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Article date 11 July 2011
Revised 02 April 2013

St Albans to London (article of historical interest only)

This article was written prior to our proposal for a railway line via Watford, St Albans and Hatfield to Welwyn. This article is therefore of historical interest only.

Rail services for St Albans associated with our proposal for a railway line via Watford, St Albans and Hatfield to Welwyn are discussed in our article New rail services.

The proposed station St Albans Camp Road, referred to in this article, has now been replaced by a proposed station St Albans London Road.

Since this article was written, it has been decided that the Croxley Rail link project, referred to in this article, will proceed.

This article assumes a by-pass of St Albans Abbey station. However, until such time as proven otherwise, we are now assuming this would not be operationally feasible, due to the radius of the curve on the by-pass line being too small, i.e. the curve being too tight.

This article is therefore considered to be of historical interest only.

In this article we propose two new rail passenger services from St Albans to London.

Possible new lines in the vicinity of St Albans
Existing services for St Albans

The existing service from St Albans (City) on the Midland Main Line via Elstree and St Pancras, formerly known as Thameslink, is operated by First Capital Connect. This service would not be affected by our proposals and would remain unchanged.

East Midlands Trains is the current operator of longer-distance services on the Midland Main Line. These services do not stop at St Albans.

The existing line from St Albans Abbey station to Watford Junction, known as the Abbey line, provides a service every 45 minutes between St Albans Abbey and Watford Junction, stopping at all intermediate stations. The stations are St Albans Abbey, Park Street, How Wood, Bricket Wood, Garston, Watford North, Watford Junction. The service is currently operated by London Midland. There is a proposal to replace trains with light rail vehicles (trams) which effectively renders less likely a much hoped-for improvement of providing direct train services on this line to London Euston, although there has been a long-standing campaign to achieve direct services. This is one of the reasons to doubt the appropriateness of a conversion of this line to light rail. As our work shows, this line has plenty of potential to provide heavy rail services of great benefit, including to the people of St Albans.

Service commencing at St Albans

Much of the trackbed of the former railway line from St Albans to Hatfield remains available, even if much used by pedestrians and cyclists. In particular, the bridge that carries Cotton Mill Road over this railway line remains in place.

There is the possibility of the Croxley Rail link project receiving the go-ahead. This links Croxley to Watford Junction. Here we will assume that this is rendered more useful by the additional provision of a crossing of the West Coast Main Line, thought to be by a tunnel rather than an over-bridge. Such a tunnel then provides us with a rail route on the Abbey line from St Albans Abbey station to Watford Junction, Croxley and Marylebone.

Here we propose a service to Marylebone that makes use of the portion of the former railway line from St Albans to Hatfield within the confines of St Albans, together with a new chord that would enable the existing St Albans Abbey station to be bypassed. This would include replacing the Cotton Mill bridge with a bridge of a wider span and aligned more onto a north-south axis. (Note 7 of our article Possible new lines in the vicinity of St Albans .)

The railway line from St Albans Abbey using the trackbed of the former railway line towards Hatfield would almost certainly be single track. We propose a new station in the vicinity of Camp Road. There is only limited space available. The railway line would be single track and there would only be one platform at St Albans Camp Road, due to the limited space available.

To provide a viable service, it would seem sensible for there to be several platforms at the existing station St Albans Abbey. There are two platforms in existence currently although only one of these is in use. It may be that St Albans Camp Road would benefit from higher patronage than St Albans Abbey station. It would be an inconvenience for this higher number of passengers from this station for all services to be routed via St Albans Abbey, where the train changes direction, hence the provision of a bypass.

A typical service might commence at St Albans Abbey and run to St Albans Camp Road where the train would change direction. From here, using the St Albans Abbey by-pass, the station stops would be all those on the Abbey line to Watford Junction, those on the Croxley Rail link to Croxley, then Harrow-on-the-Hill, West Hampstead (which is due to become a station stop on this line and, we think, on the Metropolitan line), and terminating at Marylebone.

The return service from Marylebone would run via Croxley and Watford Junction to St Albans Camp Road, where the train would change direction and run to St Albans Abbey station where the service would terminate.

