Revised busway scheme threatens Abbey Flyer railway

Example of a guided bus

Example of a guided bus - Credit: Archant

Unpopular proposals for a bus service to replace tracks on a St Albans railway line have emerged again - only a year after the county council appeared to have dropped the scheme.

The proposal to tear up the existing railway line between Watford and St Albans - known locally as the Abbey Flyer - in favour of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route was rejected last November in the face of a huge number of objections.

But it has arisen again in the county council’s Transport Vision 2050 document which was released for a period of consultation late last month. Among the proposals in the document is to create a BRT link between Watford and St Albans

The BRT scheme was put forward last year because of concern about poor usage of the line, the lack of through services and poor service frequency. It would involve running self-powered buses down concrete guideways.

The proposal generated hundreds of objections with ABFLY - the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group - launching a campaign against it. Nearly 80 per cent of responses were objections.

ABFLY reiterated long-held calls for an increase in the service frequency by installing a passing loop which would enable two trains to operate on the line and possibly enable through trains to run to London.

Now the proposal is back on the table which has led ABFLY to hit out at the county council for ignoring the views of opponents to the scheme and describe it as ‘an insult to the democratic process’,

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They have five key concerns about the BRT scheme - environmental impact, passenger comfort and perception, loss of network benefits, reliability and cost.

ABFLY maintains that given a choice, most people see rail and light rail as a superior mode of transport to buses and would be encouraged to switch to rail if the service was enhanced.

Chairman Dave Horton said: “Removing the line from the rail system means that people would see it as just another bus route rather than as a feeder to the rest of the rail network. Bus usage has been on a steady downward trend outside London since 1986. HCC have cut many bus services in recent years whilst rail usage continues to expand relentlessly across the UK.”

In response to the latest proposal ABFLY has suspended its support for the Abbey Line Community Rail Partnership and called on its chairman, Cllr Derrick Ashley, who is also in charge of transport at the county council, to resign.

County councillor Sandy Walkington, who is the Lib Dem member of the environment and transport panel, pointed out that the latest transport vision did not mention the Abbey line but talked about a BRT between St Albans and Watford.

However, he added: “The only way of achieving this would be by concreting over the railway. This would be throwing the baby out with the bath water and be very challenging in terms of the current bridge infrastructure.”

Cllr Ashley maintained that the county council supported the development of rail services on the Abbey Line and was continuing to press the rail industry to deliver improvements.

He went on: “There is widespread recognition that improving east west links across Hertfordshire must be a priority for the future. The Abbey Line is a key component of this corridor and we need to consider how we integrate it into the wider transports needs of Hertfordshire.”

Cllr Ashley confirmed that initial thoughts on possible routes included the ‘Watford to St Albans’ corridor but the county council was open to views on how the existing rail service related to that concept.