October 7th, 2021 - London North Western Railway Autumn Stakeholder Briefing 6th October
This virtual gathering was attended by reps from Marston Vale, Watford and Abfly rail user groups, among others. Much of the ground had been covered in LNR’s Abbey Line briefing (see my post of 31st August).
New points which may interest Abbey Line users:
LNR’s new national rail contract (superseding the Government’s financial support during the pandemic) came into force on 19th September. Revenue “risk” now with Department for Transport. No details of contract yet but Lawrence Bowman (LNR’s Marketing Manager) claim that the investment programmes will continue (including new trains and station improvements).
Station adoption – Tim Bellenger stated that every LNR station (apart from Kings Langley and two further north) was now adopted “in some form” including all on the Abbey Line. A new initiative with Watford Mencap covers adoption of Watford North and St Albans Abbey stations.
Timetable Karen Booth explained the Abbey Line will have an “almost full” timetable restored from December this year. LNR are to arrange separate crew diagrams on local lines (Abbey & Marston Vale) to keep them separate from those on the “main line”.
New timetable from December 2022. Max Taylor (Head of Business Planning) described how the timetable for the whole of the West Coast main line (including Avanti, LNR, West Midlands, Manchester & Liverpool) will have its first comprehensive review since 2008. Main changes will include:
No “peak” timetable (reflecting post-Covid changes in commuting)
Evenly spaced fast services operating throughout the day,
All “slow” services stopping at Harrow
More connectivity with Avanti services
Consultation will be launched before Christmas
Accessibility for disabilities & equalities. In what seems to be a new post, LNR introduced Peter Williamson who outlined a range of initiatives.
July 15th, 2020 - July 2020 Webinar
June 24th, 2020 - COVID-19 rail replacement bus services
London Northwestern Railway have advised us that they still have around 100 members of their train crew unavailable to work due to the COVID-19 situation. This means that they have insufficient train crews available to provide a reliable train service on the Abbey Line and therefore the replacement bus service will unfortunately have to continue.
They will however review the situation after the next uplift of services into London Euston from 6th July, and may be able to provide a limited morning and evening peak train service on the Abbey line at a later date.
ABFLY have made suggestions to improve the replacement bus service and will continue to press for the full train service to be reinstated as soon as possible. We have also written to the MPs for Watford and St Albans to make them aware of the situation.
October 30th, 2019 - Busway update – October 2019
A recent report to Hertfordshire County Council’s Infrastructure Panel (GIPE) appeared to raise the possibility of a Abbey Line busway. The officers’ report stated:
The Implementation Plan will need to include reference to the role of the Abbey Line, particularly given the interest in those keen to see the conversion to MRT. It is very unlikely that a solution involving steel wheels on rails will be financially feasible and the solution is likely to involve permutations of dedicated route construction, repurposing of existing highway, necessitating rubber tyred rolling stock.
Abfly submitted a strong rebuttal case to local councillors on that panel, as a result of which, the chair of the panel made the following statement:
Derrick Ashley opened the meeting by giving a statement that there are no plans to convert the Abbey Line into a bus way, just that it should be integrated into whatever solution is decided upon for the east-west MRT
We are grateful to county councillors Sue Featherstone (Conservative), Asif Khan (Labour) and Sandy Walkington (Lib Dem) for taking up the case and Derek Ashley for making such a clear statement on the matter.
October 20th, 2019 - Comparing the Busway proposal vs the current Railway with a passing loop
We have tried to provide the most objective comparison between the Busway and Railways with passing loop proposals for simplicity.
The retention of the Abbey Line as a railway provides a number of advantages including speed, environmental impact, lower capital expenditure, customer experience along with rail network benefits. The investment in a passing loop is also a lower risk option and a much smaller investment for the improved frequency which the bus way would provide. The downsides of this is that the county council don’t have as much control rail and can’t make some of the decisions unilaterally but need to champion the changes to the Department for Transport.
The improvements to the Abbey Line with an addition of a passing loop would open up the potential of the line and cost substantially less than the guided busway. We feel this is the best way forward but we leave the decision for you, the readers, to make up your mind.
October 20th, 2019 - Advantages of the Abbey Line remaining a train line
The Abbey Line is a 6.5 mile electrified railway line connecting Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey station. In its current form the line permits a single train which shuttles between the two stations. The current railways line is suitable for heavy rail, the same as you would get connecting Watford or St Albans with London. As opposed to a tram which you might find in the center of Birmingham or Manchester.
Advantage of retaining the Abbey Line as a rail line
The journey from Watford to St Albans is around 16 minutes, quicker than the current bus system and likely to be faster or as fast as the guided busway system.
The cost of a guided busway is estimated to be £90m. This could be invested in a second track along the Abbey Line or in a passing loop around Bricket Wood Station for around £10m. Such improvements would result in a service every 20 minutes by train. Which will significantly cut down the current waiting times.
Electric trains produce less noise compared to diesel engines (both diesel train and bus). Since the Abbey Line is an electric railway there is no need for the train to have an engine and so this will be much quieter than alternatives.
