Pictures from an exhibition…

Stickerrrr!

The Croxley Rail Link ‘consultation’ exhibition opened last week In a prominent shop unit in Charter Place (provided rent free by Watford Borough Council?) opposite the entrance to the Harlequin shopping centre in Watford Town centre and continued till 1st June (in Croxley Green).  A dozen suited London Underground staff and consultants stood by spot-lit and professionally illustrated displays, ready to explain the proposals, the timing of trains etc. and try to address peoples’ concerns about the practicalities of building and operating the link (by contrast the SaveWatfordMet campaign has no budget – only the £150 or so I have personally ‘invested’).  I say try because the one sound-bite I overheard in the hour I was there was a West Watford resident concerned about noise from the trains and the proposed Vicarage Road station which was answered only vaguely with a response that welded tracks should reduce train noise – but no hard stats.

How lucky, I thought, to be even near enough a station to have to worry about the noise as they are planning to close my local station – Watford Met.  I use the word “consultation” quite carefully as this was in fact a very slick promotion and public relations exercise. Yes, there was a table in the centre of the room with the very carefully worded ‘consultation forms’ on hand for people to fill in but this glitzy exhibition was unmistakably about promoting and selling the scheme.

Hard stats seem to be something that’s been lacking or at least shaky in the preparation of this scheme. With [amateur] journalistic verve I sat down to go through the transport research report commissioned by the scheme with a young and slightly nervous transport consultant called Alastair and really get to understand what it meant.  In fairness to him it wasn’t his work (and by his own admission it needed updating) – he’d just been appointed by Leonie Dubois, the consultation manager, to take me through it.  In fact I should stress that for some reason this document wasn’t part of the public consultation but, perhaps in an attempt to head-off what Leonie might have seen as ‘trouble’ in my guise, she agreed to let me see it. 

Exhibition Scene

From the outside and at first glance the document looks professional enough but when you start scratching under the surface it starts to look a bit flakier.  For a start, the Watford Met station existing user survey they carried out was based on a sample of about 100 people interviewed on the station on one Saturday, one Monday and one Tuesday in July 2010.  I use the station daily but I never saw this data collection in progress – perhaps being July I was away.  Many others would also have been.  They had also undertaken a click-count which established that the station was used for about 4-4,500 passenger journeys a day – equating to approx 1,500,000 journeys a year which is in line with London Underground 2009 stats.  As expected, about 75% were journeys to/from work or full-time education. They also showed the numbers using the station had crept steadily up over the 10 years to 2009 (presumably as the area around the station had become more densely populated) and tailed off slightly in the past year, possibly due to people having been laid off and there fore making fewer journeys in the recession.

I was then shown a ‘winners and losers’ analysis of people currently using Watford Met.  It showed the number of losers (and the additional travel time they were estimated to incur) as exceeding the number of ‘winners’ (and the travel time they were likely to save) but only by a small margin.  Winners were depicted as green blobs with a minus figure inside representing time saving whereas losers were shown as red blobs with a positive number inside representing extra time incurred.  Naturally there were a lot of red blobs in the area immediately round Watford Met station but these soon give way to greens.  When I looked at this in more detail it seems the pluses and minuses are measured for a combined walk and train time (with walk time ‘weighted’ by 100%) to Croxley station (via one’s nearest walkable Met Line station ‘post link’), being the first point on the line one can travel to via Watford Met (currently) or (post scheme) Watford Junction and other stations on the proposed link.

Oddly, most of the area in Cassiobury north of the park shows green on this analysis!  This is because walking distances were measured around the park (presumably via Cassiobury Drive & Cassiobury Park Avenue) and not through it via the lit path!  Sure there are some people who avoid the park in winter but most I know regard it as perfectly safe.  No wonder the analysis therefore shows people from the north of Cassiobury would be better off walking to Watford Junction.  However my view even if that was their preference they would probably elect to take the faster Midland service into London rather than spend the best part of an hour trundling along the Met Line.

The analysis also does not in my view reflect that one of the things people really like about Watford Met is that it’s a terminus.  That usually means that whatever time they turn up for their train, it’s likely to be waiting at the platform ready to go so they can do their waiting while sitting comfortably in a warm train rather than standing on a draughty platform.  Maybe the proposed new Met Line platforms at Watford Jct would also offer this benefit but the journey time toLondonwould be 10-13 mins longer which means, as I have said, that most people travelling via that station would probably opt to use the faster Midland service intoLondon in my view.

The exhibition staff made a point that people might still choose to use the Met Line to access intermediate stations such as Harrow-on-the-Hill or Wembley.  They weren’t however able to show me any sort of analysis of where journeys currently end.  From my observation as a regular weekday Met Line user from Watford, some change to the fast line at Moor Park but most people travel on the same train into Zone 1. Exceptionally, one of the most popular (non-Zone 1) destinations for southbound travellers from Watford is in fact Croxley where a good number of Rickmansworth School students alight.  If they are travelling from the red zone on this map or the so-called green zone north of Cassiobury Park (which should be mostly red too by my reckoning) then the time penalty they are effectively paying in percentage terms relative to their overall journey time is enormous!

