Abbey Line

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Abbey Line
Watford North stn look north.JPG
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Hertfordshire
Termini Watford Junction
St Albans Abbey
Stations 7
Opening 5 May 1858
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) London Midland
Rolling stock British Rail Class 321
Line length 6.5 mi (10.5 km)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 25 kV AC OHLE
Operating speed 40–75 mph (64–121 km/h)
Abbey Line
6m 45ch St Albans Abbey
to Hatfield
UK road A414.PNG
5m 05ch Park Street
4m 37ch How Wood
3m 37ch Bricket Wood
1m 63ch Garston
UK road A41.PNG
0m 78ch Level crossing
0m 75ch Watford North
West Coast Main Line northwards
0m 15ch Watford Junction London Overground
Watford DC Line southwards
West Coast Main Line southwards

The Abbey Line (or St Albans Abbey Branch Line) is a railway line from Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey. The 6.5-mile (10.5 km) route passes through town and countryside.[1] The service is sometimes referred to locally as the Abbey Flyer.[2]


The line was opened by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) on 5 May 1858 and was the first railway to reach St Albans.[3]

Originally there were two intermediate stations:

In 1910 a station at Callowland opened, now Watford North.

In 1924 the terminus at St Albans became St Albans Abbey to distinguish it from the Midland Railway main line station at St Albans City, which opened in 1868. The LNWR station was also served by a branch of the Great Northern Railway from Hatfield.

A sixth station was added at Garston in 1966 and a seventh at How Wood in 1988, to coincide with the electrification of the route at 25 kV AC overhead.

The line today[edit]


Passenger services are operated by London Midland.

Stations on the branch are unstaffed and tickets must be bought on the train, except at St Albans Abbey and Watford North which have a ticket machine, and Watford Junction which is staffed. If starting your journey at Watford Junction, in compliance with National Rail conditions of carriage, you must have a valid ticket prior to boarding the train.

The Abbey Line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 18, SRS 18.10 and is classified as a Rural line.[4]


The line is single track and is electrified at 25 kV AC using overhead line equipment. It has a loading gauge of W6 and a line speed of between 40 and 75 mph (64 and 121 km/h).[4]

Rolling stock[edit]

The service is operated using EMUs. A Class 321/4 EMU is in regular use, and formerly services were operated by a Class 313 unit. Sometimes (but rarely, more commonly in the past) a Class 150 DMU has been substituted.

 Class  Image Type  Top speed   Number   Cars per set   Seat layout   Built 
 mph   km/h 
Class 321/4 Class 321 arriving at Watford Junction station EMU 100 161 1 4 2+3 1989–90
Class 321 London Midland Diagram.png


Signalling is under "One Train Working" (without Train Staff) rules, where only one train is allowed on the line at a time. Trains can be moved into Watford Junction yard by a manual ground frame there. On 28 October 2005 its incorrect operation caused an incident with a train not in passenger service.[5]

There is an automatic level crossing outside Watford North. This is operated by a manual plunger for trains heading towards St Albans, and by a treadle towards Watford Junction.

Past connections[edit]

The line was built in its current form: a branch from Watford to St. Albans. However, the line was at times connected to two other lines. One, the Hatfield and St Albans Railway, opened in 1865 from St. Albans Abbey station to the East Coast main line at Hatfield. Mostly a local route, the construction of the Midland main line ensured that it never became popular with the critical market of passengers to London. It closed to passengers in 1951, part of a cutback of minor routes after the war. The whole route closed to goods in 1964, though a short stub at the Hatfield end lasted until 1968.

During construction of the Midland main line in the 1860s, a branch was laid from near How Wood to the Midland route to carry building materials. Never used by passenger services, Ordnance Survey maps indicate it closed between 1883 and 1898 although the embankment and some bridge abutments remain very visible.[6][7][8][9] As part of a cost-cutting plan in the 1980s, British Rail examined reopening this, with the aim of diverting the branch to the City station and selling off the valuable Abbey station site.

The future[edit]

Since 1995 the Abbey Flyer Users Group (ABFLY)[10] has been campaigning to secure the future of the line and encourage its growth. The Abbey Line was designated by the Strategic Rail Authority as a community rail line in July 2005, one of seven pilots under the Community Rail Development Strategy.[11]

In 2004 a proposal was made by Transport for London for a London Regional Rail Authority to take control over some rail services that extended out of Greater London, including the branch line.[12]

On 30 October 2009 Secretary of State for Transport Lord Adonis announced a plan to increase frequency on the line by allowing Hertfordshire County Council to lease the line from Network Rail and converting it to light rail from 2011. It was hoped that this would be possible for the same amount of subsidy the line received, as the new infrastructure required, such as a passing loop would be cheaper for light rail than heavy rail.[2][13] Longer-term proposals envisaged extensions into Watford town centre via Clarendon Road and High Street, and St Albans city centre,[14] possibly as far as St Albans City railway station, and possible re-instatement of the line to Hatfield.[15]

The light rail plan was cancelled in May 2013, as it was found to be impossible to deliver the scheme within the existing heavy rail subsidy as planned and more complicated than had been expected with disputes over apportionment of ticket revenue and who was responsible for the cost of maintaining structures.[16] Hertfordshire County Council pledged to prepare a more ambitious bid to the DfT for funding for full segregation from the national rail network and extensions on either end rather than to lease the line from Network Rail.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Abbey Line - Community Rail Partnership - Route Guide". Community Rail Partnership. Retrieved 9 May 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Lewis, Alex (30 October 2009). "Tram service promised for St Albans to Watford Abbey Flyer rail link". Watford Observer (Watford: Newsquest). Retrieved 6 March 2010. Provided the project gets through a 12-week consultation, ownership of the line will transfer from Network Rail to Hertfordshire County Council, which will tender for a contractor to run the service. Watford MP Claire Ward said...'The Abbey Flyer is going to be put on a firmer footing, and there will be better services'. 
  3. ^ Route History, Community Rail Partnership, retrieved 9 May 2009 
  4. ^ a b "Route 18 - West Coast Main Line". Network Rail. 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  5. ^ Report released on the derailment at Watford Junction Yard, Rail Accident Investigation Branch (published 28 March 2006), 28 October 2005, retrieved 9 May 2009 
  6. ^ "Ordnance Survey maps, various dates". Retrieved 15 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "St Albans London Road". Disused Stations. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Conservation Area Statement". Hertfordshire County Council. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Streetview pictures & aerial footage". Google Earth. Google. Retrieved 15 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Abbey Flyer Users Group, 13 November 2007, archived from the original on 15 May 2009, retrieved 9 May 2009 
  11. ^ Community Rail, Network Rail, archived from the original on 3 May 2009, retrieved 9 May 2009 
  12. ^ "London Rail Authority". 7 September 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2010. Because the London commuter rail network does not stop at the GLA boundary, we will look at whether it is feasible to give Transport for London the right to specify and pay for services in an area slightly bigger than Greater London that makes more sense in rail transport terms. 
  13. ^ "Watford and St Albans passengers on track for new tram service" (Press release). Department for Transport. 30 October 2009. 
  14. ^ "Rail Strategy". Herts County Council. 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011. 
  15. ^ "St Albans Abbey tram-train announced". Railway Gazette International. 30 October 2009. Archived from the original on 4 January 2010. Retrieved 24 December 2009. 
  16. ^ "St Albans light rail conversion plan dropped". Railway Gazette International. 29 May 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°42′14″N 0°21′40″W / 51.704°N 0.361°W / 51.704; -0.361