Croxley Rail Link Consultation

An online public consultation for the Croxley Rail Link is currently underway and is open to responses until August 18th.

There were 4 recent days in which Watford and Croxley residents could see the proposals, speak to some of those involved in the scheme and complete consultation feedback.  I wasn’t able to attend myself (due to exams and being a hundred miles away!) but a couple of attendees have blogged about what they saw at the exhibition in Charter Place.

Supporting the link is former Watford resident Diamond Geezer whilst Lester Wagman is campaigning to save the existing Watford Metropolitan line station which would close if the Croxley Rail Link goes ahead as currently planned.

The Exhibition Video

The video below shows the path trains will take if the Croxley Rail Link goes ahead.  Starting from the present Croxley station tube trains head towards the existing Watford station before travelling over a newly constructed viaduct branching off to the right.  The viaduct spans Rickmansworth Road between the Cinammond office and Harvester before passing on the Rickmansworth Road side of the Sea Cadets building and crossing the Grand Union canal on a new bridge before pulling into the proposed elevated Ascot Road tube station.

Do people understand the scheme?

It appears that many don’t, and not just in the sense that some current users of the Watford Metropolitan station don’t know that it would close if the link goes ahead.  Judging from some of the comments left on the petition against the closure of Watford Met some people don’t actually know what the benefits of the scheme are.

Take for instance this comment left by a “Save Watford Met” petition signer, extract as follows: “With extra homes being built in the area including a large apartment area on the sit[e] of the old fire station it is ridiculous that this closure is planned”. The old fire station site on Rickmansworth Road will be just a couple of minutes walk from the proposed Ascot Road station, considerably quicker than it would take to walk to the existing Watford Met line station on Cassiobury Park Avenue.

Hopefully the exhibitions will have informed more local people about what the scheme actually involves as it is a large scale development project with many aspects.

Park Ward Councillors
Previously I’d just heard a rather vague mention from the MP that he supports the proposal but would prefer an alternative in which the existing station remained open. In his latest blog post Lester says that the Mayor also expressed this view publicly but in a letter to an objector of the scheme said that “a solution that involves Watford Met being retained… has apparently failed”. [Quote is of Lester, not the Mayor].

Finally I have heard the views of the two Liberal Democrat councillors for the Park Ward in which Watford Metropolitan line station lies.

Cassiobury Liberal Democrat Watford Met
Cassiobury Focus June 2011 (Lib Dem)

I am not aware of the views of the third local councillor Malcolm Meerabux who was elected as a Conservative but fell out with the party and is now an independent.

Will be interesting to see how this develops.

Croxley Rail Link – My Thoughts

A concise description of the Croxley Rail Link project is outlined on Wikipedia: “The project would divert Metropolitan line Watford branch services east of Croxley station away from Watford station to Watford Junction via intermediate stations using a reopened section of presently disused track.

New stations would be built at Ascot Road, which provides access to the Watford and Croxley business parks, and near the Hospital with trains continuing via Watford High Street to Watford Junction station. The plans would also result in the closure of the existing Watford Metropolitan line station located in a housing estate.

The project has been in the proposal stages for the last 20 years or so but only now is it being considered for the £80 million of central Government funding that will be required to help fund the remainder of the project (decision due December 2011). A recent Watford Observer article about Lester Wagman’s 850-signature petition to keep the existing station open, which I signed a couple of months back, ignited discussion of the project on the newspaper website and Twitter.

History

When the Metropolitan line railway was initially extended to Watford in 1925 it was intended to link the line up to the High Street, and indeed a ticket booking office was even constructed on the road which is currently a Wetherspoon’s pub. The construction of the link to the High Street would have required large sections of Cassiobury Park to have been dug up so that a cut-and-cover tunnel and ventilation shafts could be installed. The owner of the land at the time, The Earl of Essex, refused permission for this to be done. Therefore the Metropolitan line terminates at its existing station on Cassiobury Park Avenue.

Watford Junction already has trains to London Euston operated by London Midland and Virgin Trains as well as a London Overground service. Previously the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground was routed to Watford Junction via the Watford DC Line now used by the Overground services.

Proposed Route

Tube trains currently cross this bridge over the Grand Union Canal to access the Watford Metropolitan line station. Turn 180 degrees and you will see a disused bridge that used to carry the Croxley Green Branch line until it was closed in 1996.



A 400 metre viaduct is to link the two tracks at around this point. I haven’t seen a detailed plan with the exact viaduct location marked on but this diagram below, taken from the Business Case report for the project, shows the new viaduct as starting immediately after the Tube line crosses Baldwin’s Lane.

Croxley Rail Link Viaduct Location

Before the dual-carriageway Ascot Road was built the track of the Croxley Branch Line used to cross approximately here (below) but the embankment was demolished so the road could be built.

