MLX back in the long grass

It would appear that with costs having spiralled out of control, the controversial Metropolitan Line Extension has hit the buffers once again.

Despite a pledge by Watford MP Richard Harrington to fill the £73 million funding gap, mayor of London Sadiq Khan has finally pulled the plug on the £360 million scheme, declaring it not to be a strategic priority for London.

Watford mayor Dorothy Thornhill has also vowed not to give up on The project which has been on the drawing board for 20 years or more but in truth it’s hardly surprisingly that this project was not regarded as a strategic priority for London.

The plan was to divert the Watford branch of the Metropolitan Line away from the existing Watford Met Station (which would be closed), situated next to one of the entrances to Cassiobury Park to go via Cassiobridge (Ascot Road) and Vicarage Road to to join up with The London overground line at Watford High Street and finally connect to Watford Junction.

Arguably this was quite futile as the London overground and London Midland service already connect Euston to Watford Junction providing stopping and fast services respectively. The link would provide better access to Watford town centre for people living near stations at the northern end of the Watford branch like Moor Park, Northwood and Pinner But no one in their right mind would call that a strategic benefit and, if it where important, a frequent hopper bus from the existing Watford Met to the town centre would do the job at a fraction of the cost and there were always cheaper alternatives.

Naturally mayor Dorothy Thornhill will be up in arms that the failure of link will leave a number of Watford housing developments and the Health Campus high and dry but for now the thousands of people who signed our petition to save Watford Met station can breathe a sigh of relief that their journeys for work, school and leisure are no longer under threat… until the next time maybe!

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Vanity Fare? Time to Re-think the Link…

Confusion & political back-biting reign over MLX fundingkhan_harrington_WO

At a meeting of the London Assembly on 28 September, Mayor Sadiq Khan ruled that TfL would not stump up any further funding for the Metropolitan Line Extension to Watford Junction (formerly Croxley Rail Link). You can read the full decision here.

Since then it has been reported in the Watford Observer that MP Richard Harrington has been in further talks with the Mayor to try and identify where the £50m shortfall above the current £284m estimate might come from. Others have suggested the true cost could now be as much as £360m yet still the plans for this scheme involve the closure of a very well-used station – Watford Met!

In the words of a famous song: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” – it must be the real life because you really couldn’t make it up! Meanwhile elsewhere in Watford…

Charter Place

Intu is forging ahead with the £180m extension of its shopping centre and multiplex cinema development in Watford town centre regardless. Maybe Intu thinks Watford is well enough connected? Surely if they thought the new link would bring in hoards more customers they and/or their financiers would be lobbying hard and even maybe offering a funding contribution? The fact they are not attests to the leakiness of the so called business case for MLX.

Health Campus

There is plenty of housing and other development planned for the so called ‘Health Campus’ including an hotel and private ‘care village’. But we are no nearer any commitment from the NHS to fund any new healthcare facilities, least of all the redevelopment of the hospital that the new rail line was designed to serve – even though the proposed station would be a far from flat 400 metre hike. Surely the NHS would see the new rail link as an opportunity to establish Watford as an efficient sub-regional treatment centre for West Hertfordshire – no?

Ascot Road

And in the wake of the awful Grenfell disaster the Council has granted planning for a 24-storey residential tower at Ascot Road where the nearest public transport would be the proposed Cassiobridge station and residents would predominantly not need a parking space. Oh dear – it would take a lot more of these to make up £50m shortfall!

So revisiting the original business case when the overall cost envelope was only £120m or was it £150m – whatever – how does it anywhere near stack up at £284m, let alone £360m?

Don’t get us wrong, this campaign is not opposed to the link per se provided services to Watford Met are maintained.  However even without that the biggest single item in the budget is the ‘vanity viaduct’ across Baldwin’s Lane that on its own accounts for £120m – at least 1/3 of the overall cost.

Other Options

If that were dropped the scheme would amount to a spur line from Watford Junction via Watford High Street and Watford Hospital to Cassiobridge. This could be run as part of the London Overground – or as a separate light rail or tram – is this so ridiculous? The idea is not so new – this was one of the ideas we looked at few years back. The Croxley Rail Link Plans have been kicking around for over 20 years – probably more – since the Croxley spur was closed in the 1980s. If the real idea is opening up more areas of Watford with better public transport (without detriment to those which are currently well served) we would strongly advocate exploring more affordable alternative options.

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Has MLX hit the buffers (again)?

The aptly named Diamond Geezer on Twitter who is a railway buff originally from Croxley has unearthed a clue from the minutes of a recent meeting to discuss TfL’s business plan. He reports:

“But what might be more important is what the 80-page document doesn’t contain. One major Underground project, I’m sorry to say, has completely disappeared. It should be in this list and it isn’t.


