Calls to improve the ‘Cinderella service’ Abbey Flyer

Picture from stock

Picture from stock

First published in News Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

Campaigners are calling for the Watford to St Albans Abbey Line to be upgraded to London Overground style of service.

The Abbey Flyer Users’ Group hope the branch line can be improved from a current ‘Cinderella service’ to "a fundamentally better service to meet passenger demand, the growing population and to relieve road congestion".

David Horton, of Abbey Flyer Users’ Group, who have been campaigning since 1995 said: "The government must grasp the opportunity of the new franchise to bring essential investment into the line.

"Passengers now look enviously at the London Overground network and see bright new, air-conditioned trains, well-maintained stations that feel welcoming and secure, friendly motivated staff, blanket Oyster card coverage and a much higher frequency timetable than it used to be.

"Because of this, passenger numbers on London Overground have quadrupled - in just five years and passenger satisfaction has also soared and punctuality is at an all-time high. London Overground have triumphed in attracting new business, getting people to give up their cars, simply by delivering a high quality service.

"At this time of record investment in the rail industry, why should the Abbey Flyer continue to be such a poor relation?"

The Abbey Line currently operates a single train at 45 minute intervals, serving five intermediate stations between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey. End-to-end journey times are 16minutes.

However the group say the 45 minute service leaves passengers with an unmemorable timetable and limits the number of good bus and train connections.

The group say they are concerned the last trains from Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey depart too early to be of practical use for the evening leisure market.

To answer the ‘45 minute problem’ the group say a ‘clock-face’ 20 or 30minute frequency service should be provided, along with two trains on a ‘passing loop’ trach to  allow two trains to pass.
London Midland, existing operaor, are due to hand back the keys to their franchise in June 2017, having been in control since taking over from Silverlink Trains in 2007. The Users’ Group believe this may be the only chance in the next 15 years to achieve real improvements to this ‘Cinderella’ service.

Mr Horton added: "We will be campaigning hard in the next few years to get this on the government’s agenda. We are pleased to say that several local politicians are already backing us, including Watford MP Richard Harrington, St Albans MP Anne Main and Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill. And we know that London Mayor Boris Johnson is keen to take over more services in the Greater London area, so we should be pushing at an open door."

"We would encourage anyone that shares our view to express this in writing to their local MP or the Department for Transport."

To support the group visit www.abfly.org.uk.

Comments (15)

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6:13pm Mon 2 Jun 14

TRT says...

A 30 minute service would be acceptable for this line, any more frequent and the level crossing would become an issue, I fear.
A 30 minute service would be acceptable for this line, any more frequent and the level crossing would become an issue, I fear. TRT
  • Score: 2

11:07pm Mon 2 Jun 14

mr_jrt says...

I'd love to see more made of this line - it's a shockingly under-utilised asset and I was fearful when the harebrained tram conversion proposal seemed to be gaining traction.

A simple loop at Bricket Wood and a second train are the easiest options - essentially split the line in two and trains can only enter the other half when they have a "token" - this would be passed between drivers at Bricket Wood - it's standard operating practise elsewhere and volia, no need for the expensive signalling some have suggested would make this project unaffordable. No, the real issue is that of the second train...in Silverlink days they could chuck over a far more suitable spare metro-style train from the now-London-overgroun
d line, so essentially leasing costs were nil. London Midland never had that luxury since the split, so handing the line over to London Overground makes perfect sense in that regard. I strongly suspect a move to LO and introducing Oyster would also help with fare evasion.

