A direct rail link between Watford and St Albans could be ripped up and converted into a concrete "busway", in what campaigners have labelled a "catastrophic" move.

Hertfordshire County Council has announced it could replace the Abbey Line with two parallel busways - in a scheme known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

Abbey Line campaigners had previously called for a complete refurbishment of the "tatty" trains, direct trains into London and services to be extended to midnight.

Dave Horton from The Abbey Flyer Users Group said: "The strategy is a very poor deal for the Abbey Line and has come as a complete shock.

"We have been fighting for improvements to the line for 20 years.

"Although discussed, the report concludes by giving little or no priority to enhancements which we believe are so desperately required.

"Worse, rather than champion relatively simple and well-understood improvements, the council want to waste millions of pounds of taxpayers money on a potentially expensive, unreliable, environmentally damaging BRT."

The report said the line provides a chance to develop a "radical solution" that operates at lower costs and attracts more users.

However, campaigners fear the trackway itself does not have the durability of rail.

Mr Horton added: "Perhaps most devastatingly of all, from the environmental perspective, the scheme would mean the Abbey Line’s rails and overhead line would have to be ripped up, and the character of the branch would be irrevocably changed through the pouring of thousands of tonnes of concrete to create the guideways.

"The permanent damage caused by busways is also significant.

"Finally the capacity of a diesel bus is typically 70 people versus a four-car train carrying 240, so there could be problems with overcrowding."

The line, which runs from St Albans Abbey to Watford Junction, currently carries around 1,700 passengers on an average weekday Alan Harte regularly uses the line.

The 57-year-old who lives near Watford Junction said: "The proposals are crazy. It will be a disaster for commuters.

"At the end of the day the county council wants to axe bus subsidies but now it is proposing to have more buses?

"If anything, this will make the problems on the line worse."

Tom Mortimer from Abbots Langley is another user of the line.

The 25-year-old company director said: "The line is so valuable, the plans are bonkers. They will cost a lot of money, and the service will be slower and less frequent. I just can’t understand it."

Similar schemes have been pushed through elsewhere by other local authorities, including the £100 million scheme in Luton, which campaigners say is underperforming with usage figures about 50 per cent of those predicted.

Derrick Ashley, the county council's cabinet member for environment, planning and transport, said: “Hertfordshire County Council’s Rail Strategy is designed to ensure that the railway can support Hertfordshire and its aspirations into the future. 

"It does this by identifying investment priorities for the next 15 to 20 years and beyond, which the county council will work to secure.

“The strategy outlines some key issues relating to the Abbey Line, including poor service frequency, underutilisation and a lack of through services, and examines a number of options for the future of the line.

“An eight-week public consultation to update strategy began on June 10 and I would encourage everyone to read the document and have your say on the future of Hertfordshire’s railways."

ABFLY has launched a ‘No2Bus’ campaign and organised a protest meeting on Monday July 6, at Bricket Wood Social Club at 7.30pm.

To view the consultation, click here before August 4.