) builds over the dismantled rail link to the Midland Main Line (MML) at Napsbury and without assessment.

A service between Rickmansworth, Watford, Stevenage and Harlow with complementary bus/coach services is an alternative to Hertfordshire's east west road-based Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project as envisaged.

Here is the revised summary diagrammatic map included earlier.

Revised summary southern option for Oxford to Cambridge arc central section

It is time to decide which option we are proposing. Hertfordshire's aspiration for a Luton - Stevenage corridor does not in itself clarify the future of the Abbey line. Hertfordshire County Council is invited to package the aspiration with another that specifies a future for the Abbey line which could be, for example, a connection between St Albans Abbey and St Albans City stations. We will not hold our breath. In the meantime the aspiration for a Luton - Stevenage corridor is discounted.

We are proposing east west rail at Watford i.e. Rickmansworth to the Abbey line and a new line from Stevenage to Harlow Town. We take the opportunity to note that an upgrade to the East Coast Main Line (ECML) north of Welwyn to Knebworth would have far-reaching benefits in addition to making paths available for east west rail. 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 in 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, a new line from Stevenage to Harlow Town and an upgrade to the ECML north of Welwyn to Knebworth.

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

East west rail in Hertfordshire is the subject of a specific article and which forms part three of this review : Oxford to Cambridge : east west rail in Hertfordshire

 

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

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

Part three : Oxford to Cambridge : east west rail in Hertfordshire

The views expressed in this review are those of RailEnable.

Comments are welcome.

Limited on-site investigations have been conducted in relation to this article.

Our current proposals, projects and articles are listed here : List of articles

 

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