Article date 28 September 2012
Revised 26 October 2016
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.
It was then proposed to convert the line to a tramline, i.e. light rail, based on the claim that the Abbey line need perform no role as part of the overall rail network. Our studies, as documented on this website, do not support any such claim. Thus we note that the future of the Abbey line is very much a matter for concern.
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. This railway line is the line we hypothesise for re-opening as the basis of a railway line from St Albans to Hatfield, for which visit our article Watford and St Albans to Welwyn and Hertford . This would continue to Welwyn, although the former railway alignment connected southwards at Hatfield onto the main line now known as the East Coast Main Line.
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.
The following notes accompany the illustration above. Map and photo numbers refer to the Middleton Press publication.
- As part of our hypothesis for a new railway line from Watford, St Albans and Hatfield to Welwyn, Hertford and Stansted Airport - for which visit the above-mentioned article Watford and St Albans to Welwyn and Hertford - a station known as Hertford Central might be provided. This would probably be on the site of the former Hertford GNR station, 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). This would form the route of the new railway line. 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.
- As an alternative to (or in addition to) running via Hertford North and Hertford Central, there is the possibility of a tunnel under Hertford. Map XI shows a siding to Horns Mill, potentially useful as the location of a tunnel portal, however no site inspection has been conducted.
- Photo 49 shows the hypothesised new line (i.e. by reinstatement of the former line) running under the Hertford loop.
- A connection from the new 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.
- We do not think a connection from the Hertford loop to Hertford Central (and thence to Stansted Airport) ever existed. In particular, there does not appear to be any reference to such a connection in the Middleton Press book. Potentially, such a connection might be more useful than the connection that used to exist - previous note - in that it might have the potential to enable a connection from Gatwick Airport to Stansted Airport without being routed via Galleria at Hatfield.
- 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. This would form the route of the new railway line. 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, i.e. on the line to Hertford Central as hypothesised. It is possible that platforms might be provided at Hertford North for services to and from Hertford Central, however this would require detailed on-site inspection. Potentially (vaguely on the basis of photo 47) such platforms might be located to the south of the existing Hertford North platforms, however this is no more than a hypothesis. Visiting the footbridge as referred to earlier might provide some insight on this matter. We very much hope that platforms could be provided.
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. In our article referenced earlier Watford and St Albans to Welwyn and Hertford we hypothesise that the ECML might be upgraded to restoration of 6 tracks north of our hypothesised Hatfield North Junction to Welwyn.
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.