Following a question about plans to run steam trains between Croxley and Watford Met stations, Neville Lees, from Watford, sent in the following extracts from the Metropolitan Line's booklet From Steam on the Met 1995 Met Line magazine.

FOR centuries the town of Watford has been a focus of trade and commerce, having held a market charter since 1335. It lay a day's journey from London, on one of the main routes north from London to the Midlands.

Until 200 years ago, Watford was a long single street market town, lined with inns to accommodate merchants and travelers.

The surrounding countryside was mainly agricultural, although to the west of the town lay the magnificent Cassiobury House and the Earl of Essex's Cassiobury estate.

Roads were poor but at the start of the 19th Century the Grand Junction Canal was built, connecting London with Birmingham. Cutting through the Cassiobury estate it brought with it new opportunities for manufacturing industry, notably paper-making.

Less than 40 years later an even more dynamic force for development was built on the east side of Watford, as in 1837 the London and Birmingham Railway opened its line north, first as far as Tring then in 1838 to Birmingham.

The good connection to London by road and canal attracted milling, brewing and food processing industries and Watford began to grow rapidly.

At the turn of the century Watford's population had grown to 19,000 people. The London and Birmingham Railway, by now the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) had branch lines from Watford Junction to Rickmansworth (Church Street) and Watford Junction to St Albans.

The Metropolitan Railway was, at closest, some two and a half miles from Watford with its line from Harrow to Rickmansworth opened in 1887.

The Metropolitan and the LNWR were commercial rivals, both running north-west from London and as early as 1895 the Metropolitan had been approached by Watford tradesmen, keen to promote railway competition, with a request to build a line from Wembley Park via Edgware to Watford.

The attractiveness of the Metropolitan line grew when Great Central Railway (GCR) express services started in 1899.

These ran from Manchester and the Midlands to London Marylebone via the Metropolitan Railway between Amersham and Harrow.

A more formal approach was made to the Metropolitan railway for a branch to Watford in 1903 by the Watford Council.

The Metropolitan was interested and in 1906 arranged a survey of a possible route using the valley of the River Gade, south east of today's route.

With passenger traffic beginning to grow along the Uxbridge branch the Metropolitan had realised the possibilities of speculative electrified routes that encouraged suburban developments in their wake.

However, money was being spent electrifying the Circle Line and inner suburban services and it wasn't until 1911 that Robert Selbie, the General Manager, was able to put firm plans to his board.

Meanwhile, the LNWR was building both a diversion from the main line to run into and out of Watford, and a new branch line from Watford to Croxley Green.

Then, in 1911 it announced that both were to be electrified and that the Underground Group was proposing extending its Bakerloo trains over the LNWR to Watford Junction.

This period was probably the zenith of railway companies, and road traffic had yet to make any serious impact outside the centre of towns.

The Metropolitan applied together with its GCR partner for powers to build a branch to Watford. Despite determined LNWR opposition, the route was authorized but it was fatally flawed from the outset.

Watford Council had recently bought part of the Cassiobury Estate and objected to the proposed railway through the town park and recreation gardens.

The price for their support of the Metropolitan's Bill was the removal of the last essential service of two-thirds of a mile of railway into the centre of Watford High Street.

The truncation of the route further subdued the enthusiasm of the Metropolitan's partner and the GCR, probably hard pressed for capital, found plenty of reasons during and just after the First World War not to proceed with the new railway.

It also proposed abandonment of the north curve at Rickmansworth, where a triangular junction was planned with the existing Metropolitan line.

Finally though, in 1922 the GCR gave in to pressure and almost one of the last acts of the GC Board before amalgamation into the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) was to approve the placing of the contract with Messrs Logan and Hemingway for the construction of the route.

Despite being buoyed up by Government support under the Trade Facilities Act, the two-mile long line proved expensive to its backers. Some half-a-million cubic yards of gravel and chalk had to be excavated for the first one-and-a-half miles of cutting, then extensive pile driving had to be used to shore up the ground near the River Gade and the Grand Union Canal for the last half mile on viaduct.

The new line was electrified throughout (except the freight sidings) and the total cost of construction was almost £388,000.

At Watford a 615ft island platform was built, capable of taking a ten coach main line train. The station building was designed by the Metropolitan's architect, C W Clarke, in a simple domestic style with a glass canopy extending over the first third of the platform.

Alongside the station an extensive freight yard with a goods shed, a horse and carriage dock and cattle pens was constructed.

Again the planning strictures of Watford Council affected the railway and a new road linking the goods yard to the Rickmansworth Road for freight lorries had to be built as Cassiobury Park Avenue in front of the station was designated a residential road. A signal box controlled the station area.

There was only one intermediate station on the line, Croxley Green (subsequently renamed Croxley on May 23, 1949). This had the advantage over the LNWR of being closer to the community it purported to serve. Similar in its suburban villa style to Watford, the station had two 420ft platforms, a small signal box and a goods yard of three sidings and a long headshunt.

Early in October 1925 a formal inspection of the new line was made by Lt Colonel A Mount of the Railway Inspectorate. Hauled by Sarah Siddons the special train ran the length of the new line.

All was well and on October 31, 1925, the formal opening train with Metropolitan and LNER officers left Baker Street for Watford at 11.50am. A similar special train conveying local dignitaries left Rickmansworth and both trains were greeted at Watford with a civic welcome from the Mayor.

Initially both the Metropolitan and the LNER ran services from London to Watford, the latter running steam hauled services from Marylebone. The Metropolitan also ran a shuttle service from Rickmansworth using single electric carriages converted from accident damaged electric trains.

