Holey TWA inspector’s report! Have we been robbed of our station?

On 24th July the Department for Transport inspector’s report (dated 30th January 2013) was issued under a covering letter signed by Martin Woods, Head of the TWA Orders Unit, confirming the Secretary of State’s authorisation of an Order under the Transport Works Act 1992 giving permission for the construction of the Croxley Rail Link.  The Order itself did not authorise the closure of Watford Met but the letter states

“He [the Secretary of State] has, furthermore, noted that the Mayor of London has today given consent to the closure of Watford Met station, subject to a condition and measures directed at alleviating hardship that would result from the closure.”

bg0We have not yet seen the Mayor’s consent pursuant to the London closures procedure.

The following is a detailed critique [Save Watford Met’s comments in Met Line maroon italics] of the report which, on careful reading, could hardly be said to be balanced or independent.  It is quite clear the inspector has taken a pro-Link stance and misses no opportunity to regurgitate TfL stats while running down any of the objectors’ arguments.”  Consequently the so-called public enquiry, whose findings were issued with the Secretary of State’s decision notice, leaving no opportunity for anyone to consider it. #totalsham

Frustratingly, the inspector’s report following the so-called public inquiry was issued on 30th January 2013 but remained under wraps for 6 months, only being released with the Secretary of State’s decision notice and thereby leaving no opportunity for consideration of its findings by the public, before whom the inquiry was commissioned!  Does anyone smell a railway rat?

We believe it to be fundamentally flawed in a number of key areas.  The full report, annotated with comments, can be found here but for convenience the key areas for concern are summarised below:

Para 3.2

It is considered there are two aspects of the regeneration benefits of the proposal. First, the link would provide increased opportunities for journeys into and out of the relatively deprived parts of Watford which would be served by the line. These areas are characterised by relatively high rates of deprivation and low rates of car ownership. Secondly, there are a number of sites along the route of the line which would benefit from the establishment of the link. Attention is drawn in particular in this context to Watford General Hospital and to the Watford Health Campus. This area adjoins the hospital to the south-east and outline planning permission has been granted for further development seeking to make the most of proximity to the hospital. The plans include residential, business, office, research and leisure uses.

SaveWatfordMet: All the above objectives could be met by reinstating the former route to Croxley Green and building the new stations.  In fact since it is anticipated that many of the new users would travel north from south and west Watford to connect with faster services to London at Watford Junction, this would meet the needs of many.

Para 3.3

In addition to its regeneration benefits, the link would assist in addressing the impact of vehicular traffic on Watford’s roads. The town is skirted by the M25, the A41 and the M1, and residential streets are often over capacity. In addition, the line would provide a link between the residential communities in the western part of the town and the principal core business, leisure and employment opportunities focussed towards its more central and eastern parts.

SaveWatfordMet: Again, these objectives could be met by simply reinstating the Croxley Green branch line, without incurring the huge cost and disruption of building the proposed viaduct across Rickmansworth Road etc.

Para 3.5

The current Metropolitan Line terminus is some distance from the town centre. The scheme would involve the closure of this station to passengers, but two new stations would be constructed – Ascot Road and Watford Hospital. Taking account of Watford High Street and Watford Junction stations there would thus be a net increase of over 14,000 in the numbers.

SaveWatfordMet: Technically true, but what proportion of this 14,000 live nearest to Watford High St and Watford Junction and why would they use the Met Line when there are alternative services to Harrow from the former and faster services to London from the latter?

Also the declared population of Cassiobury is shown in Wikipedia as 14,031.  We estimate that Watford Met is currently the nearest station for all but the easternmost Cassiobury residents, albeit more than TfL’s arbitrary 800m.  Even if the number of these affected was only 75%, surely this should be offset against the beneficiaries?