Long-term, I'd like to see the line linked to the London Overground service properly. This would require a short tunnel under the main tracks or a bridge over them. The main obstacle is clearing Orphanage Road (not to mention the cost), but that would give a single line service and would open up possibilities of direct services from Chesham and Aylesbury to St Albans (or even Hatfield if you reopened the line from there to St Albans?), which I suspect would do rather well.
I'd love to see more made of this line - it's a shockingly under-utilised asset and I was fearful when the harebrained tram conversion proposal seemed to be gaining traction. A simple loop at Bricket Wood and a second train are the easiest options - essentially split the line in two and trains can only enter the other half when they have a "token" - this would be passed between drivers at Bricket Wood - it's standard operating practise elsewhere and volia, no need for the expensive signalling some have suggested would make this project unaffordable. No, the real issue is that of the second train...in Silverlink days they could chuck over a far more suitable spare metro-style train from the now-London-overgroun d line, so essentially leasing costs were nil. London Midland never had that luxury since the split, so handing the line over to London Overground makes perfect sense in that regard. I strongly suspect a move to LO and introducing Oyster would also help with fare evasion. Long-term, I'd like to see the line linked to the London Overground service properly. This would require a short tunnel under the main tracks or a bridge over them. The main obstacle is clearing Orphanage Road (not to mention the cost), but that would give a single line service and would open up possibilities of direct services from Chesham and Aylesbury to St Albans (or even Hatfield if you reopened the line from there to St Albans?), which I suspect would do rather well. mr_jrt
  • Score: 8

12:55am Tue 3 Jun 14

croxley46 says...

I don't think the picture heading the article is the Abbey Flyer line somehow!
Yes, what happened to the "Tram Plan" then ?!
I don't think the picture heading the article is the Abbey Flyer line somehow! Yes, what happened to the "Tram Plan" then ?! croxley46
  • Score: 0

2:14am Tue 3 Jun 14

jag000 says...

croxley46 wrote:
I don't think the picture heading the article is the Abbey Flyer line somehow!
Yes, what happened to the "Tram Plan" then ?!
The 'tram project' has been shelved for the moment due to the complexity of altering the infrastructure. There's also an issue with determining who pays for the project (whether it be network rail, the new operator or the county council) and how the revenues would be split.
[quote][p][bold]croxley46[/bold] wrote: I don't think the picture heading the article is the Abbey Flyer line somehow! Yes, what happened to the "Tram Plan" then ?![/p][/quote]The 'tram project' has been shelved for the moment due to the complexity of altering the infrastructure. There's also an issue with determining who pays for the project (whether it be network rail, the new operator or the county council) and how the revenues would be split. jag000
  • Score: 0

10:17am Tue 3 Jun 14

The Rover says...

A few years ago there was talk of the Bricket Wood Station building becoming an Indian Restuarant. Anyone know what happened and if its still going ahead?
A few years ago there was talk of the Bricket Wood Station building becoming an Indian Restuarant. Anyone know what happened and if its still going ahead? The Rover
  • Score: 0

10:34am Tue 3 Jun 14

miwe2 says...

I think that the 'tram' project is permanently shelved. After two years of wasting time and public money the County Council and possibly the DfT found the details too complicated, (which should have been the first thing they looked at.)
I think that the 'tram' project is permanently shelved. After two years of wasting time and public money the County Council and possibly the DfT found the details too complicated, (which should have been the first thing they looked at.) miwe2
  • Score: 0

12:07pm Tue 3 Jun 14

LocalBoy1 says...

I don't why people want an improved service, every time I stop at the Bushey Mill Lane crossing there seems to be hardly anyone on the Abbey Flyer. Will improving and upgrading the service encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and use the train? I doubt it very much, in fact I would imagine the Abbey Flyer is being run at a loss already?
I don't why people want an improved service, every time I stop at the Bushey Mill Lane crossing there seems to be hardly anyone on the Abbey Flyer. Will improving and upgrading the service encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and use the train? I doubt it very much, in fact I would imagine the Abbey Flyer is being run at a loss already? LocalBoy1
  • Score: -7

1:03pm Tue 3 Jun 14

HornetJJ says...