He then carefully documents with photos the quite significant progress made so far:

New Bridge over Thomas Sawyer Way

The cutting at old West Watford station

There has been a lot of local interest and support generated in this project and a huge amount of public money invested so far.


While we support the connection of the Metropolitan Line via Cassiobridge, Vicarage Road and Watford High Street to Watford Junction, Save Watford Met does not believe this justifies closing the immensely popular and well used (1.85 million entry/exits in 2015) existing Watford Met station. 3,000 agree and have signed the petition!

Despite the potential regeneration benefits to Watford we have also for some time doubted the tangible business case for investment – after all who wants another 50+ minute stopping route from Central London to Watford Junction?

We have also for some time doubted whether similar benefits couldn’t be derived from other alternatives including a round Watford ‘Hoppa’ bus or London Overground branch/ shuttle from Bushey via Watford High Street to the proposed new stations at Vicarage Road and Cassiobridge. This would save the huge project costs and disruption caused by constructing a 400m viaduct across the busy A412 Rickmansworth Road to join up with Croxley station.

Save Watford Met says:

While it would be a shame if the [unconfirmed] inference that the Metropolitan Line Extension to Watford Junction may have been dropped as a business plan priority for TfL, we would not really be surprised if this is not such a priority for London and that its Mayor, Sadiq Khan, may have concluded this from reviewing the somewhat contrived and shaky business case. Naturally residents in the Park Ward and West Watford would be relieved if the existing Watford Met Line Station which is convenient and well used (1.85 million entry/exits per annum) is to be reprieved.

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Petition signatures hit 2000 on day Watford declared #1 most in demand for London property hunters


It is no irony that on the day online estate agents revealed in the Telegraph that Watford was the most sought after tube stop for property hunters ‘in London’, signatures for the petition to save the station under threat from closure by the Croxley Rail Link hit 2000 and continue to grow.

Watford’s MP, Richard Harrington and elected Mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, have both separately vowed to do everything in their power to persuade Transport for London to consider ways of keeping the current Met Line station, which in the current plans would literally be sidelined as ‘stabling’ for trains overnight.

The proposed replacement station at Cassiobridge is at least 15 mins walk although allowing for crossing major road intersections, 17-18 mins is a better estimate.

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Closure in Dec 2019? There’s Still Time To Save Watford Met

Interview with @L4GSWHerts Community TV:

You can find out more on this site about the proposals, the consultation and the campaign.

1. Spread the word – there are still people who don’t know

2. Sign the petition

3. Lobby your ward and county councillors – tell them that taking away any station (particularly one with 1.57m entry/exits last year) is wrong

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Watford Met: will politicians keep promises after May 7th?

Almost all the Watford canditates for this week’s general election have pledged support for keeping services running to Watford Met.  But will they manage to keep this political football in play.  For the record, here’s what they have said:

In his blog Richard Harrington (Conservative) said: “I am absolutely delighted, this is really positive news for Watford. I’ve had extensive meetings with Boris Johnson, the DfT and others, and this morning the Treasury. This was the final hurdle, and I look forward to seeing the construction start soon.

The Croxley Rail Link was first floated as an idea in the 1920’s, which seems crazy, it was one of those things which people never thought was really going to happen – I remember my dad saying to me in the 80s that it was pie in the sky and we’d never see it done. Little did I think then, that I would be announcing this final step today! I made the Rail Link one of my priorities in 2010, I thought it had been talked about for far too long and we needed action – which is exactly what I did. The Government are investing millions of pounds in this, in Watford, and it will make such a difference to the town.

As this has now all been finalised and confirmed, I intend to move forward and renew discussions for the retention of Watford Metropolitan Line Station as well as linking Crossrail to Watford Junction and improvements on the Abbey Line and at Bushey Station.”

Again, here is a permanent link to his text.

Mayor Dorothy Thornhill (Liberal Democrat) said: ‘Watford’s role has been crucial to the project. We hosted a business case review in January with the Department for Transport and all the developers. We commissioned the independent economic impacts research which confirms that the Rail Link will catalyse 9700 construction jobs, 9400 permanent jobs and generate £8b gross value add. I believe these inputs were essential in persuading the DFT to support the case for the link. The icing on the cake would be to retain at least a shuttle service to Watford Met; after all the line to the Met station will be retained.’

In her blog she claims “Conservative county councillors have resisted to back a Liberal Democrat motion welcoming the Croxley Rail investment and asking the County Council to put pressure on Transport for London to keep Watford Met Station open.”

