Why is the line under threat?

Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) are threatening to close the Abbey Line – again.

In their ‘Transport Vision 2050’ consultation paper, recently published (1), they propose to tear up the existing electric railway line between Watford and St Albans and turn it into a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route – effectively making it into a road.

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.

Now we must act again to Save the Abbey Line.

 

What can you do about it?

We urge you to help us in three ways, it will only take 5 minutes to make a difference!

  1. Sign the petition and respond to the consultation. Please fill in your details using the form below.
  2. Join ABFLY. The more members we have, the more powerful is our collective voice. Please go to www.abfly.org.uk/join.
  3. Donate to ABFLY. We may need to fight this through the courts, which could be costly. Please go to www.abfly.org.uk/donate.

 

The petition is now closed. Thanks to everybody that responded.

 

Details:

Petition: By submitting this form you will both sign the petition AND send a formal response to the HCC consultation, expressing your opposition to the Bus Rapid Transit plan. You will receive an e-mail copying you into the consultation response, for your records. See below for the text of the response. Having pressed the ‘Submit’ button, please ensure that you see the message, “Thank you, your submission to the HCC Transport Vision 2050 consultation has been made.” It may take a few seconds, so please be patient, but if this is not the case, then try refreshing the page and trying again. You may instead wish to send your own personalised response, rather than using our template – we encourage this – if so then please go to: http://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/your-council/consult/transportconsult/TV2050/. The consultation is open until 23:59 on Wednesday 14th December 2016.

Joining ABFLY. Membership is available from only £5 per year, and you can join online, or better still join us for 5 years at only £20!

Donate to ABFLY. Anything you can give, no matter how large or small, will be gratefully received. Donations can be made online.

 

Why is this important?

Closing existing rail lines and converting them to BRT is a bad idea for five key reasons:

  1. environmental impact
  2. passenger comfort and perception
  3. loss of network benefits
  4. reliability
  5. 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 (2). 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 (3) – which are still being addressed.

 

Is there an alternative?

Yes. 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.

Whilst the Hertfordshire Rail Strategy, published last July (4), dismisses the passing loop as, “unlikely to be considered by funders as a priority, as it would require provision of two train sets and train crew in place of the current one, making it difficult to achieve a favourable business case”, no such business case has ever been presented for public scrutiny, and in any case it is thought to be severely undermined by a high level of usage going unrecorded because of ticketless travel on the branch. This issue has recently been acknowledged by the Department for Transport’s very own figures (5).

The costs of building a passing loop are thought to be somewhere between £4m and £7m based on historical estimates, but according to the Transport Vision document, the cost of the BRT scheme is quoted at £90m- over ten times the price. Yet no business case is presented for BRT either.

 

Text of the template consultation response

Dear Cllr Ashley,

I object in the strongest possible terms to the proposals for closing the Abbey Line and turning it into a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route, as set out in the Transport Vision 2050.

Closing existing rail lines and converting them to BRT is a bad idea for five reasons:

  • environmental impact
  • passenger comfort and perception
  • loss of network benefits
  • reliability
  • 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 whilst rail usage is at record high levels. HCC themselves 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.

To make the service more attractive and boost ridership, the case for installing a ‘passing loop’ and bringing in a second train to operate a higher frequency shuttle should be revisited. A thorough review of new and innovative rail technologies and operating methods such as the Warwick Manufacturing Group’s ‘Very Light Rail’ concept vehicle and Vivarail’s ‘D-train’ should be undertaken to examine the opportunities for operational cost reductions without having to invest vast sums of money in new infrastructure. Additionally the cost of leasing ex-BR electric rolling stock is known to be falling considerably, so this too should be considered.

Similarly, contractors other than Network Rail should be asked to price for the passing loop and signalling required, as Network Rail have consistently failed to rise to the challenge of the ‘Community Rail’ concept – which was supposed to apply standards more suitable to branch lines and rural lines in the delivery of cost-effective infrastructure enhancements.

Whilst the Hertfordshire Rail Strategy, published last July, dismisses the passing loop as, “unlikely to be considered by funders as a priority, as it would require provision of two train sets and train crew in place of the current one, making it difficult to achieve a favourable business case”, no such business case has ever been presented for public scrutiny, and in any case it is thought to be severely undermined by a high level of usage going unrecorded because of ticketless travel on the branch. This issue has recently been acknowledged by the Department for Transport’s very own figures (up to 37% journeys being made without a valid ticket).

In summary, I urge you to withdraw the damaging and costly BRT proposals and retain the Abbey Line as a rail route. Innovative and cost-efficient rail-based solutions to enhance the service frequency and optimise running costs exist and these should be pursued. I further urge you to work with the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group in the pursuit of these aims, as they have considerable expertise in the matter.

Yours sincerely

[Name will be automatically inserted]

 

Sources

  1. http://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/services/transtreets/ltplive/LTP4/
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/annual-bus-statistics-year-ending-march-2015
  3. http://www.railfuture.org.uk/article1545-Paving-over-tracks
  4. http://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/docs/pdf/r/HCCrailstratjuly16.pdf
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/548031/wmf-ticketless-travel-survey-final-report.pdf