Para 3.6

It is forecast that there would be a net increase in Metropolitan Line annual trips of 730,000 by 2016, of which around 20% would have previously been made by car; 30% would have previously been made by bus, and 50% from passengers previously using other rail services. It is recognised that the implementation of the scheme would result in changes to highway traffic flows. Increases would be experienced at Gade Avenue and Tolpits Lane, with more modest increases on 20 other sections. There would be decreases however on 76 sections with modest reductions in queuing at the Rickmansworth Road/Ascot Road and the Ascot Road/Whippendell Road roundabouts. The overall net impact on the highway network is assessed as a modest benefit.

SaveWatfordMet: The projected 730,000 new journeys are modelled on the 14,000 additional people living within 800m of a Met line station. If, say, 60% of these lived in the more densely populated of Watford around the High St & Junction station, why would 50% of these switch to using the Met Line (55 mins to Baker St from WFJ) when there are already alternative/better services serving these stations? This is nonsense – the economic case is predicated on this vast number of new journeys but in reality it is derived from a meaningless statistic.

Para 3.8

An analysis has been undertaken of the impact of the scheme in relation to those passengers who currently use Watford Met station. The work included significant revisions to the extent to which the station was used by pupils attending Watford Boys Grammar School. The school is located close to the station and the numbers affected had initially been under-estimated. The exercise indicates that a little over half the existing total passenger numbers would experience some disbenefit, with an average increase in their journey time of 5.6 minutes. Rather fewer passengers would benefit from the scheme with an average time saving of 7.5 minutes. Taking both into account, the average impact per existing Watford resident passenger would be a gain of around 50 seconds. There would in addition be a much larger number of people who do not currently use Watford Met station, but who would benefit from the link and its new stations.

SaveWatfordMet: We believe this calculation is fundamentally flawed and should be re-investigated. Most passengers who are worse off (a little over half, says the report) are likely to live east and north of Watford Met which means their walks to Cassiobridge would be 17-19 minutes longer (allowing for crossing busy roads) than to Watford Met.  For the many Watford Met users living north of Cassiobury Park their walk is already 10-15 mins so their new walk would be 27-34 mins.  They could alternatively walk to Watford Junction in a similar time and face a longer train journey and higher fares!

Para 3.9
The combined effects of the construction of the link and the closure of Watford Met station on passengers currently using this station for key destinations would be as follows:
Watford Boys Grammar School (22% of trips)                    6 minute increase
Watford Town Centre (14% of trips)                                   19 minute saving
Around Cassiobury Park (10% of trips)                              14 minute increase
Watford General Hospital (5% of trips)                               10 minute saving
West Hertfordshire College (2% of trips)                              4 minute saving
Watford Girls Grammar School (1% of trips)                      17 minute saving
All other destinations (46% of trips)                                      5 minute average saving

SaveWatfordMet: WBGS (6 minute increase) – this is patent nonsense. It takes about 5 minutes from Watford Met to the school and 17-19 mins from Cassiobridge to the school (see video).  

It takes approx. 19-20 mins to walk from Watford Met to the town centre so this suggested 19 min saving cannot allow for the additional train journey time to Watford High St (7 mins) + extra walking time from there to town centre (at least 3-4 mins depending on time taken to cross ring road).

We would dispute that only 10% of trips are to/from ‘around’ Cassiobury Park

Para 3.11

The possibility of both completing the link and leaving the existing Watford Met station open has been considered. This would entail a split between the two lines. On the basis of an even split (of 3 trains per hour (tph) per line) the BCR for the scheme would be 1.43 – below the level which would be considered for funding by the DfT. An unequal split has also been considered (with 4 tph going to Watford Junction and 2 tph going to Watford Met). The BCR on this option would be 1.68. For operational reasons further down the Metropolitan Line, trains would have to leave Watford Junction at uneven intervals of 10 and 20 minutes. This would make the service less attractive than the preferred scheme.

Why has no consideration been given to a Watford Met shuttle from either Croxley (where potentially a 2tph peak hours shuttle could be interleaved with the CRL services using existing platforms) or Moor Park (where passengers could interchange with fast Met Line trains to Aldgate and Baker St).  One shorter train (4-car max) or older rolling stock could be used for the shuttle.