Here is a permanent link to the full text.

f955d-nick32bcolour2breduced2bsize2bcroppedUKIP’s Nick Lincoln says: “I read with interest Carol Scleater’s letter regarding the prposed closure of Watford Met station (‘Speak out and stop this injustice’ – Watford Observer Letters November 28 2014) . Mrs Scleater makes reference to the fact that if the existing Watford Met Station remains in situ, it would help alleviate some of the pressure on Watford’s commuters when (if) the HS2 redevelopment of Euston commences. A very good point I thought.”

@SaveWatfordMet @Observer_Owl @MyWatfordNews @BBC3CR Pleasure. I say the same thing at 24:05 here:

Here’s the permanent link to what he said.

Labour’s Matt Turmaine says

It’s not clear what Watford Green Party’s position is although they did make a call to better integrate local public transport across Hertfordshire in January 2014

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What local people are saying about Watford Met

Over 1,800 people have so far signed the petition to save Watford Met.  Statistics cannot always however convey the very real concerns of real people.  Here are some of the latest comments.  The entire petition can be viewed here.

“What is the point of closing a popular much used station?”

“The Watford Boys Grammar School pupils who use the station will have a longer and more dangerous walk to school if the station is closed.  The housing around the station was developed to be served by the station so it is not right to now remove the station.”

“I live at the Cassio metro complex, built specifically around the station. It makes no sense closing a station that is used by thousand of local residents. Why not terminate some trains at Watford and some at Watford Junction? This will mean the whole line used and everyone is happy.”

“It will affect Watford Grammer School & increase the road traffic as student will then come by car/bus so more vehicular traffic. Further it will affect office goers.”

“I was really pleased to hear about the link but at the time I had no idea that the Met would close. Watford junction is already heaving. To get to the other side of watford (I live in leavesden) is arduous (flipping traffic) and the Met has saved my life and sanity on more than one occasion. It is a calmer, cheaper and actually pleasant route into London and I don’t want to lose that!”

“For me it is a far more convenient way to travel into London than from Watford Junction.”

“Watford Met is a busy station with good footfall numbers. There are a number of properties which have been built around the station, the primary amenity for which is Watford station. To remove this station and redirect services to two new stations makes no sense for the actual people who will be inconvenienced by this change, as I imagine those making the decisions have never made use of this station to know how good of a connection it currently is (why fix something which isn’t broken?).”

“We must retain the Watford met line station as it is very widely used and there is no compelling reason why the other schemes cannot co-exist with keeping this station open”

“The railtrack from Croxley and the Station at Watford will remain but become unusable by rail passengers. This is a waste of resources as this station currently serves a very wide area including the Cassiobury estate, Rickmansworth Road and the Boys’ Grammar School, to name but a few in the immediate vicinty.”

“From the top end of the cassiobury estate the walk to ascot road would be considerably longer.”

“Both my children have had to go to another town for secondary school due to poor availability of places nearer to home and as a consequence have to commute. If the met line closes our nearest station is too far and so I will have to drive. This is the situation for many parents and will add to local congestion, pollution and ultimately it will also affect my employment. I understand that the line has to remain open anyway for trains to change direction so why the station cannot remain in use remains a mystery!!!”

“Closing the Watford Met station will increase road traffic in Watford, but we need to do everything possible to reduce road traffic. Closing the Watford Met cause an overall reduction in service for some. If the station is retained, then there will be no losers from the Croxley rail link scheme: a win-win for all. The Croxley rail link could become very busy, and retaining the Watford Met branch would relieve pressure on the new rail link”

“The number of people using watford met has increased even in the last year and as the lines will be kept operational on a daily basis there is no need to close this station. It would need a small number of staff to operate it on top of those who would be there for the rolling stock anyway,especially as it is proposed to do away with ticket offices too. Plus it will alleviate some of the congestion that will increase in and around watford junction with the other new proposals. It is cheaper to get into London via this station, WILL it stay this cheaper fare if exiting from the junction? Lots of people walk to this station,in many cases they would probably have to go by car to reach the junction. Plus it is part of the character of our town which is disappearing at an alarming rate. Do we really want to live in an area that has no soul, just warehouse looking buildings of metal poles or green coverings. There really must be away for the Met line to continue from this station. Please let the decision be reconsidered.”

“Removing the existing Watford Met line station will further increase congestion in the West Watford area, as school drop-offs will now clog roads, where tube jourey’s are no longer possible”

“It seems madness to close this Station. No one has given a good reason(s) for doing this. It provides a healthy alternative because it encourages people to walk through Cassiobury Park from the Hunton Bridge side of Watford”.

“We are regular users of Watford station and if it closes it will mean we will have to travel a lot further to reach a station and increase our journey time. This would put us off using this method of transport should these plans go ahead and force us to use a car more often.The community in this part of Watford will not be served by a suitable and convenient train service.”

“I would lose my job. I already walk for 40 mins to get to Watford, Croxley/West Watford is too far to get to and I can’t afford the overground.”

