Passing Loop

Computer generated visualisation of trains passing at Bricket Wood. Richard Haywood 2017

May 23rd, 2020 - Abbey Line Passing Loop to receive Government funding to further develop plans

It has today been announced that that Abbey Line Passing Loop will receive funding to further develop plans.  This was part of the Government’s £500 million commitment to reopen railway lines and stations across the country that were closed during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

Earlier this year the Members of Parliament for Watford, Dean Russell and St Albans, Daisy Cooper collaborated with Abbey Flyer Users Group, to develop the initial bid, making the case to ministers and officials in Whitehall that the project should progress to the next phase and receive financial support.

This is a significant step forward for the reinstatement of the passing loop.  The foundation for this bid was the feasibility study which we completed last year which showed that it was viable to be able to reinstate the loop.

More information can be found here and here.

May 5th, 2019 - We are in the top 10 priorities for transport improvements in Hertfordshire!!

Hertfordshire County Council has published their top 10 priorities in the “Local Transport Plan Delivery Programme”

Local Transport Plan Delivery Programme List of Projects which the County Council will seek to enable or promote being:

This does not mean that these projects are funded but it does mean there will be a focus for supporting these projects to be promoted by the County Council when opportunities arise from Government, the Local Enterprise Partnership or new funding arrangements that may develop in the future.

We are positive that the recent feasibility study we have completed will put us in a good position to support Hertfordshire County Council to get the passing loop funded.


May 1st, 2019 - Abbey Line Passing Loop Feasibility Study: Completed

We set out to investigate the options for providing an increased service on the Abbey Line.  We are now pleased that since our original request for support back in May 2017 we have now fully completed the Feasibility Study – thank you very much to our members, local councilors Asif Khan, Sandy Walkington & Stephen Giles-Medhurst, Abbey Line CRP who helped secure funding from ACoRP and the Department for Transport for all of your financial assistance and to Nigel Harris and his team at The Railway Consultancy for doing the work.

The whole report is available below and we have the following video which gives more information about the second part of the study.

The study highlights that the current users of the line are:

The study looks at the impact the installation of a passing loop would have and it shows that it would be feasible to cover either the capital or the operational costs.  The study looks at ways to reduce the operational costs and highlights the opportunity to have the passing loop covered by the many building projects which are taking place in South West Hertfordshire.  These could prove to balance out the costs and would allow an improved service.

In summary the study has:


June 25th, 2018 - Abbey Line Passing Loop Feasibility Study: Construction

AbFly is very please to present to you the result of our crowd funded feasibility study investigating the construction options and cost estimations for the reintroduction of the passing loop at Bricket Wood. You can download the complete study or read the executive summary below.


Executive Summary

The report presents a number of options for the passing loop and develops two of them to a cost estimated solution. Both of these solutions present similar level of service and risks. Both options provide a passing loop at Bricket Wood with the aim that the train only has to stop a single time in normal operation. Thus this should not cause significant extension to the current journey time.

The largest financial risks are the cost for turnouts (points), electrification, signalling and additional track in both refined solutions. The estimated cost for the cheaper solution is £8.6m (with an 80% confidence) with the layout as shown in Figure 11. The second option is for a second platforms at Bricket Wood, opposite the existing one, which come in at an estimated £9.9m (with an 80% confidence) because of the additional ramps to get to the public footpath shown in Figure 4.

The cost estimations in the report more closely align with £7.8m for a passing loop at Penryn railway station in 2009 rather than the estimate from Network Rail of £15-35m for a passing loop to be installed on the Abbey Line presented in April 2016. We hope, as a result, it will be easier for us to champion funding for the loop to be installed.

This report is a first step and includes the details regarding the civil engineering and cost projections for a passing loop as we saw this as the fundamental question which needed to be answered. Our challenge is still to build the complete business case for which we are still championing match funding. This would enable us to commission the second half of the report and thus provide a complete business justification for investment. This would be the understanding of current usage, economic growth/demand forecasts, costs of second train and the overall commercial viability assessment.