LocalBoy1 wrote:
I don't why people want an improved service, every time I stop at the Bushey Mill Lane crossing there seems to be hardly anyone on the Abbey Flyer. Will improving and upgrading the service encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and use the train? I doubt it very much, in fact I would imagine the Abbey Flyer is being run at a loss already?
I think if the service was improved and ran more frequently more people would use it. As it is so unreliable people use alternatives.
[quote][p][bold]LocalBoy1[/bold] wrote: I don't why people want an improved service, every time I stop at the Bushey Mill Lane crossing there seems to be hardly anyone on the Abbey Flyer. Will improving and upgrading the service encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and use the train? I doubt it very much, in fact I would imagine the Abbey Flyer is being run at a loss already?[/p][/quote]I think if the service was improved and ran more frequently more people would use it. As it is so unreliable people use alternatives. HornetJJ
  • Score: 6

1:09pm Tue 3 Jun 14

LocalBoy1 says...

HornetJJ wrote:
LocalBoy1 wrote:
I don't why people want an improved service, every time I stop at the Bushey Mill Lane crossing there seems to be hardly anyone on the Abbey Flyer. Will improving and upgrading the service encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and use the train? I doubt it very much, in fact I would imagine the Abbey Flyer is being run at a loss already?
I think if the service was improved and ran more frequently more people would use it. As it is so unreliable people use alternatives.
I do hope so.
[quote][p][bold]HornetJJ[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]LocalBoy1[/bold] wrote: I don't why people want an improved service, every time I stop at the Bushey Mill Lane crossing there seems to be hardly anyone on the Abbey Flyer. Will improving and upgrading the service encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and use the train? I doubt it very much, in fact I would imagine the Abbey Flyer is being run at a loss already?[/p][/quote]I think if the service was improved and ran more frequently more people would use it. As it is so unreliable people use alternatives.[/p][/quote]I do hope so. LocalBoy1
  • Score: 0

6:29pm Tue 3 Jun 14

croxley46 says...

I used to use the Abbey Flyer from 1976 - 1980 when we lived in Garston, but a walk across Garston Park, AF to the 'Junction, suburban train to Euston, tube to Moorgate then walk to the office all got a bit too much, especially the return journey when the AF stopped running quite early in the evening.

Increase the frequency, provide a loop somewhere for passing trains (minimum 2 trains required), run later in the evenings AND REMOVE THE FRANCHISE FROM LONDON MIDLAND. Then it might be more popular and perhaps profitable.
I used to use the Abbey Flyer from 1976 - 1980 when we lived in Garston, but a walk across Garston Park, AF to the 'Junction, suburban train to Euston, tube to Moorgate then walk to the office all got a bit too much, especially the return journey when the AF stopped running quite early in the evening. Increase the frequency, provide a loop somewhere for passing trains (minimum 2 trains required), run later in the evenings AND REMOVE THE FRANCHISE FROM LONDON MIDLAND. Then it might be more popular and perhaps profitable. croxley46
  • Score: 2

6:37pm Tue 3 Jun 14

croxley46 says...

Omitted to say in my post a few mins. ago that "it might be more RELIABLE, popular and perhaps profitable".

The times LM have cancelled the service due to staffing problems have been unbelievable - this line is their LAST concern.
Omitted to say in my post a few mins. ago that "it might be more RELIABLE, popular and perhaps profitable". The times LM have cancelled the service due to staffing problems have been unbelievable - this line is their LAST concern. croxley46
  • Score: 1

1:57am Wed 4 Jun 14

Honest Rog says...

There used to be a passing loop at Bricket Wood so presumably the space is there to reinstate it.
There was also a link between St Albans Abbey station and LMS City station passing under London Road.
Wonder what UKIP's position is on this. Come on Reg/Phil I miss your interesting input.
There used to be a passing loop at Bricket Wood so presumably the space is there to reinstate it. There was also a link between St Albans Abbey station and LMS City station passing under London Road. Wonder what UKIP's position is on this. Come on Reg/Phil I miss your interesting input. Honest Rog
  • Score: 2

8:16am Wed 4 Jun 14

TRT says...