To read all the signatories comments (and add your own), click here.

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Runaway Train: At £300m is Croxley Rail Fiasco [still] Value for Money?

rail link

It has been widely reported that costs for the Croxley Rail Link have spiralled out of all control.  The original cost bid for was £118m.  We reported last summer that this had climbed to £180m and the figure Hertfordshire County Council’s cabinet considered last month was £249m.  They said: “At present there remains a gap between the proposed budget and the resources currently available from all partners.” No kidding!  The Watford Observer reported that London Underground Ltd, which was being asked to take control, had set the budget risk at between £285-298m!  WHAT’S GOING ON??

More to the point – how can this still be VALUE FOR MONEY?

In the Value for Money Annex Report prepared for the Croxley Rail Link project in September 2011 (from which the sensitivity analysis table below is extracted), specialist transport economic consultants Steer Davies Gleeve identified that the benefit:cost ratio for a viable scheme should be at least 1.5:1 and, based on the ‘Best and Final Bid’ (BAFB) of £104.3m received at the time the scheme BCR was 2.61.  This was regarded as a good investment return although in a previous post we questioned the validity of some of the assumptions presented to the public enquiry in 2013.


With a capital cost increase of 20% to £125m the BCR would sink to 2.1.  With an increase of 135% to £245m the BCR would sink to 1.0 (break-even – over a long period).  However based on London Underground’s latest budget estimates the scheme represents a BCR of less than 1.0 – a loss, in fact!

And the Watford Observer quotes that the scheme will operate 6 trains per hour from Watford Junction to Baker Street at peak times – this compares with 8 trains per hour currently from Watford Met between 7 and 8am.  This is an unmitigated disaster for local people travelling from and to Watford Met for whom the walk to/from Cassiobridge/Ascot Rd will represent a significant increase to their journey times.

Meantime, despite the spiralling costs, our local political contenders still support the scheme and the ill-judged ‘wealth campus’ scheme for over-development in West Watford to which it is seemingly intrinsically linked.

Which candidate in the forthcoming election will be brave enough to stand up and say “Enough is enough! We gave the Croxley Rail Link our best shot but at more than twice the approved cost we can no longer fund it nor be sure it provides an adequate return on taxpayers’ money and there are other transport solutions for Watford and more imprortant ways this money could be invested for wider benefit in Hertfordshire.

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MP announces back-room deal to fund 38% Rail Link cost overrun but still no split service for beleaguered Watford Met users

Watford MP Richard Harrington has written to constituents about his success in securing £50m of additional funding for the Croxley Rail Link from the Department of Transport. Great!  So there can be a split service for residents living around the existing Met Station and for the hundreds of students using the station each day (as recommended by London Travelwatch) despite being told it was unaffordable?

Cassiobridge StationRichard hasn’t said as much but I think he would have done if that were his intention. He says the money, part of the ‘Hertfordshire Growth Deal‘ is “to take the Croxley Rail Link to its next phase” and is “in addition to the £130million already committed to the project”.  We have written to Richard asking what exactly the extra money is for.  Hopefully he’ll tell us it will include a permanent split service of at least 3 trains per hour continuing to serve Watford Met – maybe?  I’m not banking on that just yet.

More likely I suspect he will tell us there has been some kind of budget omission or overrun. Maybe the original budget of £120m just wasn’t enough – there were many sceptics at the time and it sounds like they might have ben right.  The original funding was originally approved in 2013 from the Department for Transport’s ‘Local Major Scheme Process’ and the additional funding is subject to its final approval.  Interestingly the FAQ in the original guidance to bidders stated:

Q23: If you will not be increasing DfT’s funding contribution post Programme Entry, do we need to include optimism bias in our bids?

A23: The previous system for funding cost overruns (the risk layer) no longer applies; the BAFB must include a capped funding bid. However, optimism bias forms an important part of our value for money assessment and it is important that you set out clearly the value of optimism bias you are using in your bids.

Also, the Croxley rail Link was by far the largest scheme approved in the original development pool of 41 projects, accounting for £120m out of £650m available (18.5%). Had the budget been honestly declared at £180m ( 27.7%) you have to wonder if the scheme would have been approved at all, especially in view of it’s shaky business case.

We will also be writing to DfT objecting to this approval without the inclusion of a split service to Watford Met.  If you think

Please write direct to Richard Harrington and to the Secretary of State for Transport asking them to ensure a split service to Watford Met is included in any further funding proposals.


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Health Campus? The missing Link…

On Friday 2nd May, Save Watford Met’s Lester Wagman and Sara-Jane Trebar of Save Farm Terrace appeared on the Link4Growth Community TV show, hosted by Chris Ogle & Alex Murray…

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