It is believed the BCR figures quoted are based on splitting the proposed CRL service rather than using a shuttle.

Para 3.14

As part of its consideration of the proposed closure of Watford Met station, London TravelWatch has suggested that consideration should be given to a split service with Watford Junction using the new link. However, this would be no more than a token service with increased passenger waiting times. Its benefits for the peak time users of Watford Met would be outweighed by the disbenefits to existing and potentially new passengers who live nearer to a CRL station.

SaveWatfordMet: Perhaps those LOSING their station should be given a say on whether they would prefer a 20 min longer walk or a 20 min wait for a 2tph shuttle?  With respect, the disbenefits to those whose station is under threat cannot be objectively ‘weighed’ against the benefits to those gaining a service.

Para 3.15

The possibility of a shuttle between Watford Met station and Croxley station has been considered, but it would necessitate the construction of a bay platform involving land acquisition and reducing the size of the car park. It would not be attractive to users

SaveWatfordMet: Not necessarily.  This was an assumption made without consideration of interleaving services using existing platforms.  No-one has asked users nor given them the choice.

Para 4.5

If it could be made compatible with the viability of the scheme, it would be preferable that the Met station should remain open.

SaveWatfordMet: Why has Mrs Thornhill & Mr Harrington then not left any stone unturned in seeking a solution to keep Watford Met?  We are not aware of her championing any investigation of this nature.

Para 5.7

For some existing passengers using Watford Met, the closest Metropolitan Line station would become Watford High Street or Watford Junction [!!]. These passengers would face [not only a longer walk abut also] higher fares. A discretionary fare should therefore be agreed for a limited period. Additionally, there is a business case for Watford Met station to be retained for passengers for a 2 year trial period as part of a split service. Notwithstanding these adverse effects of the CRL scheme, if the trialling of a split service would place the project as a whole in jeopardy (by requiring a renewed application for funding), Mr Leibling reported that London TravelWatch would support the Order scheme.

We can find no reference to this quote from Mr Leibling in LTW’s report.  In fact LTW’s report questioned LUL’s reasoning for the proposed closure in a number of separate areas and did not appear to be convinced by the responses given:

Re a 3tph split service as originally proposed, LUL contended that “the cost to benefit ratio of this split service proposal is 1.4 to 1 compared with 2.6 to 1 for the project as presented. LUL say that this would bring the financial viability of the project below the level at which the Government would provide funding. Although the figures have been scrutinised by Department for Transport, the Panel is concerned that a simple split service should reduce the return so much and asked LUL to provide more detail.

“Subsequently members asked for an assessment of a split service providing four trains an hour to Watford Junction and two trains an hour to Watford station in addition to LUL’s split service comparator of three trains per hour to each Watford station. The analysis LUL has subsequently provided suggests the cost to benefit ratio of this split service is 1.68 to 1. The primary reason for there being fewer benefits is the less attractive nature of a lower frequency service for a larger number of Watford Junction station passengers.”  It is preposterous and insulting that the fortunes of Watford Met travellers are subject to ‘hardship’ of travellers using WFJ who are already spoilt for choice of which service to take.  Mr Leibling’s report continues:

“LUL’s general response to all of the suggested alternatives is that they would all result in a less attractive business case, i.e. loss of benefits compared to their preferred option. This is primarily because resources (trains) would either be diverted to less beneficial use or offer lower frequency services that would be less attractive to passengers, and therefore deliver less benefit than a high frequency service.

The Panel asked LUL to tell them the effect on passenger flows of changing the off-peak frequency from 6tph to 4 tph in December 2011 as this could give some indication of the effect of reducing the frequency to Watford Junction station from 6 tph to 4 tph if the 4:2 split of services proposed above were adopted. TfL have looked at the drop in demand at Watford station before and after the timetable change by comparing gateline data in June 2011 to that in June 2012. TfL tell us there was only a slight fall in 2012. The reasons for this slight fall are unknown.”

