Article date 28 September 2012
Revised 9 May 2018
Those who are interested in future rail provision may like to consider reading "The Watford to St Albans Branch" published by Oakwood Press (www.oakwoodpress.co.uk). This book deals with the history of this line, known as the Abbey line. It has been updated in the second edition by Geraint Hughes, who was Passenger Transport Policy Manager for Hertfordshire County Council from 1991 to 2005. The book documents the history of the line until 2008. It makes interesting reading.
At the time of publishing, the expectation was that a passing loop would be added at Bricket Wood, at the mid-point of the line from Watford to St Albans Abbey, enabling two trains to pass, thus enabling service frequency to be increased. Subsequently, the Department for Transport (Dft) announced that there was no business case for the passing loop, particularly disappointing for all concerned in that the Department refused to provide its reasoning.
No doubt Amazon and other booksellers can supply "The Watford to St Albans Branch" as an alternative to the publishers themselves.
"The Watford to St Albans Branch" refers to a sister publication, also by Oakwood Press, "The Hatfield and St Albans Branch" (of the Great Northern railway). There seems to be no reference to such a book on the publisher's website.
Middleton Press (www.middletonpress.co.uk) publish books some of which consist largely of old railway photographs. Their publication "Branch lines around Hertford and Hatfield" includes photos of relevance including in relation to connections at Hertford North.
Map and photo numbers refer to the Middleton Press publication.
The former Hertford GNR station was often known as Cowbridge. Hertford GNR was known as Hertford North from 1st July 1923 to 2nd June 1924 (ref: annotation to map VIII) on which date the station closed, to be replaced by the station now known as Hertford North. The single-track line from the new Hertford North to Hertford GNR and onwards to join the line from Hertford East (formerly Hertford GER) remained open for goods traffic (photo 42).
The station now known as Hertford North was provided as part of what is referred to as the Hertford loop i.e. the loop line off what is now known as the East Coast Main Line (ECML). To the north, this line rejoins the ECML to Stevenage; to the south, this line rejoins the ECML to Kings Cross, hence the term loop. The Hertford loop with Hertford North was constructed later than the line from Welwyn to Hertford GNR.
Photo 49 shows the former line running under the Hertford loop.
A connection from the former line to the Hertford loop used to exist. This would be the sloping bank to the left of the signal box in photo 47. A train is shown using this connection in photo 48. Possibly the connection would be too steeply graded for modern trains.
Conversely, we do not think a connection from the Hertford loop to the former line ever existed. In particular, there does not appear to be any reference to such a connection in the Middleton Press book.
Hertford North is the existing station on the Hertford loop. Map IX is of this station and marks a footbridge as F.B. This is presumably the location of the footbridge in photo 44. Photo 46 was presumably taken from such a footbridge. There is a footbridge over the Hertford loop in this location today : it would be interesting to visit and compare the station today with the station as in photo 46. The trackbed above the rightmost light in photo 46 (the trackbed presumably still being identifiable) is the trackbed of the single track line to the former Hertford North station, i.e. Hertford GNR.
At the point that the current Hertford North station opened, passenger services to Hertford GNR ceased, with the new (i.e. current) Hertford North as a replacement for Hertford GNR. Therefore there are no platforms at Hertford North for trains on the line to the former Hertford GNR.
With reference to other photos in the Middleton Press publication, photo 62 shows the former 6 tracks of the East Coast Main Line north of Hatfield.
The Middleton Press publication also includes photos of the former line from St Albans to Hatfield. We note the existence of a former line to Buntingford.
Information on the former station Hertford Cowbridge is available at Hertford Cowbridge railway station (opens in new window or tab).
The diagrammatic map above is explained within our RailAble East west rail - Oxford to Cambridge project, specifically, our article Oxford to Cambridge by rail : southern options for the central section
Let us consider a means of constructing a chord from Hertford North to Hertford East. A note on terminology : this chord is a south-to-east chord, even though the stations involved happen to be named Hertford North and Hertford East.
A former railway line from Welwyn that connected to the line from Hertford East to Cheshunt provided an alignment through the town of Hertford much of which would seem to be still available. Details follow.
South of Hertford North the railway line crosses the A414 on a bridge. Nearby and to the east of this bridge is a turn-off from the A414 southwards, running parallel to the railway line. This short road goes by the name of Mimram Road. A viaduct can be seen (on the other side of a river) not far from the end of Mimram Road. This viaduct provided the means by which the Hertford loop crossed the former railway line from Welwyn. After passing beneath the Hertford loop, this former railway line ran alongside the Hertford loop. This alignment can be seen on both sides of the A414 to the immediate east of the bridge where the Hertford loop crosses the A414, i.e. not far from the point where Mimram Road is a turning off the A414. (The A414 is a busy road and care needs to be taken when crossing.)
The alignment of this former railway line is again visible by heading from Hertford North station in a north easterly direction on a minor road. A field is on the left. A railway embankment is on the right. This alignment including former bridges and some bridges still standing can now be followed through Hertford and would seem to be still largely available. A point is reached where a few houses have been built, a bridge blocked up and several offices built. Continuing, the route becomes a car park. From here, the former railway line crossed the canal to join the line near Hertford East station. The railway bridge is no longer in existence although a water pipe and bridge ends mark where the bridge was. Although the bridge is no longer in existence, it is possible to cross the canal elsewhere on a footbridge. Our visit did not enable us to follow the former route on the east of the canal, however we do know that the route of the former railway to the east of the canal now has a row of flats built on it.
It would seem a new alignment could follow the alignment of the former railway line to the car park as mentioned. From here a suitable alignment would need to be determined, crossing the canal, then either joining the existing line from Hertford East or connecting into Hertford East station. There would obviously need to be a station stop on this new route. An extension eastwards of Hertford North station would seem to be possible, there being good alignment between the existing station platforms and the former line. An extension or relocation northwards of Hertford East station might be feasible.
This chord has also been the subject of a study by the East West Rail Consortium (opens in new window or tab) and included in the Central Section Report February 2009, Figure 4.3 being an aerial view of the locality. Further information below.
Only a single visit has been undertaken. Detailed study would be needed prior to determining a suitable alignment.
The former line from Welwyn can be accessed from the village of Hertingfordbury to the west of Hertford. From the A414, take the turn-off to Hertingfordbury, then turn left on St Mary's Road leading to a bridge where the former railway line crossed. It is possible to walk or cycle on the former line.
The Central Section Report dated February 2009 commissioned by the East West Rail Consortium is now out of date. It no longer represents current thinking by the consortium.
Concerning construction of a chord from Hertford North to Hertford East, the following information in that report is of interest : section 4.41 (page 29) and figure 4.3 (page 30).
Sections 4.42 and 4.43 do not apply. They refer to a north-to-east chord whereas we are considering a south-to-east chord.
Concerning construction of a chord to enable services from Hertford East to Stansted Airport and Cambridge, the following information in that report is of interest : sections 4.44 to 4.46 (page 30) and figure 4.4 (page 31).
The Central Section Report dated February 2009 is a substantial document. It is available here (pdf format opens in new window or tab).