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NOTE: Please visit www.abfly.org.uk/savetheabbeyline to see what you can do to help us save the Abbey Line – including signing the petition / responding to the HCC consultation (very important), joining ABFLY or making a donation.

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Article:

The Abbey Flyer Users’ Group (ABFLY) have suspended their support for the Abbey Line Community Rail Partnership (CRP) and called on its Chairman Cllr Derrick Ashley to resign, following renewed threats by Herts County Council (HCC) to close the line.

Cllr Ashley, who is also in charge of Transport at HCC, put his name to the ‘Transport Vision 2050’ document which was released on 23rd September for consultation.

The ‘Vision’ includes proposals to tear up the existing electric railway line between Watford and St Albans and turn it into a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route. Bus Rapid Transit involves running self-powered buses, probably diesel, down concrete guideways.

Just over one year ago, in summer 2015, over 80% of respondents to another HCC consultation expressed their opposition to such a scheme, and their support for retaining and enhancing the Abbey Line as a rail service. It appears that these views have been roundly ignored in what ABFLY describe as an “insult to the democratic process”.

ABFLY’s opposition to BRT revolves around five key concerns; environmental impact, passenger comfort and perception, loss of network benefits, reliability and cost.

It is widely acknowledged that given a choice, people see rail / light rail as a superior mode to bus, and would be more encouraged to switch to rail should the service be enhanced. Removing the line from the rail system means that people would see it as ‘just another bus route’, rather than as a feeder to the rest of the rail network. Bus usage has been on a steady downward trend outside London since 1986. HCC have cut many bus services in recent years whilst rail usage continues to expand relentlessly across the UK.

On the environmental impact, the rolling resistance of a rubber-tyred bus on a concrete track is significantly higher than the steel wheels of a train on steel rails. Furthermore, diesel buses have to carry around their own power unit, with a consequent penalty in weight and hence fuel consumption, whereas electric rail vehicles are zero emissions at the point of use. Diesel buses also have a serious impact on local air quality.

The consequences of pouring thousands of tonnes of concrete to create the guideways in itself is a CO2-intensive activity, additionally noting that doing so through Bricket Wood would be within a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

On reliability and cost, a ‘pioneering’ scheme on the old Cambridge to St Ives railway line suffered severe delays, cost overruns and quality failings – which are still being addressed.

ABFLY have long been calling for an increase in the service frequency on the single track line, which currently provides a train every 45mins in each direction. They believe this can be achieved by installing a ‘passing loop’ and using innovative new rail-based technology for a fraction of the cost of BRT. But HCC have consistently failed to think creatively and challenge the received wisdom about rail-based solutions.

In a letter to Cllr Ashley, Chairman of the line’s user group ‘ABFLY’, David Horton wrote,

We feel that in putting your name to Transport Vision 2050, a report which essentially calls for the closure of the Abbey Line, your position as Chairman of the Community Rail Partnership is now untenable, and we call on you to resign. The CRP is charged with improving the fortunes of the line as a rail route. This is now completely and publicly at odds with HCC’s vision of its future.

Please visit www.abfly.org.uk/savetheabbeyline to see what you can do to help us save the Abbey Line – including signing the petition / responding to the HCC consultation (very important), joining ABFLY or making a donation.