January 16th, 2018 - Hertfordshire’s Local Transport Plan (LTP4)

A copy of Hertfordshire’s Local Transport Plan has been published on the Hertfordshire County Council website, the consultation is open for one more week until 23rd January.  Here are our thoughts on the plan and we encourage you to complete the consultation on the councils website so that the voice of the users of the Abbey Line are heard loud and clear so they can be taken into account at this critical stage for the plan.

One of the only issues we have with the Local Transport Plan (LTP4) is that it makes no mention of the reinstatement of the passing loop, which is one of our groups current primary objectives and is clear supported by our recent members survey results.  The LTP4 highlights the pressures and transport needs of “Hertfordshire Enviro-tech Enterprise Zone: Covering …. the Building Research Establishment at Garston”, “development at the Radlett Aerodrome site”, “Supporting the development of the major economic growth locations at Watford” as well as “the sustainable delivery of housing growth, particularly at … Watford, St Albans” all of these developments are served by the Abbey rail line.  As such we feel that there is a very strong case strongly for the passing loop to be included, this will reduce the environmental impacts of these developments which we feel is extremely important as well as helping to move car users towards rail.

Additionally it would have been nice to have had a longer term vision for connecting St Albans Abbey and City stations, this would have tied in nicely with the Councils expectations for the growth of London Luton Airport as well as allow for the smoothing of capacity for people commuting to London by providing increased options for people to travel from St Albans City or Watford Junction for people living along the Abbey Line.

Other than the missing of the passing loop, in general we feel that the aims and direction of LTP4 are good and we are pleased to see that the bus way option for the Watford-Abbey rail line has been omitted.

We strongly encourage you to speak out and complete the consultation for LTP4, this is a great opportunity to swap the direction of Hertfordshire’s travel policy for years to come.

December 3rd, 2017 - Passing loop study fully funded!!

It has been a very busy few weeks while we have been working hard to get people to pledge to our Crowd Funding but we have succeeded in reaching the goal.  Thank you to everyone who pledged, we really could not have done it without you!!

We will get the funds in the new year and we will provide you with an update once we kick off the study.  We look forward to sharing the result with you soon!!

November 15th, 2017 - Passing loop options

One of the reasons that we are championing our SpaceHive campaign is because we want to show that there are multiple options for the passing loop, each with different cost and operational implications.

What are the options we are talking about?

Platform on the loop

The main advantage of the platform on the loop is that both trains would only have to stop once – at Bricket Wood.  If one of the trains is running slightly behind then the other train can still drop off and pick up passengers while waiting for the second train. As it was pre-1966.

Additionally it is really simple for travellers – all trains from one of the platforms will go to St Albans and all the trains from the other will go to Watford.  There is also the potential that the platforms could be extended to cope with longer trains which might be a requirement in order to allow through trains to London.

The main disadvantage of this approach is the additional cost that would be incurred to build the second platform as well as the costs in providing suitable access to the second platform.  From previous research commissioned by Hertfordshire County Council, the expected cost for this approach came in at £15-30m.

Loop outside of the station

A second option is to have the passing loop outside of the station.  This would be the cheapest option as there is just the cost for the passing loop and signalling, with no need to build a second platform.  Although the costs are the lowest there are a couple of disadvantages. Firstly if one of the trains is delayed then it could mean that both trains get delayed.  Secondly one of the trains will be required to stop twice which will increase the journey time.  Here trains going both ways will stop at the same platform.

Platform extension

The third option is to extend the platform and have the passing loop pass along half of the platform.  This would cost more than having the passing loop outside of the station because the platform will need to be extended, however it has the advantage that it will only require each train to stop once so there would be no extension of the journey duration.

Half of the platform would have trains going one way and the other half of the platform would have trains going the other way.  This is the same approach as taken at Penryn railway station.

When the passing loop was installed at Penryn, the cost for this was £7.77m in 2009.

October 7th, 2017 - Update on our passing loop feasibility study campaign

Following the launch of our campaign to raise £10k for the passing loop feasibility study we have spent some time restructuring the costs and we have just launched a formal crowd funding campaign on SpaceHive.  On the SpaceHive page you can see more details about what we are looking to do and see the progress we make towards our goal.  With the launch of the SpaceHive campaign we are also releasing the following video and press release.

