40 years ago this month, the residents of Croxley Green first heard of plans to connect the Metropolitan line to the British Rail branch line to Watford Junction. The matter was brought up before the Joint Highways/Planning Advisory Sub-Committee of Hertfordshire County Council, who duly concluded that they would be "pleased to cooperate in consulting local opinion on the merits of constructing a rail link between Croxley and Croxley Green stations." The news was broken on the front page of the Summer 1975 edition of The Croxley Green Resident, a quarterly newsletter circulated to all the homes in the village, including my own. As a local ten year-old I remember being quite excited by the prospect of a new tube connection, although others in the village were much less keen. The Resident's leading article had been written by the Secretary of a newly-formed Action Committee, a certain Wing Commander S. Hatton, who in a heartfelt missive urged the populace "to give their wholehearted support to the efforts being made to prevent this scheme even reaching the planning stage."
The Action Committee's objections were several, and quite far-sighted for their time. They noted that the construction of a rail bridge would destroy recent efforts to enhance the rural environment in the Gade Valley. They suggested that the cost of the proposals would be considerable, outweighing benefits that could better be improved by a proper bus service. They conjectured that extensive works would be required at the Junction station to handle the increased traffic load. They pointed out that residents of the Cassiobury Park area would be deprived of a rail service to London which they'd enjoyed since the 1920s. And they worried that construction would necessitate the destruction of houses only recently completed on Croxley Green's old sidings, now the Mayfare estate. Surely, argued the Wing Commander, it should be possible to investigate alternative proposals that wouldn't require the knocking down of property.
In the following newsletter, amongst updates on the latest trees to have succumbed to that new-fangled Dutch Elm disease, the local choirmaster agreed. He argued that riding roughshod over people's property should never be contemplated, and that the link should instead be constructed in a different location. He also suggested that the existing line to Watford should be retained, with Metropolitan line trains alternating to the two destinations, in respect to those who had deliberately moved to live near the old terminus. Plans for the link were eventually adjusted to bypass Croxley Green station, crossing the valley without the destruction of a single home. But all of these other initial arguments would resurface over the years, as the project stumbled, faded completely from sight and then suddenly, miraculously, came back to life.
40 years on, TfL's Finance & Policy committee is meeting this morning to discuss, among other things, the Croxley Link. Their job is to rubberstamp increases to the project's funding and to oversee the transfer of the entire project from Herts County Council to London Underground. Thus far HCC have led on the entire delivery structure, but cost escalation and programme slippage have caused concern and now their time is up. The Mayor is essentially saying thanks to Hertfordshire for getting everything this far, but TfL's better at this than you so we'll take over now thanks. Funding arrangements will be officially transferred at the end of July, and then it's all systems go.
Committee papers published on TfL's website reveal a few choice facts about the Croxley Link project.
• There will be two new stations at Cassiobridge and Watford Vicarage Road (yes, we knew that).
• The estimated final cost of the entire project is £284.4m, rather higher than the £116m anticipated back in 2011.
• Service levels on the new line to Watford Junction will be six trains an hour during peak periods and four trains an hour off-peak.
• The government still has longer term aspirations for a non-TfL service of 2 trains per hour from Watford Junction to Rickmansworth, Aylesbury (and beyond).
• Watford Metropolitan station will close to the public, but has the capability to stable five trains overnight and to serve as a reversing point for Metropolitan line trains.
• TfL is taking over the entire property portfolio, apart from some surplus elements not needed for the railway which HCC is intending to retain, including the site of the former Croxley Green Station and a redundant lattice bridge over the River Gade.
• The Croxley Rail Link train service to Watford Junction requires an additional 3 train operators and 6 additional station staff, with net annual costs increasing by £568,000.
• Closing Watford Met station to passenger services will realise a saving of £837,000 a year.
• Fare revenue on the extended line is estimated at £4.26m annually, with a £0.87m negative revenue impact on the London Overground.
Backin 2011, trains were expected to enter service on the Croxley Link in May 2016. Not a hope. By 2013, when approval was granted, December 2016 was being mentioned. At the start of 2014, the target was suddenly 2017. By the end of the year the date had slipped further to May 2018, for which we can probably blame HCC's prevarications. When Boris signed the project over in March this year the start of operational service had fallen back to May 2019. But today's board papers give an even later completion date of December 2019 (the same as Crossrail), reached as follows.
Start Viaduct Works
Complete Detailed Design
Complete Stations Fit Out
Complete Civil and Track Infrastructure
Install Legacy Signalling
Complete NR Signalling
Commence Testing and Commissioning
Trail Running and Driver Training
Handover to Operations
Closure Watford Met station
And even this deadline is hedged with doubt.
At this stage, and pending completion of an integrated delivery programme, LU’s view is that there is very considerable risk associated with the December 2019 target delivery date. This view has been made clear to HCC and the DfT, and no commitment to this date has been given. The above dates are accordingly indicative only.
If there are trains to Cassiobridge before 2020 we should count ourselves lucky. Just don't go back to 1975 and tell that ten year-old Croxley resident quite how long he might have to wait.