Fight to save Abbey branch line from becoming a busway
PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 July 2015
Supporters of a local rail link are gearing up for a battle over a county council proposal to rip up the tracks and replace them with buses.
The Abbey Flyers Users’ Group (ABFLY) has issued a warning about the threat of closure of the St Albans Abbey to Watford Junction line which woudl be replaced by conversion into a busway in the county council’s draft rail strategy which was published last month.
Instead of advocating long-term investment and improvement of the Abbey Flyer service as a rail link, the preferred option is to take up the rails and replace them with two parallel concrete busways in the scheme known as Bus Rapid Transport (BRT).
It is not the first time that the existing service has been under threat - an option to convert it to light rail was investigated in 2013 but was not pursued because of various perceived constraints.
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.
Describing it as ‘a poorly performing transport asset’ the preferred solution would be either bus or light rail based with services connecting to St Albans City Station in a bid to improve east-west public transport.
But ABFLY argue that such busways have been pushed through by other local authorities with cash handouts from the Government, in the face of overwhelming local opposition and warnings from professionals about the viability of the schemes.
They cite the busway in Cambridge which cost £152 million to build, ran nearly three times over budget and was completed three years late. Now the concrete guideways are crumbling, bus stops are neglected and use is declining.
Closer to home the £100 million Luton and Dunstable busway is underperforming with usage figures about 50% of those predicted.
ABFLY also points to a number of other concerns they have about the proposal - the permanent damage caused by busways from pouring thousands of tonnes of concrete into the countryside generating excessive CO2 emissions, the direct pollution of diesel buses and the possibility of overcrowding.
Said Bricket Wood resident and user of the line for over 20 years, Robin White: “We’ve been here before. Nothing has changed: all the line has ever needed is comparatively little investment in the existing service which could transform it with more frequent and later-running trains.
“What’s more, following the recent rail works at Watford Junction, it is now possible to run trains through to Euston, something we’ve wanted all along.”
ABFLY has launched a No2Bus campaign and a protest meeting is to be held at 7.30pm next Monday, July 6, at Bricket Wood Social Club. Cllr Derrick Ashley from the county council will explain the plans and there will be a representative from current train operator, London Midland.
Consultation on the rail strategy ends on August 4 and further information about how to object to the plans can be found at www.abfly.org.uk/n02bus