Abbey Flyer Users’ Group launches a crowdfunding campaign to show the benefits of a second train running between St Albans and Watford.

The campaign will focus on funding a study which will show the costs and benefits of a passing loop so that a higher frequency service can once again run on one of Hertfordshire’s most vital community rail links.

The Abbey Flyer Users’ Group’s crowdfunding campaign aims to highlight why there should be investment to enable a second train to run on the 6.5 mile railway line linking Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey stations, also known as the Abbey Line. A second train will significantly reduce the time between trains from the present 40 minutes to potentially just 20 minutes.

With the journey by train taking just 16 minutes this can be much faster than by car which regularly takes over 35 minutes at busy times. The Abbey Flyer Users’ Group has long felt that the Achilles’ Heel of the line is the infrequent service. The group and the local transport authority believe that a train every 20 minutes will let people just “turn up and go” and will encourage them to switch from petrol or diesel powered cars to electric trains.

The initial stage for the crowdfunding campaign is to identify the cost to enable the running of a second train between St Albans and Watford. The study will recommend where the passing loop should be and the costs to build it including signalling and potentially a second platform at Bricket Wood station. Based on the results of the study the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group will then be able to further their campaign for future funding to actually realise the vision.

To get the initial study completed, the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group needs to raise £6,000 which will cover the costs to fund the minimum useful study possible. Further to this the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group have a number of stretch goals, each developing on the basic study and building towards a full business case highlighting the benefits of the investment for commuters and the wider community.

The campaign already has pledges of support totalling nearly £2,000 from Abbey Flyer Users’ Group members as well as County Councillors Sandy Walkington and Stephen Giles-Medhurst.

“This is the Cinderella railway line. With a bit of love and investment it could be transformed, delivering real benefits to one of the most congested corridors in Hertfordshire. I welcome anything which can unlock its potential”, Cllr Walkington commented.

“This is a key line that could greatly reduce congestion between Watford and St Albans and not only needs but deserves investment to ensure long term green travel routes are maintained. Anything to improve it is welcomed and should be supported”, Cllr Giles-Medhurst said.

“We have the opportunity to demonstrate what we firmly believe to be the case – that there is a demand for a higher frequency service on the Abbey Line and it can be delivered cost-effectively”, said David Horton, Chairman of the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group.

“Although we are asking for money the support is equally important, the more interest we get the more people will listen to us and the more we can campaign for real improvements to be made. With the line being nearly 160 years old, what better way to celebrate than to bring the the Abbey Line firmly into the 21st century, but we can only do this with your help”, said Richard Haywood, crowd funding campaign co-ordinator.

If you want to find out more, donate or just to show your support please visit the campaign page which can be found at

May 10th, 2017 - Help us raise £12k for passing loop feasibility study

Despite material successes in our long-running campaign over the last 2 years – one extra late evening train, ticket machines installed at all stations (albeit some of them subject to almost constant vandalism or breakdown), and a shuttle bus service introduced, the main impasse remains over improving the basic service frequency on the Abbey Line.

In the usual British way with infrastructure projects over the last 20 years have seen the transport authorities  spending a lot of time and money on consultants looking at ‘options’, raising our expectations about every 4-5 years, only to kick things firmly into the long grass when there’s a threat of anything actually happening.

There is no point going over previous ground in great detail – back copies of the ABFLY Newsletter will give you that, however one thing that all the studies had in common was that they never engaged with the REAL experts – us.

But worst of all, people with poor skills in project management, naivety in commercial negotiations, a complete lack of railway technical or operational knowledge, and no real flair for leadership or entrepreneurialism – were allowed to tell us that it was ‘all too difficult’.

Well now it’s time to do this OUR way.

We’ve decided to commission our own feasibility study, from The Railway Consultancy Ltd, a firm based in South London who specialise in studies such as this.

They are not one of the big players in railway consultancy, however they are the body which – among other things – have done the official passenger counts since 2006, so they know the Abbey Line well. Their conclusions as to the benefit of an increased service frequency will therefore hold weight and must be taken notice of in official circles.

