Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Croxley's Green and Pleasent Land

A line lies in a permanent state of limbo, quietly provide a home for ever increasing numbers of shrubs and silver birches in Watford. A line closed tempoarily while a new road was built which breached its formation however the reopening has never come. The station signs still stand telling passers by of the line's presence and aside from being a little faded with moss clinging on, watching the world pass by their sleepy little stations.

The line itself was the preserve of the Watford DC electrics for many years, the units connected with this operation do seem to have their own little cult following - the Class 501 are very much associated with the suburban services out of Euston. Given the 'greenness' of the locations in the Croxley area, enough green to make a village lad feel at home, the clean, fumeless units seem perfectly suited.

In 1996 the line was breached when Ascot Road was widened to provide access to Croxley Green business park. This left a strange situation as the line was actually closed even though Croxley Green was left isolated from the national network. The solution in the short term was to provide a replacement bus service for passengers wishing to travel from Watford Junction. In practice this was a taxi provided on demand for anyone who turned up. This continued to be the arrangement until 2003 when the branch 'officially closed'.

Despite the SRA stating that the track and formation must remain intact for at least five years from 2001 but by 2002 the branch had been deleted from the Network, a year before the official closure. In September 2005 all points (including the trailing connection at Watford High Street), signals and S&T equipment were recovered from the branch, leaving it in a rather bizarre transient state. A railway essentially intact with only the odd gap in infrastructure here and there, albeit somewhat overgrown.

The most major structure still stands, fully intact, over the Grand Union Canal - a lattice structure which once carried two roads thirty feet above rather still waters. From the ground it still appears to be in decent shape - you can walk beneath it alongside the canal - and leaving a bridge like this to fall into disrepair could be very costly. Even removal could be prohibitively expensive.

But it's not just the big items which remain, even the information boards at the foot of the steps still stand, in faded Network SouthEast colours, a reminder of a time when the railway could stamp a unified identity over a huge number of stations in a very short space of time. Hard to believe now that it takes forever for new companies to rebrand even small fleets of stock.

Even the steps can still be seen leading tantilisingly upto the station. However steel gates with big padlock which holds a chunky chain in place round the gates prevents entry. Almost like a seal on a time capsule. What must be remembered is that despite its closure the route is still part of the railway and all within the boundary fences is railway property - so gaining access is still trespassing.

However, if you don't wish risk it there are plenty of photos across the internet which provide an excellent record of what remains. And with permission we're able to highlight a few rather nice examples of what remains today.

As 2005 saw the branch stripped of anything useful connected with the signalling system location cabinets remain but with doors and panels removed. Whether the doors were officially removed or were 'liberated' by non railway staff is anyone's guess, but the cabinets show the scars of all usable S&T equipment having been removed.

And despite 2005's recovery work a fixed distant, in the modern form of a distant board, remains to mark the final approach to Croxley Green. Even the remains of the AWS ramp still sit, forlornly, in the four foot with the cabinet which once supported its operation standing, rather bare, behind the signal.

Of course the final section is very much closed - especially that which no longer connects with the rest network. However, towards West Watford you can find signs of the end of what remained of the operational railway before final closure in 2003. A buffer stop stands, though oddly fencing has been erected just before it under a road bridge. Presumably to try and keep undesirables out rather keeping trains from reaching the stop block!

And just like at Croxley Green, the station sign at Watford West still stands to inform passers-by that there's a railway station there. However if you glance over the parapet wall you'd be hard pressed to even see it now through the dense tree growth now.

Tired, faded, overgrown and seemingly beyond the point of no return - the Croxley Green branch represents just another closed branch line. Just a small length among thousands of miles of closed railway lines which spread over the UK...

But this may not be the end of the line - literally or figuratively.

Even as far back as 1989, London Transport proposed an idea to see the Croxley Green branch become part of their own network, allowing Metropoitan line trains direct access to Watford Junction with the aim of providing a service with trains leaving, potentially, every ten minutes from Watford Junction onto the Metropolitan line. it would involve a short link between the Met station at Croxley and the Croxley green branch itself.

This isn't an idea which was a 'some day' idea either as it is still being actively pursued with an active campaign supporting the scheme -

Click to enlarge.
Even a look at their website provides an excellent overview of their intentions, even if the 2016 goal seems rather ambitious...

What it does show it that some old infrastructure could be used again, even if it isn't in its original form. A little bit of thought and a lot of potential can be found in something which is simply lying dormant.

High Speed Rail is often cited as the future of rail travel, even the future of all long distance domestic travel but if we get blinded by the large, glamorous projects we may miss wonderful opportunities to really add to the rail network. Although the revamped Croxley Branch lacks the glamour of trains speeding through open country at 186mph it could form something very useful indeed which will benefit many people even if it is on very much a local level.

Rail's future is very bright indeed but we must be able to view the bigger picture, including all little parts which can only make the network stronger as a whole.

Further Reading

Disused Stations - Croxley Green
Bygone Lines: Croxley Green Branch
Wikipedia - Croxley Green Station
London's Abandoned Stations

Monday, 19 September 2011

Underground, Overground, Wombling Free

Or Four Hours in London

So what can you do when you're stuck in Watford with a few hours to spare one evening?

Well, four of us decided to see just how much Undergound, Overground, Thameslink you can cover for a few quid!

