St Albans’ Abbey Flyer service looks set to remain on the rails, after busways plan abandoned

A London Midland class 321 pulls into Bricket Wood station with a service to Watford Junction

A London Midland class 321 pulls into Bricket Wood station with a service to Watford Junction - Credit: Archant

An unpopular proposal to replace tracks with buses on a St Albans line looks to have come off the rails.

Earlier this year in its draft rail strategy, the county council proposed taking up the rails on the Abbey Flyer line between St Albans and Watford and replace them with two parallel concrete busways.

The Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) scheme was mooted because the county council was concerned about poor usage of the line, the lack of through services and the poor service frequency.

It was met by over 200 objections with ABFLY - the Abbey Flyer Users’ Group - launching a No2Bus campaign and reiterating long-time calls for an increase in the service frequency by installing a ‘passing loop’ to allow two trains to operate on the line.

They also promoted the possibility of through trains to London at Watford.

ABFLY has now learned that the county council has dropped the BRT scheme and started to work with Network Rail to improve the existing line.

A letter from Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin says that his department understands that officials from Network Rail have recently met with county council representatives and agreed to undertake further development of options for a 30-minute frequency and through services to London.

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This was in response to a joint letter from the council, St Albans MP Anne Main and Watford MP Richard Harrington stating their concern “about the lack of proposals for the Abbey Line”, particularly poor connectivity with onward services at Watford Junction, and especially to London.

In what could be seen as a parallel development, Mr Harrington met this week with Rail Minister Claire Perry to discuss the renewal of the West Midlands rail franchise of which the Abbey Flyer is a part.

He will shortly be laying out to the department what his constituents would like to see change on the Abbey Line including a commitment to the installation of a passing loop so that more than one train can run each hour.

ABFLY maintains that investment for much of the work could be leveraged through the new West Midlands rail franchise representing a once in a decade opportunity to improve the Abbey line.

*ABFLY has received First Prize ‘Gold’ for Best Website at the annual Rail User Group Awards.

Organised by the umbrella campaign group Railfuture, the award was presented by Christian Wolmar, transport journalist and former London Mayoral candidate, to Dave Horton, general secretary of ABFLY who has been the driving force behind the group’s new website which was launched in May.

Dave said: “The website has probably been directly responsible for recruiting around 25 new members to date, and was a crucial weapon in our No2Bus campaign in the summer. This just proves that having a good website is key to any campaign group.”