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Article date 24 July 2012
Revised 25 October 2016

Options for railway lines in the St Albans area

Our article Proposal for Aylesbury Interchange on High Speed 2 proposes a High Speed 2 to High Speed 1 link line via St Pancras International. Our article Watford and St Albans to Welwyn and Hertford hypothesises a railway line from Watford and St Albans to Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Hertford and Broxbourne Junction. Together, these have implications in the immediate vicinity of St Albans.

The implications for St Albans are discussed in this article. The illustration below is relatively complicated. An explanation follows. Only selected stations are shown.

Options for railway lines in the St Albans area

Notes

The following notes accompany the illustration and aim to provide an explanation.

  1. We wish to propose a High Speed 2 to High Speed 1 link line via St Pancras International. It is quite possible that a High Speed 2 to High Speed 1 link line via St Pancras International would not run near to St Albans. However, on this website, we will assume that St Albans is within the vicinity of such a proposed link line.

  2. Currently passenger services on the Midland Main Line are Thameslink services via St Pancras, also longer-distance services terminating at St Pancras currently provided by East Midlands Trains (and which do not stop at St Albans City).

  3. We hypothesise that the HS2 to HS1 link line would also be available for regional services by means of a connecting chord onto the Abbey line. Thus regional services would be able to run to or via Welwyn Garden City, or via St Albans City on the Midland Main Line. The decision as to whether or not to provide this connecting chord from the hypothesised HS2 HS1 link line to the Abbey line would be a key decision for Hertfordshire.

  4. Watford to St Albans. The existing line from Watford to St Albans Abbey, known as the Abbey line, is currently single track i.e. permitting only a train in the direction Watford to St Albans Abbey or in the direction St Albans Abbey to Watford, but not two trains in opposite directions at the same time. The single track line thus limits the frequency of services, currently provided by a single train running from Watford to St Albans Abbey, then returning to Watford. From one Watford departure to the next is a time interval of no less than 45 minutes.

    Stations on the Abbey line are : Watford Junction, Watford North, Garston, Bricket Wood, How Wood, Park Street, St Albans Abbey. Currently all trains (i.e. the one and only train) stop at all stations.

  5. In August 2011, it occurred to us that a connecting link from St Albans (City) on the Midland Main Line via the Abbey line to Watford offers the prospect of freeing up paths (space/time slots) on the Midland Main Line on approach to St Pancras i.e. by re-routing services on the Midland Main Line to Euston station (extended as part of HS2 proposals) in place of St Pancras. (There would be no direct effect on Thameslink services, which would continue to run via St Pancras). A route via the Abbey line would not be suitable for express services, more suitable alternatives including Bedford to Bletchley or a new link from the Midland Main Line to Euston further to the south. Therefore a Midland Main Line connecting link to Watford is considered unlikely, although we include it here for completeness.

    By whatever means a connection from the Midland Main Line to Euston might be achieved, we have the potential to free up paths (space/time slots) for international services from High Speed 2 via the Midland Main Line to St Pancras International for connection onto the High Speed 1 line to continental Europe.

    Although a Midland Main Line connecting link to Watford is considered unlikely, there are several choices as regards location. This note illustrates one such choice entirely to the south of the A414 North Orbital Road. Running north east from How Wood station there used to be a railway link known as the Napsbury link passing Hedges Farm and built to mainline standards. Some evidence of this line is still to be found, we believe. It was provided to enable construction traffic for what is now known as the Midland Main Line via the Abbey line, which was pre-existing at that time. The former Napsbury link might provide the alignment for a new Midland Main Line connecting link, although we are aware that this alignment might be obstructed by the proposed Strategic Rail Freight Interchange at Radlett. Other possibilities within the locality, again entirely to the south of the A414, could be investigated. Note 12 is an alternative choice to the north of the A414.

    There has been discussion of re-opening the Napsbury link. We think this was in order to modify the Watford to St Albans existing service on the Abbey line to run to St Albans City instead of St Albans Abbey : a poor show, we consider, since any Watford to St Albans service ought to do the best possible to serve the people of St Albans. Continuing from St Albans Abbey to e.g. London Road (note 11) or even to St Albans City would be a more attractive alternative. Our reason for hypothesising a Midland Main Line connecting link, possibly by reopening the Napsbury link, does not relate to the existing service on the Abbey line but to the potential to re-route at least some services on the Midland Main Line currently terminating at St Pancras in order to provide free paths on approach to St Pancras for services to St Pancras via the proposed HS2 to HS1 link.

