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Article date 24 July 2012
Revised 25 October 2016

Watford and St Albans to Welwyn and Hertford

We hypothesise a railway line from Watford and St Albans to Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Hertford and Broxbourne Junction, as illustrated below. Only selected stations are shown.

Watford and St Albans to Welwyn, Hertford and Broxbourne Junction via Galleria at Hatfield

This article discusses the railway line itself, rather than the services that might run on it.

In this article, the route is assumed to be via Hatfield town centre.

The hypothesised railway line is composed of several components, listed below.

Watford to St Albans

The existing line from Watford to St Albans Abbey station, 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. Much or all of the line would be upgraded to dual track.

St Albans to Hatfield

The hypothesised route is by reopening the former railway line from St Albans (note 7) which used to run to Hatfield station, a station that we are hypothesising to be renamed as Hatfield Main, since there would be a further station in Hatfield, Galleria at Hatfield.

The hypothesised route would follow the original route from St Albans until reaching the outskirts of Hatfield but would not follow the original route through Hatfield to Hatfield Main, where the former line used to connect southwards on to the main line. There are three reasons for not following the original route through Hatfield itself. Firstly, the former route through the built-up area of Hatfield has been extensively developed and was severed when the A1(M) motorway was constructed. Secondly, it is advantageous in terms of rail connectivity to link to Welwyn Garden City, being a more major station on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) than is Hatfield. Thirdly, a north-facing connection onto the ECML rather than a south-facing connection is also advantageous in terms of rail connectivity. The former line connected southwards as a means of providing a commuter route from St Albans to London, a project that was in fact overtaken by the subsequent provision of the Midland Main Line connecting St Albans directly to London. It seems likely that, in these circumstances, the railway line from St Albans to Hatfield ought never to have been built, although we now find the line useful for reasons markedly different from those for which it was originally provided.

The route would follow the route of the former railway line from St Albans until reaching the outskirts of Hatfield, then diverge from the route of the former railway line on a new alignment through Hatfield, running parallel to the A1(M) which runs in tunnel under Hatfield, although it is expected the new line would be at ground level. The alignment through Hatfield would need to be determined with, we hypothesise, a new station Galleria at Hatfield. North of Hatfield the line would connect onto the ECML towards Welwyn Garden City, a connection for which we suggest the name Hatfield North Junction (note 8), together with a crossing of the ECML towards Hertford.

ECML to Hertford

After continuing eastwards, the line would then make use of the alignment of the former railway line from Welwyn to Hertford (note 9). This line used to connect onto the Hertford loop (article : History of local railway lines including Hertford North connections ) and continue on an alignment through Hertford, much of which is still available, to a former station Hertford Cowbridge, which we hypothesise to be reopened as Hertford Central. The former railway line then connected into the line from Hertford East. Potentially Hertford East might close, to be replaced by Hertford Central, although the new station might be less architecturally interesting.

An alternative from the Hertford loop to the line from Hertford East might be by a tunnel under Hertford, although we should note that there are a number of rivers running through Hertford, potentially presenting the risk of tunnel flooding. An elevated line as an alternative to a tunnel would cause local objections. Reopening of the former alignment would almost certainly be as single track only, whereas a tunnel under Hertford would reasonably be dual track, presenting advantages in terms of flexibility for the timing of rail services. Services through a tunnel under Hertford would almost certainly not call at Hertford North. The location of a station for Hertford served by such services as also the location of tunnel portals to the west and east of Hertford would need to be determined.

In terms of business case, Watford and St Albans to Welwyn would be evaluated separately from Welwyn to Hertford.

Hatfield North Junction to Welwyn Garden City

From Hatfield North Junction northwards to Welwyn, there would be services running that potentially terminated at Welwyn. Other services might change direction at Welwyn in order to provide a service between Hatfield and Hertford via Welwyn although, as mentioned earlier, it is anticipated that a crossing would be available for services to run directly without the need to be routed via Welwyn. These new services would add to the traffic on the ECML, which is well utilised. We note that the ECML used to be 6 tracked from Hatfield to Welwyn and we think it would be appropriate to plan for 6 tracks from Hatfield North Junction to Welwyn (not investigated). There would be new platforms at Welwyn to accommodate the new services terminating at Welwyn or changing direction at Welwyn.

Light rail

It is possible that a line from Watford and St Albans to Welwyn and Hertford might be constructed solely for use by light rail and perhaps with some form of on-street running, potentially including in Hatfield and Hertford. (This is quite separate from any proposals to convert the service from Watford to St Albans Abbey to light rail.)

Notes

The following notes accompany the illustration.

  1. 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. Hypothetically this might be 4-tracked with 2 tracks for connection to St Pancras, with a hypothetical additional 2 tracks for connection to St Albans City (Midland Main Line), Welwyn Garden City and Stansted Airport.

    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). The provision of a High Speed 2 to High Speed 1 link line via St Pancras International invites a review of how this station is used.

    To provide free paths on approach to St Pancras for trains using the proposed HS2 to HS1 link line, we wish to propose that at least some services on the Midland Main Line which would have terminated at St Pancras would be re-routed to terminate at Euston (extended as part of HS2 proposals) e.g. from St Albans City via Watford Junction, although this route is not suitable for express services and therefore considered unlikely. This is note 2 on the plan. Alternative potentially more suitable routes include via the Bedford to Bletchley line further to the north, although no doubt some developments would be needed to make this achievable, or a new link from the Midland Main Line to Euston further to the south.

    We have outlined a possible, albeit unlikely, Midland Main Line connecting link from St Albans City to Watford Junction. There are several choices for the location of such a new connecting link. These choices, as also other matters, are outlined in our article Options for railway lines in the St Albans area . These proposals to re-route services to terminate at Euston would have no direct effect on Thameslink services, which would continue to run via St Pancras. Use of the domestic terminus platforms at St Pancras would be subject to review.

  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 proposed HS2 HS1 link line to the Abbey line would be a key decision for Hertfordshire.

    (Potentially north of this connecting chord and south of the Midland Main Line connecting link (note 2) there could be a range of different services operating via the HS2 to HS1 link or via Watford junction and to Welwyn Garden City or to the Midland Main Line. There could therefore be a case for this short section of railway line 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.)

  4. This note refers to the section of the Midland Main Line north of the proposed junction with the HS2 to HS1 link line (note 1) and south of the hypothesised junction with the Midland Main Line connecting link (note 2). With both the HS2 to HS1 link line and the Midland Main Line connecting link provided, it would be interesting to review what services would operate on this section of the Midland Main Line, that is, apart from Thameslink services. It would be difficult to predict the outcome of such a review.

  5. Regarding Broxbourne Junction, we support proposals for the line south of the junction to be 4-tracked as an upgrade from the current dual tracks.

  6. A link to enable services to Stansted Airport is documented as note 12 in our article Hertford to Stansted Airport and Barking (with plan)

  7. Former railway line from St Albans to Hatfield, as referenced earlier in this article.

  8. Hatfield North Junction, as referenced earlier in this article. Additionally, a south-to-east chord offers a connection between the ECML and Stansted Airport.

  9. Former railway line from Welwyn to Hertford and which connected in to the line from Hertford East, as referenced earlier in this article.

  10. 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).

Related article :

Watford Junction to Broxbourne Junction : route not via Hatfield town centre