diamond geezer

 Monday, December 15, 2014

When in Croxley, I like to pop down and see how the Croxley Rail Link is getting on.

Answer: it isn't.

Plenty's been happening over in Watford, with track clearance along the entire length of the disused branch line now complete, rails lifted and 1200 cubic metres of intrusive timber sent off to be burnt for fuel. But back on the Croxley Green side, where there is no disused railway to recycle, nothing at all.

A new viaduct will be built to link the existing Metropolitan line to the embankment where the old railway used to be. Nothing yet. The adventure playground by the Sea Scouts Hut will be closed to make way for concrete pillars. Still operational. The houseboats along the canal will be displaced by a new bridge, and the existing 'garden' of statues, sheds and conifers removed. All present and correct. Construction of the new connection at Cassio Bridge doesn't begin until early next year, so nothing in Croxley's been touched yet.

Except for one thing. The old station by the roundabout had somehow retained its old Network SouthEast sign, this despite the fact the last train left in 1996. That's now finally been removed, along with the shabby noticeboard alongside with way out-of-date blue and red NSE stripes. It's a shame, from a nostalgia point of view, but also far too late, given that the station's had no passenger service since 2003 when the train was a taxi replacing a bus. Hang on, this is getting confusing, I think we need...
A (hopefully) definitive history of the closure of the Watford to Croxley Green branch line
15 June 1912: the line opens, with one intermediate station at Watford West
30 October 1922: electric trains replace steam
late 1930s: maximum daily service - 44 shuttle trains to Watford, 7 trains to London
June 1947: weekday service cut to peak hours only
10 May 1959: last Sunday service
20 April 1966: Barbara Castle refuses to allow Dr Beeching to close the line
1970s: Saturday service withdrawn, now only 14 trains per weekday
4 December 1982: Watford Stadium station opened by Elton John, match days only
1988: Half-hourly daytime service introduced, somewhat optimistically
22 January 1990: service reduced to Monday to Friday peak hours only
21 January 1991: service reduced to three Monday to Friday round trips
17 May 1993: service reduced to a single Monday to Friday round trip at 7am

25 March 1996: rail service replaced by a bus, initially for nine months only
late 1990s: bus becomes taxi (ie no genuine service at all)
23 March 2001: closure notice published
6 November 2002: closure notice approved
26 September 2003: last day of replacement road service
ever since: tumbleweed
14 December 2011: Government funding for Croxley Rail Link approved
21 August 2013: The Croxley Rail Link Order 2013 comes into force
Spring 2018: most likely date for opening of Croxley Rail Link
On my every previous visit to Croxley Green station (since I used it regularly in 1983), the front gate has been locked. Not impossibly locked, merely tightly secured, but enough to make gaining access at best awkward, at worst unwise. On this occasion, however, the gate was very much ajar. Still fastened at the very bottom, but simplicity itself to nudge slightly and slip through the gap, should any urban explorer care to try.

The steps ahead aren't the original wooden staircase, these are a narrow precipitous replacement from the last years of the station's life, and much easier to maintain. They're also slippery with leaves at the moment, as you'd expect, and a first indication of the arboreal takeover at the top of the embankment. When a station sees no trains or passengers for two decades, vegetation does tend to take over, and that is very much Croxley Green's fate.

The tracks remain, beneath the undergrowth, with a flat area beyond where the platform would have been. This seems counter-intuitive as the steps are on the wrong side of the rails, but 1990s passengers crossed the tracks at the far end to a temporary and very-cheap-looking low platform, now entirely removed. The original wooden platform was more substantial and overhung the embankment on the nearside. That disappeared decades years back, and today only a handful of squat concrete supports can be seen along the edge of the slope, overgrown by ivy.

A handful of defunct lampposts remain, one at the foot of the main steps, the others up top. They're still painted in Network SouthEast colours, i.e. bright red, and one is bent over at an alarming angle as if not much longer for this world. Various loops of cable survive, snaking out from the rails across the none-too pristine sleepers. And there are plenty of fallen branches across the carpet of leaves, and crisp packets, and lager cans, and Co-Op carrier bags, because this place isn't always as empty as it seems.

Following the tracks beyond the ex-platform is relatively straight-forward, with care, though one suspects rather tougher in the summer with plantlife everywhere. But within about a minute the way ahead is blocked by a metal fence, preventing access to the iron lattice bridge across the Grand Union Canal. This too has been colonised by grass and bushes, the latter leafless at present, and nothing has especially deep roots. And beyond this bridge the land falls away, the line completely broken, thanks to a road cut through to an industrial estate in 1996.

When the Croxley Rail Link flies through in three years time, a replacement station called Cassiobridge will be built on the other side of Ascot Road. But in getting there the new line will completely bypass the old Croxley Green station, severing this disused embankment for all time and consigning it to a more desolate fate. Total demolition's not out of the question, even levelling of the entire structure, but I hope this impromptu nature reserve survives as a reminder of the runtiest branch line in Hertfordshire. [13 photos]

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