And with the new Overground network some parts of London's suburban lines have changed radically recently. A lot of investment can be seen with some lines which had been neglected for years all of a sudden benefiting from huge sums of money. The only thing is I can't be the only who hears 'Underground, Overground' then hears the rest of The Wombles theme tune in their head! Or maybe I'm just slightly infantile?!

I'm not going to say too much as it could quite quickly turn into a list of 'and then we went here, and then we went there, and then...' however the photos will show a few highlights of where we went.

From Watford there are a couple of ways into London 'proper' - London Midland provide the mainline service but we wanted to sample the Overground and their very nice new units, the Class 378s. North of Euston these have taken over the old DC lines and are a far cry from the Class 501s which once held sway over these services.

Although 'mainline' in size they are very much in a rapid transit style internally with longitudinal seating and a huge amount of room for standing passengers. One of the nicest features are the near full width corridor connections between individual vehicles which gives a wonderful light and airy feel to the whole train whilst looking quite bizarre when he trains are in motion - especially so round tighter curves!

We wound our way into London via the East and North London lines over which the Overground unit now rule and with a few changes found ourselves at Canary Wharf - very much a contrast with my more usual surroundings. Any building over two storeys which blocks out greenery isn't good, is it?!

So with a bit of wonder past offices, car dealers, shops and restaurants which penniless trainee signallers couldn't possibly afford we made our way to the Docklands Light Railway - the driverless network which can be a little disconcerting, even if you know this is how it is or even if you've travelled on it before!

It does mean that you an have a superb view if you get a seat right at the front! And even pretend to be the driver as one of our group seemed to want to do!

The inner end takes you right into the centre of London and here it was where we turned unashamedly into tourists - enjoying a drink on the banks of the Thames over looking the Houses of Parliament! It is hard trying to convince those at home that we are down here to work! It just appears to be a jolly at times - they just don't see all the revision in the lead up to the exams!

Just crossing the Thames here was a strange experience - walking alongside the approach to Charing Cross is a little surreal; passing within yards of the approach to a mainline terminus in the middle of a city. Not that they aren't common but most big city terminus approaches are often not the nicest of areas but here, it's not like that! Plenty of tourists about even by eight o'clock in the evening. All seems very civilised to me.

Then we made out way back across London by which time the light was going so few photos taken and even fewer worth looking at! London Bridge, however, was worth trying to record - trains leaving every minute and a very slick operation indeed.

Taking in Thameslink and the widened lines back to Kings Cross before a brisk walk over to Euston and back up the first part of the West Coast Mainline to good old Watford.

Not a bad way to break the routine of hotel food I think...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Debt Collectors

Last night we popped across to York for the evening to see John Godber's new play, The Debt Collectors.

It's his first production post-Hull Truck and the dark side of the story perhpas reflects this - based around two fifty-something actors who have found themselves out of work and have turned to debt collecting which provides them with a steady income for the first time.

The story charts their fall from grace, with references further back to one of the cast who once had a role in The Bill and believes that parts he is now offered are somewhat beneath him. However their new roles turn out to be something to which they are perfectly suited yet the lack of creativity is slowly eating away at them.

The production has some delightful comic moments yet the dark side verges on menacing as time goes on and the characters become increasingly frustrated with the state of their lives.

There are full details of The Debt Collectors and its current tour to be found here.

Friday, 16 September 2011

In the Box Thinking

This is how the signalbox for Botanic Gardens is currently looking - it's in a kind of limbo for now while I'm down in Watford, but it is, I hope, beginning to look the part.

Jobs left include adding slates from copy paper, windows, steps and, of course, the interior! This latter task may be rather involved as I want it to look right - signalboxes have great visibility from the inside which means that it is also easy to peer in when we have them in model form!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Retro 08

Not that I really need to provide any more proof of refusing to conform, not just in my interests here but in many other ways, this hint of a future project will probably go some way to confirming my persuasion to the non-mainstream.

The blue box, incidently, contains an old Crownline chassis kit - this combined with the Kitmaster box should give a real clue as to the nature of the project! But why am I choosing to follow this route? Well, I'm not sure really! Other than I really just fancy trying this method and I think by careful budgeting it'll be cheaper than the RRP of a Hornby model, interestingly enough.

If you want to find out a bit more about the method (both practically and that behind such madness), then it's well worth finding Tim Shackelton's article in the preview issue of RailModel Digest which uses a very similar approach.

Duff Progress

Life's a bit manic at the moment, well that's not entirely true, but the part at the weekends is for now! I'm getting less than forty-eight hours back home before having to return to Watford on a Sunday.

Anyway, not much time for modelling at the moment, or anything else come to think of it, but did manage to take a photo of this project. They main difference from how it appeared last time are the windscreen surrounds from Shawplan. They're superb and really help the front look just right. I'll tell you what, that Mr Hanson really does know what he's doing!

Friday, 2 September 2011


Well tonight's journey home was rather interesting...

The East Coast Mainline has been in absolute havoc after 30777 Sir Lamiel and 70013 Oliver Cromwell managed to set fire to long stretches of the lineside south of Doncaster!

To really rub salt into passengers' wounds we made an unscheduled stop at Newark and the two locos were right opposite us, looped to keep them out of trouble. Thankfully despite the delays of two hours to our train's passengers, spirits were generally high as people seemed to accept that the train crew really couldn't prepare for such occurances! And I must say that East Coast's train crew, and the guard in particular, were excellent!

Although my colleague did say it was nice to have a good look at the steam locos, I think the expression 70013's fireman rather summed up the afternoon!