In a move strongly welcomed by ABFLY, it appears that Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) have dropped their unaffordable and unlikely-to-succeed aspiration for turning the line into part of a Supertram or Guided Bus network, and started working with Network Rail to improve what we already have.
Back in the summer, over 200 people responded to our ‘No2Bus‘ campaign by writing to HCC, as part of a public consultation for updating their Rail Strategy, calling them to re-focus on keeping the line as part of the rail network, whilst working towards improvements which could be achieved in a much shorter timeframe.
The principal improvements called for by ABFLY are an increase of the service frequency by installation of a ‘passing loop’ which would allow two trains to operate, whilst looking at the possibility of through trains to London. Investment for much of this could be leveraged through the new West Midlands rail franchise, of which the Abbey Line is a part, tendering for which is due to begin in 2016. This represents a once in a decade opportunity which we cannot afford to squander.
In a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport – the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin, to Anne Main – MP for St Albans, he states,
“In relation to future development of the Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey Line, the Department understands that officials from Network Rail have recently met with representatives of Hertfordshire County Council and, in light of the latest local economic forecasts, agreed to undertake further development of options for a 30 minute frequency and for through services to London”.
Meanwhile, in a possibly coincidental development, this week Richard Harrington – MP for Watford, also met with Rail Minister Claire Perry to discuss the franchise renewal. Richard will shortly be laying out what Watford’s commuters would like to see change in a formal letter to the Department for Transport. This will include a demand for a “front-and-centre commitment to the Abbey Line with the installation of a Passing Loop so that more than one train can run every hour”.
This acknowledgement of ABFLY’s aims at the very highest level is an unexpected result and is testimony to the support shown by both local MPs for our aims. It is still early days but let us hope that it soon leads to real improvements on the branch.