Additionally as an electric railway line air pollution is a lot lower, especially in built up areas. For the same capacity the train produces 88% CO2 less and is even 40% less polluting than a single bus.
Concrete pouring is CO2 intensive which is an issue for the environment but specifically in Bricket Wood which is within a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Train network benefits
The UK rail and bus network don’t integrate well, e.g. currently a ticket from Watford to Luton do not cover the shuttle bus joining St Albans City and St Albans Abbey. The vast majority of Abbey Line users connect on to other rail services at Watford Junction, to get them to Harrow, London etc. As such this integration into the rail network is very important for most of our users. (see survey results). Part of the reason for the failed conversion to light rail was because of ticket integration and that would have been simpler than integrating the busses.
Potential future train network benefits
After the go live of HS2 there is the possibility of through trains from the Abbey Line connecting on to Euston, which would not be possible if the Abbey Line is turned into a bus way.
Potential extension into Watford High Street or Metropolitan station via Watford Junction, St Albans City station via the reinstatement of previously removed track which could go even further east, like it used to, to Hatfield and beyond.
Train usage in the UK has increased while, outside of London, bus usage has been declining. From our own survey people prefer using the Abbey Line compared to using the bus. The reduction in bus usage has been because of council funding cuts, city congestion and a rise in car ownership.
October 20th, 2019 - Information about the Busway proposal
There has been lots of talk about turning the Abbey Line into a Guided Busway system. This would involve replacing the current railway line with a concrete guided busway. In this post we provide a review of the busway option, in future posts we review of the current railway and in the final post a comparison between the two.
To our knowledge this would be the first time that an active railway line would be taken up to install a guided busway. Normally a guided busway is installed because it is cheaper than building a full rail solution. In the past previously removed train lines (such as a result of the Beeching cuts) have had a guided busway installed but this was years after the removal of the train line.
To try to keep the explanations simple we have deferred the supporting math into the footnotes, so it is there if you want to understand our working but also not cluttering the text for those people who are happy to accept our numbers.
Without significant changes to the bridges along the Abbey Line it would only permit single story busses and not double deckers. As such, for the purposes of comparison we will use one four car train being of equal capacity of five busses. 1
Things which would not change by the Abbey Line being a Guided Busway System and continuing as a railway line.
Since the concrete guided bus system is not a road it means that there is no, or limited, possibility for a bus to over take another. As such if a bus breaks down it must first be towed out of the way. As such the guided bus way provides no advantages in such conditions.
For the same capacity the running costs for a train are about the same as the running costs for five busses. 2
Advantages of the Guided Bus system
Whereas bus services are in the control of the County Council the rail network is controlled by the Department for Transport (DfT). Since this is at a national level there are higher priorities for the DfT, Hertfordshire County Council can not tell the DfT what to do but can only champion changes which they believe will provide benefits.
The Abbey Line is seen as a small and loss making part of a rail franchise, as such there is no incentive for franchise holders to invest a lot of effort into it. With the launch of community rail partnerships this has improved but there is still a way to go. One challenge is for the expansion and the number of challenging hurdles for this to be completed, as shown with the Met line extension.
Disadvantage of the Guided Bus system
Not just any bus can use the guided busway, they need to be fitted with guide wheels which effectively steer the bus.
The conversion would cost a minimum of £90m. The Luton busway was expected to cost £51m but resulted in a cost of £91m. Similarly the concrete busway such as the Cambridge to St Ives railway was estimated to cost £64m and ended up costing £181m. As such it is likely £90m on the conversion of the Abbey Line is going to be an underestimate.
Generally a guided busway is cheaper than rail to construct, however since the railway line is already present this cost advantage is zero and instead there would be an increased cost in removing the track and preparing platforms suitable for the busses.
The Abbey Line was never designed to take a busway so at some places additional land might be needed for either the busway or for additional sound barriers.
There have been a couple of incidents on the Luton busway. One was of a bus “jumping” out of the guided channels. Secondly of a moving bus crashed with a stationary bus.
To maintain the current level of capacity there would need to be a bus in both directions every 8 minutes. Currently at peak times the Abbey Line is very busy so this could cause problems at such times.
Guided busways tend to experience lateral motion/wobble, which can make the journey unpleasant.
Lack of continuity of service during conversion
The conversion from rail to bus system will likely take 3-4 years (based on similar projects). During this time there would be no service by train or bus along the Abbey Line.
Increased congestion at crosses (Bushey Mill Lane etc)
With a bus every 8 minutes this would mean that there would be an increased number of times where the Busway crosses the existing roads and paths which would increase congestion at these points.
2 2016-17 = £3.03b for 2016-17 = 1.24b miles which is the equivalent of about £2.44 per mile. The length of the Abbey line is 6.5 miles so the total cost per bus per journey is £15.88. There are 42 runs of the train each day 15.88*42 = £667 per bus per day for 5 busses = £3,335 per day. The cost of running the train = £3,287 per day.