  6. The A414 North Orbital Road crosses the Abbey line by means of a bridge located to the north of Park Street station. St Albans Rail is not based in St Albans and we lack information concerning this bridge. We hope the bridge is of sufficient span to permit two railway tracks to pass beneath it, there being currently only one track beneath it. Any information regarding this bridge will be gratefully received. This is a matter that we did not verify during visits to the area.

  7. The A414 North Orbital Road crosses the Midland Main Line by means of a bridge. There would currently be 4 tracks passing beneath it. If it so happened that the bridge were of sufficient span to permit a further track to pass beneath it, this could potentially be useful as a means to provide a secondary route between How Wood and St Albans Abbey using a Midland Main Line connecting link (note 5) together with the "Saints link" (note 10). We will assume the bridge would not permit a further track unless proven otherwise.

  8. We hypothesise a railway line from Watford via St Albans to Welwyn Garden City and Hertford. Article : Watford and St Albans to Welwyn and Hertford .

  9. Currently there is only one platform at St Albans Abbey. There used to be two, the second being for the former services to Hatfield. The station used to be a busy station and there is still some railway land available, potentially enabling additional platforms. A railway line to Welwyn (note 8) with all services routed via St Albans Abbey would require more platforms than currently.

  10. After studying the area, we noticed that a connecting link line from St Albans Abbey to the Midland Main Line southwards would be a relatively straightforward project in construction terms. Running to St Pancras, we decided that a link line from St Albans or Saint Albans to St Pancras or Saint Pancras might be named the "Saints link" and thus we have named it. We think this proposed line is an original proposal. The line crosses a public footpath across a golf course, the footpath running parallel to the Midland Main Line. From this footpath the feasibility of the proposal can be verified. It was, we have to admit, more than a year from our observations to the point where we deduced possible usage of the link. Apart from providing a link from St Albans Abbey to St Pancras, we realised that when used in conjunction with a Midland Main Line connecting link (note 5 or, more particularly, note 12) we are provided with a secondary route from How Wood or Park Street to St Albans Abbey. The significance is that the existing route is single track, a secondary route potentially providing us with something approximately equivalent to dual tracking. There is a third possible use of this link : a train from St Albans Abbey using this link to reach a reversal point located alongside the Midland Main Line would be able, after changing direction, to continue to St Albans City. Given its name, perhaps a bishop should be given the opportunity to perform the opening ceremony (although that does not in itself provide sufficient reason to warrant constructing it).

  11. Possible re-opening of the former station at St Albans London Road, further discussed later in this article.

  12. We have already referred to this as an option for a Midland Main Line connecting link, entirely to the north of the A414. Note 15 below also applies.

  13. We hypothesise a St Albans Abbey bypass rather reluctantly. Such a bypass would destroy a scenic area including views of the River Ver. It would have a disruptive effect on Sopwell village. To understand the effects, it would be worth visiting to make a personal assessment. Because of this, we have investigated the potential capacity of a line to Welwyn if all trains must pass via St Albans Abbey, a terminus station which would necessitate each train having to change direction. A separate article is available to report on our findings : Watford to Welwyn and Hertford via St Albans Abbey (including animations) .

    Other negative implications of a bypass are documented later in this article, with reference to the role of a station at London Road. The choice of note number 13 for this bypass is deliberate.

  14. Two legs to a St Albans Abbey bypass are this note and note 16. This leg would provide a route via Park Street to Welwyn. It would be disruptive.

  15. This note documents the fact that there are two potential reasons for this section of line : as part of a Midland Main Line connecting link (note 12) or as part of a leg to a St Albans Abbey bypass (note 14). It should be feasible for this section of line to be at quite some distance from Sopwell village. Northwards from Park Street, after passing under the A414 road bridge, the line would turn on a curved alignment then possibly running more or less due east prior to subsequently turning northwards to form the Midland Main Line connecting link (note 12). In other words, a Midland Main Line connecting link from Park Street need not be disruptive to Sopwell.

  16. Second leg to a St Albans Abbey bypass, this one from St Pancras.

  17. St Albans Abbey to London Road is the commencement of the former line from St Albans Abbey to Hatfield.

  18. An unlikely future possibility could be a High Speed 2 to High Speed 1 link line eastwards to Stratford or Ebbsfleet International. For further details visit Hertford to Stansted Airport and Barking (with plan) (notes 15 and 17).

  19. Possible south to east connection, via St Albans Abbey, between Midland Main Line and an east-west line, as documented in our article Watford Junction to Broxbourne Junction : route not via Hatfield town centre .