Their brief will be simple – to examine the feasibility of running two trains of any available type – as long as it’s electric – and predicting, using widely-accepted models, the increased use that all our instincts tell us will result.

The benefits will be measured as increased revenue – including on the main line – reduction in car use, more efficient and quicker journeys, reduced overcrowding on the Thameslink route, etc. Obviously this has to be set against the capital cost of the passing-loop and the running costs of the 2nd train.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, apart from increased frequency, the 2nd train will be a back-up for the 1st: i.e. if one unit fails or there is a staff shortage, the system reverts to our current service (but more reliable) rather than complete shutdown as at present.

The Railway Consultancy’s quote for the work needed is £10,000 plus VAT.

Although modest in comparison with sums already spent by the transport authorities, it is nevertheless well beyond ABFLY’s current resources.

Hence we are asking you, our loyal supporters, to consider making a one-off donation specifically to fund this work.

Every donation will be personally acknowledged, and you will receive regular updates as to how the work is progressing.

Or perhaps you know of a local business that might be able to sponsor us a few quid?

The timescale indicated for the completion of this work is a very few months from the date of commission, so we do not expect to be kept waiting long for an answer. Because the study will be truly independent, we cannot predict the answer with certainty, but we have every expectation that their expertise and dedication – with a clear brief from us – will produce the best possible solution for the future of our line.

July 24th, 2015 - Is the current service on the Abbey Line really “sufficient to meet future demand”?

A recent letter received by Anne Main, MP for St Albans, reveals a lot about the government’s attitude towards rail investment.

In response to questions concerning the Abbey Line, Under-Secretary of State for Rail, Claire Perry MP, states that on the Abbey Line, “….demand forecasts indicate the current level of train service is sufficient to meet future demand, and therefore at this time there is no transport case to increase the service frequency”.

But there are several reasons why this mentality could be somewhat flawed.

Firstly, what are demand forecasts based on? Mathematical models. And what goes into the mathematical models? Predominantly, ticket sales data. We know that ticket sales on the Abbey Line significantly under-predict the true footfall, due to the fact that tickets are rarely checked or issued on the train. ABFLY estimates based on the data we have collected puts ‘unchecked journeys’ at between 80-90%, which may amount to over £200k per year in lost revenue. To be fair, London Midland are taking steps to address the issue by recruiting a new revenue inspector who will work between the hours of 7am and 3pm, Monday to Friday. But it does nothing to change the fact that past demand forecasts were almost certainly very pessimistic.

Note also that demand forecasts are from the ‘predict and provide’ school of transport planning, but they don’t take into account the ability of good, entrepreneurial train operators to create new markets, simply by providing a better product. Chiltern Railways have been a master at this with projects such as Warwick Parkway, their soon to be introduced service to Oxford and being the first rail company after privatisation to buy new trains. All of this has attracted swathes of new customers in areas where demand forecasts had not predicted investment would be necessary.

And consider this, did the great railway builders of the 19th century conduct demand forecasting before sinking their money into schemes such as the Great Western and London to Birmingham Railway? To some extent yes, it is true that many railways were initially built to satisfy particular demands e.g. the need of colliery owners to bring coal from pit to port. But having opened these railways, the owners then realised that there was money to be made from transporting other goods through the provision of, in modern parlance, what would be called ‘tailored transport solutions’. Cattle to market, milk to town, post to packet ships, straw to the hat makers, workers to work, families to the seaside – you name it, the railways carried it. Diversification, investment and expansion – and they profited greatly from it. In many cases these were entirely new markets, unlocked by the superior product which the railways offered over other transport modes.

What we are calling for on the Abbey Line is basically a better product. A service where you can turn up and go, catching a train within a short time of arrival. If you miss it, what the hell, there’ll be another one along in 20mins. You don’t even have to think about the timetable. You can rely on it to get you home after a late night at work, or a jovial evening in St Albans. You can get on at Bricket Wood and go right through to London, without having to shuffle along the narrow, crowded alleyway to change trains at Watford on a cold winter’s morning. Only then will we persuade people to leave their cars behind.

This doesn’t require a mathematical model. It’s just good business sense.