Para 7.14

The case for the closure of Watford Met station is not based on the number of passengers forecast to use the station with a split service, but rather on the poor performance of the option resulting from the reduced service frequency on both the existing line and the CRL. There would therefore be no benefit in a trial service; it would merely be the cause of detriment to passengers. The Metropolitan Line service at Watford Junction could be run at 10 tph whilst still catering for the Euston – Watford Junction DC line trains. If demand was sufficient, an additional service could run from Amersham/Chesham to Watford Junction via the north curve (between Croxley and Rickmansworth stations).

The inspector has clearly missed, ignored or perhaps been directed to ignore the point of London Travelwatch’s involvement and report.  The trial [split] service was specifically intended to be for the benefit of  disenfranchised Watford Met travellers – not the CRL as a whole!  Hence the reason for 1100+ people signing the petition to keep the station.

Para 7.16

Watford Met station is in any event already lightly used with about 2,500 passengers per weekday. With the implementation of CRL a high proportion of the passengers would transfer to the new line, and the level of usage at the existing station would become very low. There is no transport case for seeking to keep Watford Met station open with the implementation of the CRL.

Of course if the station closed and passengers were forced to transfer to the new line “the level of usage at the existing station would become very low” – nil, in fact! The inspector fails to point out that according to LUL 2009 figures, the 0.778 million entries and exits at Croxley Station (which will be kept as part of the CRL) were barely half the number at Watford, 1.504 million!

Para 7.17

It is recognised that the numbers of pupils using Watford Met station to reach Watford Boys Grammar School was originally underestimated. However, the correction had a minimal effect on the BCR.  Well what was it? As far as the Watford Colosseum and West Hertfordshire College are concerned, these are better or equally well/poorly served by Watford Junction. The business case for the scheme takes account of changes in the cost of travel and increases in journey times, but it is concluded that these would be outweighed by the benefits experienced by others. In any event, there is no reason why the boys should not walk for an extra 8 minutes [erm, 15 minutes beside a busy road], and the school itself has not objected to the scheme [which would indeed be surprising – except for the fact the school is run by Herts County Council who are also the promoters of CRL.  No doubt the school itself is under a gagging clause although many of the parents have signed the petition to keep the station]  . The extra distance would be offset by a better journey for girls resident in West Watford or Croxley Green and attending the Watford Girls Grammar School, and by users of Watford General Hospital.

Again, using what manner of logic can the benefits of one group  of people outweigh the disbenefits of another.  If 10 children have their toy taken away and 12 different children are given a toy, the first 10 children’s loss is in no way compensated by the others’ benefit!

Para 8.8

In response to the objections which have been made, I consider that the planned formation of the link with the Metropolitan Line renders the scheme substantially distinguishable from, and superior to, the old Croxley Green Branch line. Maybe so but the value for money of the actual linkage has not been assessed. I recognise there are large areas of non-residential land uses south of the proposed Ascot Road station, but there is a significant residential population to the north-east of the site. So if people living near Watford Jct & Watford High St would probably not use the Met and the Ascot Road winners are offset by the Watford Met losers, the only net gain is around the hospital.  Does this justify the huge cost and disbenefits of the scheme? I do not consider that an enhanced bus service would provide an equivalently reliable service at a local or regional scale [but no account has been taken of the comparative economic costs and benefits of the bus alternative compared to the CRL]. Finally, I consider the competition for funds between public transport, health and education demands to be outside the terms of the inquiry.

Para 8.9

In promoting the scheme, the Council’s third main objective is to provide a sustainable and value-for-money alternative to car travel with inherently lower environmental impacts per trip [3.4]. [The Council has not compared the comparative costs and benefits of 1) the bus alternative and 2) reinstating the old Croxley Green branch line so it has not been proved that CRL offers value for money.  Indeed compared to these two alternatives it is unlikely to offer value for money]. The CRL would pass through areas of West Watford characterised by relatively high rates of deprivation and low rates of car ownership. In addition, the scheme includes the closure to passengers of Watford Met station, where the opposite characteristics apply [3.2].

