diamond geezer

 Monday, March 18, 2024

Eight years ago the Metropolitan line extension to Watford Junction was cancelled when the incoming Mayor chose to ditch the outgoing Mayor's underfunded project. The people of London barely noticed - they had no desperate need to go to west Watford and the money saved went on projects closer to home. But in southwest Hertfordshire a long-held dream was extinguished, indeed as a former resident I'd been harbouring it for over 40 years. So every now and again I like to go back and see how the disused railway that should have become a tube line has become an even more disused railway than it was before. Sometimes I even get to stand on the old rails and sigh at what might have been. [12 photos]

Still operational. Still trains to the West End every quarter of an hour or so. Still evocatively Metro-land and about to celebrate its centenary next year. No change here. But at the far end of Watford Road...

Croxley Green (disused)
...this one's almost gone. Officially the station closed in 2003 but the last train was in 1996, after which BR provided just one daily taxi, so the place has had decades to decay. A brief embankment exists between the canal and the Two Bridges roundabout, just long enough to park a train, and always too far from the heart of Croxley to be genuinely useful. Ten years ago a faded Network SouthEast sign still stood guard beside the entrance, but that and the timetable board alongside are long gone so you'd never guess what was behind the locked gate and up the crumbling steps unless you were in the know. Except, intriguingly, the gate isn't just unlocked it's disappeared and the fence has toppled too, as if nobody gives a damn whether anyone gains access any more.

I last stepped through in 2014 when the gate was pushable and the staircase slippery with fallen leaves. There wasn't much to see up top back then, just some rails, some wonky lampposts painted Network SouthEast red, a lot of trees and a few concrete supports that used to hold the platform up. It was, I confess, quite a thrill to get back in. But I had company back then, plus I remembered how steep the staircase was, plus I noted that the handrail had since toppled to an alarming angle so on this occasion I gave it a miss. That said, if you've ever wanted to explore the disused Croxley Green station it's now easy to gain access, perhaps the easiest it's been this century, and absolutely no signs say you shouldn't.

Cassiobridge (unbuilt)
Croxley Green station was never going to be part of the extension, a fresh viaduct would have crossed the valley from the existing Met line and joined the disused railway just beyond the box girder bridge. This brief link was both what made the extension possible and what ultimately scuppered it, being where most of the cost was. But although bugger all railway engineering ever took place, local property developers continued to build around the site of the proposed new station - Cassiobridge - including one jarring landmark tower that's now visible from far too far away. Cancellations, it turn out, have consequences.

I dodged the mass of blocky brick flats that would have overlooked the London-bound platform and stuck to the alleyway on the northern side where ticket barriers and lifts were never built. This is one of the best places to look through a fence and see the original railway up close, or was in 2016 after TfL cleared the undergrowth from the line. Even by 2018 it was still easy to distinguish the disused rails and passing neighbourhood cats through the undergrowth, but thickety trees soon started growing again and are now comfortably above head height. If nothing else local residents won't ever have to worry about the sound of trains keeping them awake at night, but as nature reclaims this green corridor I suspect the foxes will manage that instead.

Watford West (disused)
By the time the railway meets Tolpits Lane it's in a deepish cutting, and dead easy to look down on because health and safety wasn't so hot in the 1980s. Again trees are growing again all along the line, although they've a long way to go before they're as high as they were ten years ago when they rose above the bridge. Looking west the brand new flats (on the site of an industrial laundry) hit ten storeys, whereas looking east the 1990s flats (on the site of Scammell's truck works) are much lower because density priorities have changed.

The most interesting sight down below is the old station platform, singular, still with its five red lampposts and the remains of the support that once held a mirror. In this case access from the road is impossible, the arched metal gate being firmly padlocked and ivy increasingly encroaching on the steps. Annoyingly it was open the last time I came in 2022 but a group of local teenagers were holding court on the platform so my sole chance to get down there was anti-socially thwarted. TfL had no plans for a station here so the platform might have survived construction, although it's telling that engineers did no enabling works whatsoever on Boris's watch, merely a lot of heavy strimming.

Watford Vicarage Road (unbuilt)
Instead the extension's other new station would have been a cut-price halt on Vicarage Road tucked into the corner of Harwoods Recreation Ground. Views over the old railway are trickier here because the bridge is narrow with no pavement on one side, and controlled by traffic lights so the risk of being run over is ever present. I managed to visit just before a major football match, Watford's stadium being just a quarter of a mile up the road, so was briefly swept up in a flow of bescarfed dads, yellow-hatted pensioners and beery souls converging on the turnstiles. I did however head up there later, if only to see the unconvincing Graham Taylor statue and the new streetname celebrating one of the former chairman's greatest albums, and definitely not for a grinning selfie or a greasy burger.

Watford Stadium (disused)
This matchday halt opened in 1982 to coincide with Watford's footballing glory years and an uptick in spectators. It didn't last - the station or the glory - and the platform has again been left to rot along with its decaying lampposts. Ten years ago it was possible to get access via an embankment at the end of Stripling Way, but that no longer exists having been carved away to make way for the end of a new block of flats. On my last visits I've been unable to pass under the old bridge due to construction works so this time I was amazed to be able to step through into what was once a lowly industrial estate and is now Watford council's prestige Riverwell development. It's so derivative it looks almost exactly like an artists' impression.

Riverwell is a 70 acre site bordering the river Colne, although not too closely because there are rules about flooding these days. It's due to have a hotel, new school, retirement village and even a grid of terraced streets, but as yet it's mostly apartment blocks, building sites, commercial units and a vibrant yellow multi-storey car park. Again it was planned and green-lit when the Metropolitan line was on the cards, but today is just far enough away from things that the car is inevitably king. An eye-shaped island between the river and the railway has been transformed into undulating parkland for recreation and is not yet well used. But follow the muddy path in the corner almost to the Colne's edge and it turns out someone's dislodged the security fence so it's simplicity itself to pass through and climb up onto... gosh...

These are the original tracks of the disused railway, here crossing a low bridge just before joining up with the former Rickmansworth branch line. If I lived round here I can see why I'd skip the communal grass and playground and maybe bring a chair or barbecue up here to enjoy somewhere more authentic. Also... oooh... the tracks continue in both directions if you fancy a surreptitious safari, in one case swiftly reaching a disused signal I remember finding here in 2013 except now it's fallen over. Alternatively head west where to follow the embankment around the border of the site you'll need to duck under young trees bursting up between the tracks. This is quite impressive urbex adventuring for anyone who likes to slip off grid, in this case into a decaying world whose supposed reprieve never came.

In another world you could have ridden up from Baker Street on the tube, stepped out into this watery environment and thought it a pleasant place to live, and I suspect it's only those of us who saw the blighted former version who'd think otherwise. As things stand the divide between development and decay is narrower than you'd expect, as well as unexpectedly accessible, and this is why I like to revisit this failed railway line at irregular intervals. When politicians pull the plug, the ripples often go unseen.

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