diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 29, 2011

When I was little and living in Croxley Green, vague plans were mooted to link our local arm of the Metropolitan line to Watford Junction. Build a viaduct across the Gade Valley at Cassio Bridge, and then tube trains could run along a little-used branch line into the heart of Watford. Nice idea, never happened. That branch line closed in 1996, but the planned viaduct never quite went away and is now closer to fruition than it's ever been before. The Croxley Rail Link has widespread support from TfL and all relevant local authorities, and has somehow made its way into the Department of Transport's development pool. A public consultation is currently underway and, should £120m of funding ever be forthcoming, the entire project might get completed by 2016.

The Metropolitan line was always supposed to terminate in Watford town centre, but never did. When the line reached the edge of Cassiobury Park it stopped, short, because landowners weren't willing to allow the railway tracks to encroach any further. A building had been purchased in the High Street, tentatively named Watford Central, but never saw a single train. Later this became the Grange Furniture Store, and today it's a Wetherspoons (which is kind of appropriate, because so is the former Chiltern "Court restaurant at Baker Street at the other end of the line). Watford's premature Metropolitan truncation has left the spur somewhat underused. Residents of the Cassiobury Estate are well pleased with their suburban station, and hundreds of schoolchildren use the line to ride in to the neighbouring Boys' Grammar School. But for most of the population of Watford the line is an irrelevance, with inadequate parking, too far out of the way to be useful.

So the plan, should the Croxley Rail Link ever come to fruition, is to sever the existing line to Watford Met station and run trains round to Watford Junction instead. That would leave a listed building, a kilometre of railway track and two water-crossing viaducts surplus to requirements [photo]. Nobody's quite sure what TfL would do with the available land, but there are already an awful lot of newbuild houses and flats in the vicinity, so there's got to be scope to make a tidy residential profit. Oh, except that most of those newbuild houses and flats only sprung up because of their proximity to a commuter-friendly link to London, and once Watford station closes that'll vanish overnight.

To the east of Croxley station, the new viaduct will branch off from the existing Metropolitan line at the bottom of Baldwins Lane [photo]. This'll be bad news for the used car dealership beside the embankment because the first part of the bridge will slice straight across their forecourt. Then it's straight through the marshalling yard of Cinnamond House, HQ to a local company who specialise in "earthwork services" and therefore might be best placed to pick up part of the Link's construction contract. The gently-curving viaduct will cross the A412 just past the roundabout (precisely over the pelican crossing), then run across what's currently a children's playground (past the local Sea Cadets HQ) [photo]. Here it'll be very close to the old Croxley Green to Watford Junction line, but can't take advantage of the old bridge on that alignment because too sharp a bend would be created [photo]. Instead there'll be a new crossing of the Grand Union Canal, dislodging a couple of permanently-moored narrowboats [photo], then the River Gade, then the Ascot Road dual carriageway.

Ascot Road would be one of two new stations on the Link route, serving the east of Croxley Green, the very western tip of Watford and the enormous Croxley Business Park. It's envisaged as a DLR-style station, no ticket office, with potential capability as a park-and-ride hub. From here Metropolitan trains would be able to follow the existing disused Croxley branch line, newly double-tracked, passing straight through the old Watford West station because (I'm told) the gradient here's too steep. Instead there'd be a new station one road further east, seemingly rather remote, but much better placed for the hospital and Vicarage Road football stadium. A major new health campus is planned here, opening about the same time as the new railway might, so the name Watford Hospital station has been proposed. Next stop would be Watford High Street, formerly on the Bakerloo line, currently Overground only. And then on into Watford Junction, where there's already sufficient terminating platform availability.

It's not unduly expensive, this Croxley Rail Link, making much use as it does of existing infrastructure. The benefit-cost ratio (at 4.3:1) is also "very high", and construction would apparently only take eighteen months. Once open, should it ever open, trains could then run regularly from Watford Junction to Baker Street via Harrow and Wembley. There's also the possibility of Chiltern Railways running a new service between Watford and Aylesbury via the rarely-used Croxley north curve, which would open up a new east-west rail corridor and boost connectivity. Everything rests on a successful public consultation, and getting the nod from the Secretary of State later in the year. The Croxley Rail Link is the only rail project in the pool, everything else is road-based, which may or may not boost its chances. As a former ultra-local resident, my fingers are very firmly crossed. And even if its time isn't now I'm sure it'll get built one day - this is after all the project which refuses to go away.

» Croxley Rail Link project website (and map)
» There's been a public exhibition in Charter Place, Watford, for the last three days, staffed by knowledgeable folk intent on gathering feedback. It's on for one more day, this Wednesday, this time in St Oswald's Church Hall, Croxley Green.
» Part of the exhibition was a 3-D fly-through of the entire route. Here's 90 seconds-worth, starting at Croxley station, then heading out over the new viaduct to Ascot Road station.
» If you have an interest, go fill in the online survey.
» Here's the official DfT funding paperwork
» For a walk along the disused Croxley Green to Watford Junction branch line, join me tomorrow.

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