Para 8.11

In any event, I agree with the Council that a large proportion of the current Watford Met station users would walk to the new station [7.1]. [Yes, and most will spend an extra half hour each day doing so, rain or shine] I recognise that others (from the Parkside Drive and Cassiobury Drive area, for example) may use their cars to reach the station, but I also note that approximately half the 800 m Watford Met station catchment area identified by the Council [3.5] is occupied by Cassiobury Park itself.  [Based on patterns of actual usage rather than pure radii, the station’s catchment area in fact extends to most of Cassiobury since with the exception of people at the easternmost extremity of the estate north of the park, people there have no alternative choice of station and if the Met station closes they will have the choice of 25-30 mins’ walk to Cassiobridge or 25-30 mins to Watford Jct – some choice!] In addition, the southern portion of the area overlaps with the northern part of the proposed Ascot Road station area.

Para 8.14

Although the hospital would not directly adjoin the proposed station, the two sites are relatively close [4.1], [450m apart] and I consider their proximity would benefit the journeys of many out-patients. I do not consider the incline between the station site and the Vicarage Road/Willow Road junction would be a significant barrier to access.

Clearly the inspector has not paid many visits to hospital outpatients departments nor noted that for many [elderly] attendees and those with walking difficulties, a 450m walk and steep incline would indeed be barriers enough to access.  Conversely a number of bus routes stop right outside the hospital and we predict these will continue to be used predominantly.

Para 8.21

There has been some support for the option of improved bus services, and for enhancing the orbital service between Watford and Amersham/Chesham [5.2]. I understand the latter remains a possibility in operational terms, but it does not have a strong business case [3.16]. In its consideration of alternatives, emphasis is placed on the link which the scheme would establish with central London and the other potential destinations on the Metropolitan Line, together with the regeneration benefits of the extension of the line to Watford Junction.

Watford Jct is indeed where links would be made as they currently are by the many commuters who travel daily north from Watford High St to join fast Midland services to London (Euston) rather than take the slower Overground service. Incidentally Euston Sq is only 2 stops removed from Baker St via the Circle / Metropolitan lines!

Para 8.29

The report by London TravelWatch to the Mayor of London is included as Document LTW/1. The committee considered that the implementation of the scheme would result in hardship to some existing passengers using Watford Met station. About half the passengers using the station would have to walk rather further than before, but this could be alleviated by improvements to the walking and cycling environment [No mention is made of what is actually proposed in this respect?], by a subsidised bus service, and by the agreement of discretionary fares for those passengers disadvantaged by the zone fare structure. A 2 year split timetable trial period is suggested (with Metropolitan Line trains serving both Watford Junction and Watford Met stations), but not if this would jeopardise the existing funding arrangements [5.6, 5.7].

Not enough options have been considered to determine the cost impact.

Para 8.31

On my site visit with representatives of the parties I timed the respective distances involved. Walking from the Met station to the Shepherds Road entrance of the school takes about 5 minutes. From the Rickmansworth Road access of the school to the site of the proposed Ascot Road station takes some 12 minutes. [The inspector must be very athletic – took me 9 mins by bike!].  I recognise that there is considerably more traffic on the latter route with two busy roads to cross – Rickmansworth Road and Whippendell Road – but traffic light controlled pedestrian crossings are available on both roads. I acknowledge that the route is neither as pleasant nor as short as the existing route for pupils using the Metropolitan Line, but I agree with the Council that the time penalty is relatively modest in absolute terms [7.17].

See before and after videos and decide for yourself.

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1 Response to Holey TWA inspector’s report! Have we been robbed of our station?

  1. Ambercycle says:

    That’s encouraging! Any idea who was taking that survey about 3 weeks ago? What were the questions and did they tell you where the results would be be published?

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