  20. St Albans Abbey to St Albans City without a reversal point (compare with third possible use of the "Saints link", note 10). If both this connection and the "Saints link" were to be constructed, it becomes theoretically possible for St Albans Abbey to become a station stop on the Midland Main Line, although being a terminus station, trains would need to change direction. We thereby have an interchange station between services on the Abbey line, along with any possible extension to Hatfield (note 8), and some services on the Midland Main Line. Alternatively, this connection provides a means for services to run between Hatfield and St Albans City via St Albans Abbey or indeed to extend existing services on the Abbey line onto the Midland Main Line.

  21. Hatfield to St Albans City, potentially destroying a scenic area including views of the River Ver and having a disruptive effect on Sopwell village, unless constructed solely for use by light rail, in which case perhaps located in relative proximity to the "Saints link" (note 10), i.e. Hatfield to St Albans City then being a curve with a small radius. An alternative, again for light rail, would be note 17 and note 20 together with a by-pass in the immediate vicinity of St Albans Abbey station, almost certainly only usable by light rail, for which refer to note 7 at Possible new lines in the vicinity of St Albans (partly historical) .

Station at St Albans London Road

Note 11 refers to a possible re-opening of the former station at St Albans London Road. Some practicalities regarding this are documented here.

If all trains to Welwyn run via St Albans Abbey (note 9) as opposed to using a St Albans Abbey bypass (note 13) then the potential role of a station at London Road is reduced. If all trains to Welwyn run via St Albans Abbey, it is possible that only a local stopping service would stop at London Road (i.e. the hypothesised Euston shuttle, which also stops at all stations between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey) or, indeed, that no station would be provided at all at London Road, in which case trains would simply pass through the site of the former station. On the other hand, if a St Albans Abbey bypass were to be constructed (note 13), a station at London Road would become the principal, perhaps only, station stop in St Albans for all east west services via St Albans : a principal station would require full-length platforms and all other facilities of a principal station, and which would be disruptive since the site of the former station now comprises a housing cluster. It is also unclear whether, even with disruption, there would be sufficient land available for the required full-length platforms since they would be sandwiched between the curvature of the St Albans Abbey bypass to the west of the station and the bridges, a road bridge and the bridge under the Midland Main Line, to the east of the station.

To summarise, a St Albans Abbey bypass (note 13) would seem to imply greater disruption to the housing cluster on the site of the former London Road station than would all trains running via St Albans Abbey (note 9). To repeat a remark made earlier, a St Albans Abbey bypass would also destroy a scenic area and be disruptive to Sopwell village, an option that we would not wish to advocate.

Exercise for the reader

The reader may wish to locate the site of the former station at St Albans London Road. A platform and station buildings are still present. Unsurprisingly, they are to be found on the route of the former railway line. Also worth a visit is Sopwell village. If walking the footpath parallel to the Midland Main Line referred to earlier (note 10), care should be taken when exiting onto the road to Sopwell, there being no footpaths alongside this road. This is therefore not a good route for access to Sopwell village.

Interchange at How Wood

There are two cases to consider, depending on whether the connecting chord from the HS2 to HS1 link line connects onto the Abbey line to the north of Bricket Wood (as illustrated, note 3) or to the south of Bricket Wood (not illustrated). We certainly think the connection onto the Abbey line would be south of How Wood.

The first case is where the connecting chord from the HS2 to HS1 link line connects onto the Abbey line north of Bricket Wood. In this case, if option 2 (note 5) were selected for a Midland Main Line connecting link, the section of the Abbey line north of the connecting chord from the HS2 to HS1 link line and south of the Midland Main Line connecting link would be quite short. It might be reasonable for this section to be 4-tracked and with a full cross-over facility, offering (i) Watford to Midland Main Line (ii) Watford to Welwyn (iii) HS2 HS1 link to Midland Main Line and (iv) HS2 HS1 link to Welwyn.

Beside the current railway line at How Wood there are fields occupied by horses. That is, there is potentially sufficient land available here for an interchange station. However this is a landfill site. Article : Interchange at How Wood

In the second case, the connecting chord from the HS2 to HS1 link line connects onto the Abbey line to the south of Bricket Wood. In this case, we would not envisage the section of railway line in question becoming 4-tracked, since that would be disruptive at Bricket Wood. Bricket Wood station used to be served by a dual-track passing loop and feature two full-length platforms. In this case, the station would be served by a dual-track line and presumably restoration of two full-length platforms. This does however imply that the capacity of the line from Welwyn and of the Midland Main Line connecting link would be limited, in that they would combine to become a dual-track line through Bricket Wood, then separating south of Bricket Wood to become a connecting chord onto the HS2 to HS1 link line and the line to Watford Junction.