The proposed Ascot Road station would be located between the two Ascot Roads. A plan of the station can be found here (pdf). The Old Ascot road is still crossed by a bridge but this section was singled tracked, the Croxley Rail Link would require it to be double tracked.

The next station on the line was originally intended to be a rebuilt Watford West station on its current site off Tolpits Lane (pdf), however this has now been scrapped in favour of a proposed Watford Hospital station which will be closer to the site of the Watford Health Campus.

Below: Closed and overgrown Watford West station (not much to see!)

Are there alternatives?

If it is so desired to have a Tube service to Watford Junction it would be significantly cheaper to reinstate the previously operated Bakerloo Line service which would not require new viaducts or stations to be built. However the rail link proposal additionally includes 2 new stations and these are obviously key parts of the plan. Both will be located in sensible areas – one alongside a business park and the other near to the major Health Campus redevelopment. In addition, the provision of an “alternative route” into London from Watford Junction (away from the DC line) is listed as one of the “key benefits” of the scheme in a report outlining the business proposals for the Rail Link and this would not be achieved by re-extending the Bakerloo Line.

The Croxley Rail Link Business Case document puts forward and then scraps a Croxley Busway alternative. Buses would travel by road from Watford Junction before entering the disused Croxley Branch Line at Wiggenhall Road. Stops would be made at the hospital and at Ascot Road before the bus returned to the public road linking up with the business parks and Croxley Station.

Lester Wagman’s petition is not against the whole idea of the Croxley Rail Link asks for the consideration of “other options for the scheme” which would not involve the closure of the existing station. An extension of the St Albans Abbey Line, which is to be converted into a tram, along the Croxley branch line with to a re-opened Croxley Green station is suggested as an alternative to the Rail Link by Lester. This would link North, Central and West Watford however would not fulfil the criteria of providing an alternative route in to London.

MP and supporter of the the Rail Link Richard Harrington apparently doesn’t see the closure of Watford Met as a done deal if the project is to go ahead, after unsurprisingly finding that there was “overwhelming support” from people living the near station to keep it open. The paper quotes him as saying “There’s a possibility it will continue as an extension of the Metropolitan line as it is now, particularly because the case for London Underground is they need somewhere to store trains at night anyway and that’s an ideal place for it, which would help to facilitate the station staying open.

Other suggestions that have been made on the Watford Observer article include building the link but retaining the existing Watford station and alternating trains between the two branches. Whilst that may seem like a good idea I can envisage just a token service to the existing station and doubt that both Ascot Road and Watford Met stations would survive long-term.

Effects of Station Closure

The Business Case report states that “closure of Watford Met station will result in some worsening of access to rail for a small number of households in the Cassiobury Park area though this is significantly outweighed by improvements in access to those in south, west and central Watford, where significantly more residents (of poorer areas) gain benefit.” I can’t really criticise that though I imagine those who chose to live at the recent Cassio Metro development, which is directly alongside the current station, or in the houses built on the back of the school playing fields (because that was a good idea…) might not be too pleased!

Watford Met Tube Station Houses

New Housing Developments near existing Watford Met Station

As my local station I obviously wouldn’t ordinarily be in favour of it closing but this scheme provides an alternative in the Ascot Road station. I used the Watford Met station to travel to school in Rickmansworth (whilst hundreds travelled from further in the opposite direction to a school just up my road, but that is another story…), and to work London over the summer. My dad has used the tube to get to work for many years. According to Google Maps it currently takes 4 minutes to walk from my house to the current Watford Met Line Station, if the Rail Link goes ahead it will be 13 minutes to the Ascot Road station. Yes, not as convenient but not too much of a difference and the project also clearly benefits a greater area as one station will be replaced with two.

Those living on the Cassiobury Estate will in addition be able to chose between catching the tube at Watford Junction if it is quicker than adding what will probably be about 10-15 minutes to their existing crossing of the park.

In the Watford Observer article Lester cites his main concern as being for the “families of children who attend Watford Grammar School for Boys” as well as those heading from Cassiobury to Rickmasworth. “If the replacement station is in Ascot Road, they will have to walk along Rickmansworth Road and cross it at some point, which is going to take them 20 minutes. It’s going to be a road safety nightmare.” I find “road safety nightmare” a ridiculous reasoning, if children aged 12 and above cannot cross a road safely when there are pelican crossings at the junctions with Hagden Lane/Station Approach and also outside the Kia garage then something is wrong. Those travelling to Croxley Station to go to Rickmansworth School already have to cross this road.

No word is given as to what would happen when the existing station closes though I think chances are it would lay abandoned until it and the track are demolished and replaced with flats.

If price was not an issue the Croxley Rail Link would certainly improve the availability of public transport across West Watford, however I don’t think that it should be a priority especially when there is already access to the London transport system from Watford Met and Watford Junction stations. Given the massive costs involved with the scheme, the fact that the proposal has already been drawn out over such a long period of time and, the inevitable opposition from some of those living alongside the currently disused rail line and that there is already opposition to the closure of Watford Met station I don’t think the Croxley Rail Link will be built in its current proposed form anytime soon.

