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.
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.
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.
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!
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.