The Abbey Line is once again facing a threat to its existence as a railway line.

In June, Herts County Council (HCC) updated their Rail Strategy and this was released for public consultation, starting on 10th June and due to close at midnight on 4th August.

Full details can be viewed at: www.hertsdirect.org/services/transtreets/railconsultation/

The updated Strategy, in its draft form, is a very poor deal for the Abbey Line. Although discussed, it concludes by giving little or no priority to enhancements which we believe are so desperately required, principally enhancing the service frequency through installation of a passing loop and second train, running of later trains (post 10pm) and through services, taking advantage of a recently installed connection at Watford Junction.

Worse, rather than champion these relatively simple and well-understood improvements employing proven technology, HCC want to waste millions of pounds of taxpayers money on a potentially expensive, unreliable, environmentally damaging Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, better known to fellow rail campaigners as ‘Guided Bus’.

The prime motivator for Guided Busways is to lower operating costs – something we all agree with in principal. But the trackway itself does not have the durability of rail, and of course we know from the Cambridge to St Ives experience that this technology can go badly wrong, the project famously being pushed through against valiant opposition from CAST.IRON, but then running three times over budget and 2.5 years late. Moreover it is already in a state of decay as the excellent article on the Railfuture website explains at some length: http://www.railfuture.org.uk/article1545-Paving-over-tracks

Why else should we be against it, apart from the massive project and technical risk? Well obviously, our existing trains running on AC overhead electric, zero emissions at the point of use, would inevitably be replaced by diesel buses – direct polluters, with all that entails for the local environment and public health. And perhaps most devastatingly of all, from the  environmental perspective, Guided Bus would mean the Abbey Line’s rails and overhead line would have to be ripped up, and the character of the branch would be irrevocably changed through the pouring of thousands of tonnes of concrete to create the guideways. Can you imagine building a new A-Road through the heart of sylvan Bricket Wood? That is effectively what would happen.

Those with long memories will recall that sadly we have been here before, in the mid-1990s, when similar proposals were thrown out after a public outcry. Unfortunately, HCC seem to think that we’ll have simply forgotten.

Our alternative vision, meanwhile, is simple:

  • Keep the line as a rail link – part of the National Network
  • Keep electric trains but improve their quality
  • Improve the basic service by running later and more frequently
  • Extend connectivity by introducing through trains to London

Above all: Attract more passengers by providing the service they actually want (read more about our aims and objectives)

So fight again we must.

Our main focus has been on encouraging individuals to respond to the consultation, since this is the official way to lodge concerns about the Strategy and a large volume of objections would be difficult for HCC to ignore. We have taken the hassle out of this by writing a template letter, then encouraging people to fill in a simple form with their name, address etc – which takes about 30 seconds to complete, then we send the letter for them.

We would encourage ANYONE to submit this form – you don’t have to be a user just a supporter of rail in general.

The form, the template letter and further details can be found on our dedicated no2bus campaign page.