Local Paper ‘re-writes’ my content

A few weeks back I was sent the following newspaper cutting by my Dad (large version).

You might not be able to read the hand-written note he added to the side, it reads – “familiar wording?”.   The left side of the image below is a cutting from the property section of the Watford Free paper, the right hand consists of a merged screenshot of content from my website about Cassiobury Park.

The source of inspiration for the Watford Observer article is clear.

I imagine the process went something like this:

WO Office: “We need to make an area profile for a local neighbourhood to stick at the front of the property section in front of the 50ish pages of property ads – preferably somewhere local estate agents want to push  – I know we haven’t done Cassiobury recently”.  Google.  Copy + Paste.  Quick re-order, small additions.  5 minutes later – content done.

When I first saw the piece I wasn’t really sure how to feel. On the plus side it shows my website is used but the laziness of the paper also annoys me, with not much more effort they could have rewritten the content to make it unique.

My sources of information for the site consist of my own local knowledge and of course information I have found elsewhere such as council documents and books but it has all been rewritten and certainly wasn’t a 5 minute job.

Things I learnt this week

  • The pub opposite the 20:20 office in central London is cheaper than the pub in Sarratt!
  • Haven’t been listening to much radio recently but the local radio station has finally been Heartified.
  • The sky is amazing.

Watford Online Media Scene

If I want to get news about my home town online there only appears to be one credible option at the moment.

That being the local newspaper website which insists on squeezing articles and relevant comments into a section less than a third the width of the webpage.  It really is hideous and bizarrely the homepage is little better as the site, like the many clones for other towns which have a newspaper produced by Newsquest, has a stupid marquee displaying jobs from one of their partners.  That said the coverage is much better than I have been able to get anywhere else although the sheer amount of scrolling required to use the site is immensely annoying thanks to all the surrounding adverts and links to totally unrelated material on the site.

One good feature of the Watford Observer website is its blog section which has 21 local residents writing about local issues or what they have been up to providing bloggers with an audience and extra content for the paper at zero cost.

Another local publication, the free monthly MyWatfordNews magazine has a very underutilised website. There were formerly separate websites for each local area covered by the company but now they all redirect to a single central website which has marquees and rotating and sliding banners galore. It’s like the 1990s on Geocities. But worse. And this is a professional publication that wants your advertising spend. On the site there are two large navigateable-to articles on the homepage with another give a link at the bottom. The physical magazines can be viewed via a built-in pdf style viewer but the articles are not given their own pages on the website.  The magazine is really good and I enjoy reading it but the website is absolutely shocking.

The BBC offers little and I don’t think anyone would realistically expect them to be competing with, or even allowed to compete against, these publications.

Next up are the OurSiteName<InsertNameOfOneTownFromAListOfAHundredHere> type directory sites that want to get local small businesses advertising on them.  Sometimes, but not always, these sites include a “Local information guide” or selection of news articles about the local area they are targeting.

On thebestofwatford this comes in the form of a blog. Although coverage is at the rate of less than one brief article a day which are mostly press releases this actually appears to be the best ‘blog’ of local news.  It is clearly written by someone local and is illustrated with photos.

Activ Watford has a ‘news‘ page however it is clearly not their priority as is the eighth tab across in the navigation menu after various classified ad categories. The news, all linked to on external sites, is imported via some kind of RSS search and at the moment at least 50% of the stories relate to a Watford many thousands of miles away in the USA.  Not good.  The site also has a hard to get to ‘information’ page which contains links to press release (council, police, charities etc) articles on the site.

It is very hard for these websites without a physical local presence to get an audience and the Watford Observer clearly have a huge advantage over the other offerings by being part of a large network.  This brings deals with national advertisers and of course local journalists already on the ground and the content posted online would be produced anyway for inclusion in the paper.

However I do think that there is an opportunity for a second local news website to add some variety and perhaps cover some different stories.  I think MyWatfordNews is the best placed to do this as they deliver their magazine to thousands of homes each month with the website address printed on the front and clearly have managed to monetize their website buy selling adverts to local businesses.  They also have to produce content each month for the magazine and this could easily be published online.

MyNews charge £50 a month for a front page advert on the homepage of their network of websites (which cover surrounding towns and villages).  I currently count 5 large adverts in rotation and one small advert on the homepage.  Potentially £250+ a month although I doubt the quoted price is what these companies are actually paying.

Knutsford, with a population about a quarter that of Watford, is a good example of a town with 2 online news sources. There is the Newsquest Knutsford Guardian (change the “knutsfordguardian” section of the URL to any other paper in the network to see the masthead change) and the independent Knutsford Times.  If they can have two credible online news websites why can’t we?