Despite the blandishments of publicity which proclaimed that Watford was a "popular residential situation for City men. . . healthy and bracing surroundings", traffic was very light.

Housing developments around Watford Station on the recently sold Cassiobury Estate land had yet to be completed and the generous provision of rival railway services to Watford plus the Metropolitan's poorly-placed station made the service offered unattractive.

The General Strike in May 1926 provided a reason for the LNER to withdraw services from Watford; these were never reinstated.

Recognising their difficulties, the Metropolitan had negotiated for the provision of bus services from their station to Watford High Street within a week of opening. Finding the bus service unsatisfactory, they terminated the agreement in 1927, purchased four Albion buses and started to operate the route themselves, maintaining the buses in the garage already used by freight lorries opposite Watford Station.

Bus operations were short-lived as Parliament intervened in 1928 with a requirement that all railway-operated bus services should have legal powers.

The Metropolitan's request for such powers was rejected by the Parliamentary Select Committee and the railway handed over control to a new subsidiary company.

The vehicles were subsequently transferred to Lewis Omnibus Co Ltd in 1929 and were then absorbed by London Transport in 1933.

An opportunity arose in 1927 for another route to extend the line into the centre of Watford.

Through a third party, the Metropolitan was able to purchase an existing building at 44 Watford High Street together with two-and-a-half acres of backlands.

The possibility of a single track extension in tunnel either from the existing station or following a diversionary route around the station was explored.

Costs were extremely high and no Parliamentary powers were sought. The building was eventually leased out and was disposed of by London Transport in 1936.

By the end of the 1920's passenger traffic had developed on the Watford branch although competition from frequent and cheap bus services had eroded the value of the Rickmansworth-Watford service and this ran at a loss. Through trains from Baker Street and the City were operated by brown "MV/MW" electric compartment stock (later to become "T Stock"). Goods traffic had developed well and five lorries were operating out of Watford Goods Depot.

In 1933 the Metropolitan Railway was reluctantly absorbed by the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB). The LPTB announced a series of improvements in 1934, including the four tracking of the line from Harrow-on-the-Hill to Rickmansworth and the extension of electrification north of Rickmansworth.

The shuttle from Rickmansworth was withdrawn, unable to sustain its costs against bus competition.

Then in November 1937 the LNER took over responsibility for the goods traffic and with it the larger ex-Metropolitan Railway steam locomotives.

The 1939-45 war had little effect on the line. Watford itself suffered bombing, both from aircraft and by VI rocket bombs, and local housing development came almost to a standstill as resources were diverted into housing repair and the war effort.

Commuter traffic continued to grow for a short period after the war, reaching its highest point in the mid 1950's. However, little new housing was being built around the Watford line as the curbs on expansion placed by the Greater London Development Plan and by Town and Country Planning Acts took effect.

Goods traffic had started to decline before the war and with the increasing road competition from lorries after the war the goods traffic on the line continued to diminish.

The war had delayed the LPTB's plan for four-tracking and electrification on the Metropolitan Line but from 1955 work restarted. Bus and car competition, together with changing patterns of employment, eroded local passenger journeys on all branch lines in the Watford area. As early as 1948 with the nationalization of the main line railways, plans had been put forward to link the Metropolitan Line with the ex-LNWR branch from Croxley Green to Watford Junction.

Nothing came of this but in March 1952 the ex-LNWR branch from Watford Junction to Rickmansworth (Church Street) closed to passengers and passenger services on the Croxley Green branch declined with demand.

Metropolitan Line services to Watford continued almost undiminished, the suburban traffic from Northwood south to Harrow-on-the-Hill sustaining the lighter traffic between Watford and Moor Park.

In 1958, as part of a larger resignalling programme, the branch was resignalled with transfer of control to Rickmansworth, the manual signal boxes at Watford and Croxley being closed.

September 1961 saw the last scheduled steam passenger working for London Underground operated from Rickmansworth. The following day BR took over services north of Amersham and in June 1962 the four tracking to Rickmansworth was completed.

A new generation of aluminium-bodied saloon-type trains was built to operate the electrified services to Amersham, Uxbridge and Watford, and in October 1962 the last compartment stock ran on the Metropolitan Line.

Despite all these changes some goods traffic had survived on the Watford branch; mainly coal, and BR continued to operate regular goods trains, steam giving way to diesel in 1963.

Rationalisation of the BR freight network and the development of coal concentration depots finally saw the end of this service in the mid 1960's.

Croxley Goods Yard was taken out of use in December 1967, and the track was removed in June 1970.

Steam locomotives still appeared on the branch as London Underground ran a regular midday engineer's train from Neasden to Watford and back to the Tip Sidings at Watford South Junction.

Spent ballast and other trackside materials were disposed of in old gravel workings nearby the canal.

Latterly hauled by an ex-GWR pannier tank, these were some of the last steam workings in London.

They finally ceased in June 1971 with the replacement of steam locomotives by London Underground. The tip sidings continued in use until the mid 1980's but battery locomotives were used for engineers' trains instead. Since the closure of the goods yards there has been little change in the character of the Watford branch. Passenger traffic has never really justified the Metropolitan Railway's optimistic expectations, with the poorly located terminus at Watford continuing to be a crucial weakness.

The idea of diverting the Watford branch onto the ex-LNWR Croxley Green branch has recently gathered pace and the ambitions of the line's promoters to access the heart of Watford may yet be realised.