Campaign underway to save St Albans Abbey Flyer from being replaced with busway
PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 July 2015
It is full steam ahead in a battle to persuade the county council not to replace rail tracks with buses on the Abbey Flyer line between St Albans and Watford.
The controversial proposal to take up the rails and replace them with two parallel concrete busways to create a scheme known as Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) is included in the county council’s draft rail strategy which is currently out for consultation.
With just two weeks until consultation closes on the draft strategy, 140 people have already sent letters of objection using a template created by the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group (ABFLY) and a packed meeting last week demonstrated there was overwhelming support for the line to be retained - and improved.
The county council is concerned about the poor usage of the six branch stations between St Albans Abbey and Watford Junction, the lack of through services and the poor service frequency.
But ABFLY has consistently pushed for the restoration of a passing loop at Bricket Wood which would enable the Abbey Flyer to run through to Euston should train companies be so minded.
Trevor Mason, the county council’s safe and sustainable journeys manager, who was at the meeting with executive member with responsibility for rail travel, Cllr Derrick Ashley, conceded that in terms of improving service frequency, the restoration of the passing loop was a ‘no brainer’.
But David Horton of ABFLY pointed out that the draft rail strategy did not read like that and seemed to dismiss the possibility of a passing loop citing previous studies which were more than 10 years out of date.
Several people pressed the two men about the inclusion of a guided bus option in what was supposed to be a rail strategy document. Long-time user of the line, Robin White, also pointed out there were factual inaccuracies in the document and presented a letter from Network Rail stating that ‘through running’ from Watford Junction to Euston was viable ‘if requested by the train operating companies’.
He expressed disappointment and frustration that, after years of feasibility studies and a great deal of taxpayers money, the service on the Abbey Line was fundamentally still no better than it had been since electrification in 1988.
On the question of replacement of the tracks with a guided bus, St Stephen parish councillor Trevor Gurd described it as a dangerous irrelevance given the great expense, the well-publicised technical and legal challenges on the Cambridge to St Ives busway - which cost £152 million to build, was completed three years late and is in declining use - and the failure of the Luton to Dunstable busway to live up to expectations.
He added: “What is needed is to concentrate on improving and enhancing the existing rail service.”
David Horton, secretary of ABFLY, rounded off the public section of the meeting by requesting a commitment from the county council that the business and technical case for a passing loop should be re-examined and the users group involved in the study.