The link has been encroached on by housing now, iirc. But it should be reinstated somehow. It's too valuable a feature to lose - that west to east link across Hertfordshire.
The link has been encroached on by housing now, iirc. But it should be reinstated somehow. It's too valuable a feature to lose - that west to east link across Hertfordshire. TRT
  • Score: 5

3:12pm Wed 4 Jun 14

Sec.andTreasurer says...

Reading between the lines, I get the clear impression that David Horton of the Abbey Flyer Users Group, wants London Overground to take over the franchise--------whi
ch won't happen! My understanding is that the tram train project is not going ahead because the DfT isn't prepared to put up the money, so London Midland is stuck with a route which it really doesn't want and would love to unload onto almost any other operator.

A more frequent service can only be provided by the reinstallation of the passing loop at Bricket Wood, but the major--and insuperable--disadva
ntage suffered by the line is the extremely inconvenient location of Abbey Station in St. Albans. On arrival at Abbey Stn., you find that all the interesting stuff in the city; the Abbey itself, pubs, shops, pubs, the Alban Arena and pubs are all at the top of Holywell Hill!! Anyone travelling to St. Albans from Watford and intermediately is much better served by the 321 'bus, which runs at 15 minute intervals AND takes you to the top of the hill.

The problem of an early last train on the branch is easily solved by London Midland: all they have to do is pay the driver and conductor the relevant dark money for working late at night; and no, I'm not holding my breath waiting for that.
Reading between the lines, I get the clear impression that David Horton of the Abbey Flyer Users Group, wants London Overground to take over the franchise--------whi ch won't happen! My understanding is that the tram train project is not going ahead because the DfT isn't prepared to put up the money, so London Midland is stuck with a route which it really doesn't want and would love to unload onto almost any other operator. A more frequent service can only be provided by the reinstallation of the passing loop at Bricket Wood, but the major--and insuperable--disadva ntage suffered by the line is the extremely inconvenient location of Abbey Station in St. Albans. On arrival at Abbey Stn., you find that all the interesting stuff in the city; the Abbey itself, pubs, shops, pubs, the Alban Arena and pubs are all at the top of Holywell Hill!! Anyone travelling to St. Albans from Watford and intermediately is much better served by the 321 'bus, which runs at 15 minute intervals AND takes you to the top of the hill. The problem of an early last train on the branch is easily solved by London Midland: all they have to do is pay the driver and conductor the relevant dark money for working late at night; and no, I'm not holding my breath waiting for that. Sec.andTreasurer
  • Score: 1

2:26am Fri 6 Jun 14

samwatford says...

TRT wrote:
The link has been encroached on by housing now, iirc. But it should be reinstated somehow. It's too valuable a feature to lose - that west to east link across Hertfordshire.
Well said TRT . Wish the old connection was restored connecting the Midland Mainline at St Albans with the West Coast Mainline at Watford using the Abbey Line. It can can save lot of time and unnecessary trips of going to into London and back to travel from one line to the other . It can be important diversonary route for freight traffic as well if it is restored all the way upto Hatfield to connect with East Coast Mainline. The MET line is going to connect with London to Aylesbury Line(formerly Great Central Main Line) at Harrow so if it can be extended to St Albans or Hatfield, it will be even better. With a properly connected line at St Albans with frequent services , it will be full in no time.
[quote][p][bold]TRT[/bold] wrote: The link has been encroached on by housing now, iirc. But it should be reinstated somehow. It's too valuable a feature to lose - that west to east link across Hertfordshire.[/p][/quote]Well said TRT . Wish the old connection was restored connecting the Midland Mainline at St Albans with the West Coast Mainline at Watford using the Abbey Line. It can can save lot of time and unnecessary trips of going to into London and back to travel from one line to the other . It can be important diversonary route for freight traffic as well if it is restored all the way upto Hatfield to connect with East Coast Mainline. The MET line is going to connect with London to Aylesbury Line(formerly Great Central Main Line) at Harrow so if it can be extended to St Albans or Hatfield, it will be even better. With a properly connected line at St Albans with frequent services , it will be full in no time. samwatford
  • Score: 2

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