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

1 comment:

  1. A fascinating story James. Thank you for that, as I've learned a lot.