I attended the crowded AGM of the Abbey Line Community Rail Partnership at St Stephens Parish Centre last night. I have never been a regular user of the line, but we used to walk with our children down the Ver-Colne walk from St Albans and then catch the train home. And 24 years ago I had the pleasure of riding the 125th anniversary special service. The 150th anniversary of the line is next year.
The Community Rail Partnership, chaired by Cllr Aislinn Lee, has been a tremendous initatiative to boost awareness and ridership. The big issue is whether the proposed passing loop at Bricket Wood will be built.
The passing loop will allow a more frequent half-hourly service. My work at Transport for London told me that the key to passenger transport ridership is simplicity and frequency. The timetable for a half-hourly service will be far easier for travellers to remember than the current 45-minute frequency - and will help encourage a “turn-up-and-go” mentality. Boosting passenger numbers can only be a good thing given the congestion on the roads between St Albans and Watford.
There are various lumps of money from the Department for Transport and Hertfordshire County Council waiting to be spent. There is always a risk they may be re-allocated if rapid progress is not made on this project.
The real worry is that the franchise holder is changing - from Silverlink to Govia. Govia’s new franchise area is much bigger than the former Silverlink network. I think there is a real concern that the Abbey Line will fall off their radar, given how many bigger fish they have to fry.
The huge numbers attending the AGM from so many different organisations paint a clear picture of the strength of community affection for this unique rail line and its users. They deserve to be supported. Govia must not put this project into the Too Difficult To Handle box.