Being an all-stations-stopping service, it would be reasonable for this to be effectively a reinstatement of the previous heavy rail service on the Abbey line, that is, the service currently running and due to be replaced at some point by a light rail (tram) service between Watford and St Albans. Differences are that services would run directly to London, probably also more frequently e.g. every 30 minutes.

The initial motivation for the Croxley Rail link project is to move the Metropolitan underground line service from a terminus at Watford Met station to a terminus at Watford Junction. The provision of a tunnel under the West Coast Main Line (WCML) would enable the Metropolitan line service to be extended to St Albans Abbey station. This could be in place of, or in addition to, the above proposal. It would however be a relatively slow service to London with many station stops.

If no crossing of the WCML is provided it would be possible for this proposed service, on arrival at Watford, to run to London Euston on the WCML.

Crossrail service from Midland Main Line

The rationale for this proposed service is best explained by reviewing how Britain's railway network is changing.

High Speed 1 (the Channel Tunnel Rail Link) from London to the European continent has been operating succesfully for some years. There is now a proposal for a second High Speed line, from London to the Midlands, the North and Scotland. It is widely anticipated that this High Speed line will bring traffic relief to the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

Network Rail, the owners of Britain's railway network, in their London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy, include provision for extending Crossrail to destinations on the WCML i.e. through Watford Junction. (We presume this would be via a new chord from the Crossrail lines out of Paddington onto the line from Kensington Olympia to Willesden Junction.)

Any new service proposed is subject to business case evaluation. It is possible that a Crossrail service from a destination on the WCML, duplicating an existing service on the WCML and running into the Crossrail tunnel instead of to Euston, could be financially worthwhile. However, we suggest that greater benefit is obtained by taking the opportunity to open up new routes.

Whilst High Speed 2 is anticipated to bring relief to the busy lines of the WCML, it brings no such relief to the Midland Main Line. We would therefore wish to propose a service from the Midland Main Line connecting via a modified Abbey line to the WCML and thence to Crossrail. This has the potential to bring relief to the Midland Main Line by making use of capacity that becomes available on the WCML.

Technically and financially, it seems plausible to propose a service from the Midland Main Line to the Crossrail tunnel. A new link could be constructed from the Midland Main Line onto the Abbey line. This could run from south of St Albans (City) basically across the golf course and onwards to the Abbey line connecting probably north of Park Street station. (Note 10 of our article Possible new lines in the vicinity of St Albans . Park Street station is not shown on the plan in that article, simply to reflect uncertainty concerning the point at which a possible east west Orbital railway would cross the Abbey line, which could be to the north of Park Street station albeit more likely to the south of the station.)

At Watford Junction, the service connects to the WCML. This proposal requires neither the Croxley Rail Link nor a crossing of the WCML.

As part of our work on a proposal for Aylesbury Interchange (AI), we noticed there used to be a railway line from Leighton Buzzard on the WCML via Dunstable to Luton on the Midland Main Line. We understand this is to re-open as a light rail route. Reopening this line for heavy rail could provide a modification to the above proposal by running southwards on the WCML to Leighton Buzzard, then Dunstable, Luton, Luton Airport Parkway, (Harpenden), St Albans City then back on to the WCML via Watford Junction e.g. to Crossrail.

Both proposed services

It would be possible to provide both of the two services we have proposed. The railway line from Watford to St Albans (City) would be dual track. A branch off this in the vicinity of Park Street station would be formed by the existing line and would be single track. The bypass of St Albans Abbey station would almost certainly be single track and the line from here to St Albans Camp Road would be single track. However it would seem reasonable for there to be at least two platforms at St Albans Abbey station and therefore the line from St Albans Camp Road to St Albans Abbey station, having passed under Cotton Mill road, might run parallel to the line from Watford. That is, the approach to St Albans Abbey station might be dual track, with crossovers to enable the platforms to be accessed. We understand that when the line from St Albans to Hatfield was in operation there were dual tracks on approach to St Albans Abbey station, so we are essentially restoring what was previously in place.

Our article Possible new lines in the vicinity of St Albans refers to two other connections onto the Midland Main Line of which no use is made in this article (note 5, note 6). However it should be noted that this article is of historical interest only. The chord referred to as note 6 is indeed used as part of our proposal for a railway line via Watford, St Albans and Hatfield to Welwyn.