This table from my own survey of Watford Met Users tells a very different story:

For each alternative journey choice from question 4 above, please indicate how this would affect overall journey time for members of your household  

 

Reduce journey time

Add 0-10 mins to journey time

Add 11-20 mins to journey time

Add 21-30 mins to journey time

Add 31+ mins to journey time

Use proposed new station at Two Bridges (Ascot Rd)

5.4% (2)

32.4% (12)

27.0% (10)

16.2% (6)

18.9% (7)

Use proposed new station at Vicarage Rd

11.8% (4)

17.6% (6)

11.8% (4)

47.1% (16)

11.8% (4)

Use Watford High Street Station

10.7% (3)

3.6% (1)

10.7% (3)

39.3% (11)

35.7% (10)

Use Watford Junction

2.9% (1)

5.9% (2)

20.6% (7)

29.4% (10)

41.2% (14)

Walk

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

7.4% (2)

7.4% (2)

85.2% (23)

Cycle

3.8% (1)

0.0% (0)

7.7% (2)

15.4% (4)

73.1% (19)

Car

17.9% (5)

7.1% (2)

14.3% (4)

14.3% (4)

46.4% (13)

             

Another misnomer emerging from the London Underground study and being pedalled as part of the business case for the scheme is the number of people who would be within 30 mins’ walk of the Met Line if the scheme were to go ahead.  Another red and green blobogram in their research report shows a huge swathe of green blobbed beneficiaries but when you look at it carefully, this includes people living in large parts of north and east Watford and even Bushey Heath.  Presumably the former groups would be doing their [up to] 30 min walk to Watford Jct and the latter toWatford High Street. 

But again, why on earth would people in Bushey do that when they would have to walk past Bushey station to do so? And having walked 30 minutes to get to Watford Jct, are the good people of north & east Watford going to choose to board a Met line train that will take nearly an hour to Baker St or jump on the fast line to Euston or the Overground (which they can do already)?  So this huge number of so-called beneficiaries starts to look more than a little shaky.  I suspect they would not but I have seen no research into whether or not these people would use the Met line in preference to existing rail services – that’s the sort of question that ought to be asked in the consultation – not whether people [subjectively] think the CRL will “improve connections”.

The business benefits are unproven too.  Where’s the research to show where people working at Watford BusinessPark (and visitors) travel from/to and whether the CRL would make the slightest difference to their journeys?  Business parks are by their very nature out-of-town entities and attract different sorts of tenants to town centre offices (there’s plenty of good town-centre office space in Clarendon Road Watford the tenants there could have chosen in preference  and office rents there are on a par or cheaper in some cases) so access to public transport clearly wasn’t a key factor for them. And who’s to say the CRL would actually bring hoards of shoppers to the Harlequin Centre from Northwood & Pinner when they may still choose to drive to (or shop in) Harrow – has any market research been done to survey shoppers’ travel origins or preferences.  The one thing that is proven however is that a majority of people currently using Watford Met Line Station will be significantly disadvantaged.

There’s a huge number of people (not just in the south of the Cassiobury Estate but also in Cassio Metro and many parts ofWest Watford) who feel that closing Watford Met line station is not an acceptable part of this project.  In fact many more still just don’t know.  That’s because the ‘consultation’ about the CRL is dishonest in that (even though when you look at the consultation plans it becomes apparent) the name doesn’t make clear it means the CLOSURE OF WATFORD METROPOLITAN LINE STATION.  I estimate that 70% of Watford Met users I have interviewed tend to think the scheme has something to do with Croxley and are genuinely surprised to hear it affects them! 

Mayor Dorothy Thornhill is on record as saying that she and Richard Harrington are working with London Underground and others to find a solution that involves Watford Met being retained but through correspondence I have now seen between her and an objector who lives in Hempstead Road (not in the south of Cassiobury) this has apparently failed.  It is scandalous that in the week the highly polished exhibition opened she hasn’t she come clean with the people about this. 

The ‘consultation’ is a joke too – the questions have quite obviously been worded very carefully to result in a positive conclusion and there is little opportunity for concerned parties to respond negatively.  Nearly 1,000 people have signed the petition to save Watford Met Line station and I would urge others to do likewise.  This petition will be presented to the Secretary of State for Transport before the ‘consultation’ period on Croxley Rail Link closes on 18th August.  Those concerned should search for SaveWatfordMet in their web browser or on Twitter where you can also find results from a real and even-handed statistical survey about how users of the existing Watford Met station would be adversely affected.

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2 Responses to Pictures from an exhibition…

  1. croxleyrebel says:

    Don’t underestimate the depth of feeling against this potty scheme among Croxley people. We like our railway just how it is. “Link” schemes always result in a watered down service – ask anyone from Bedford to St Albans what the 1988 Thameslink abomination has meant gor them ever since. Meanwhile the Met service at Watford and Croxley is being reduced by 33% off peak later this year. Progress? Not!

  2. Pingback: CRL public relations – dirty tricks and STiki WikiTs? | Save Watford Met Line Station

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