St Albans Abbey Flyer tram scheme scrapped

Abbey Station, St Albans

Abbey Station, St Albans - Credit: Archant

A PROPOSAL to transform the Abbey Flyer rail line into a tram service has hit the buffers after the Department for Transport (DfT) decided not to pursue it.

The idea of converting the St Albans Abbey to Watford Junction branch line to light rail with a tram-like service running on the six-and-a-half-mile track was first mooted several years ago in a bid to introduce a more frequent service and user-friendly timetable.

But last week the DfT told the county council that it had decided to step back from the light rail scheme and the service will remain under the control of London Midland at least until the rail company’s franchise comes up for renewal.

Originally the DfT had suggested transferring the line into the ownership of the county council with a view to it being converted into light rail.

But Terry Douris, the county council’s cabinet member for highways, said: “It was believed that a light rail service would be cheaper than conventional rail to operate and as a result, that a more frequent service could run for the same cost. However, having studied the detail of taking the line out of Network Rail ownership and separating it from the London Midland franchise, it became clear that there were some significant obstacles.”

He explained that the set-up of the rail industry and fare structures dating back to the days of British Rail had proved ‘very complicated to unpick’ and it was not possible to introduce light rail within the available funding.

The DfT was informed about the situation and last week it let the county council know that it had decided to step back from the plan to transfer and convert the line.

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Cllr Douris went on: “We understand why the DfT has made this decision but it’s disappointing that, in the short term at least, this valuable local service won’t get the upgrade that we had hoped for.”

He pledged that the county council would remain committed to pushing for a more frequent service and would consider whether a case could be made to convert the line to light rail if the redevelopment of Watford Junction and the potential for extension into the towns at either end of the Abbey Flyer were included.

He added: “The new Local Transport Board has stated its strategic level support for the light rail scheme and the county council will seek to secure funding in a future spending round.”