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Abbey Line Light Rail Proposals

The county council was working with the Department of Transport (DfT) on a pilot project to convert the Abbey Line between St Albans and Watford to a light rail service. Newsletters and frequently asked questions about the project can be found at the bottom of this page.

Latest update

In order to increase the frequancy on the Abbey Line within the existing subsidy, there was a proposal to transfer the line to the county council and convert it to light rail. However, having studied the detail of the proposal, it became clear that there were some significant obstacles.

Issues around the structure of the national rail industry and national fare structures dating back to the British Rail days have proved very complicated to unpick. The proposal to take the line out of Network Rail ownership and separate it from the London Midland franchise turned out to be considerably more complicated than originally expected.  As a result, it was found that it was not possible to deliver the proposal within the available funding.  Therefore, the DfT has decided to step back from the plan to transfer and convert the line.

We understand why the DfT has made this decision but it?s disappointing that, in the short term at least, this valuable local service won?t get the upgrade that we had hoped for.

Next steps

Looking to the future, Hertfordshire County Council remains committed to pushing for a more frequent service, and will consider whether a case can be made to convert the line to light rail if the redevelopment at Watford Junction and the potential for extension at either end into the towns are included.

The new Local Transport Board has stated its strategic level support for the light rail scheme and, if a case can be made, the county council will seek to secure funding in a future spending round.

The project board is preparing a report on the lessons learned during this project and this will be published here in due course.  

Background to the previously proposed scheme

What was proposed

Hertfordshire County Council and the Department for Transport (DfT) wanted to increase the frequency of services on the local rail line between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey stations (the `Abbey Line?). With support from Network Rail, we jointly developed a scheme to enable this to happen.

The proposal was to convert the Abbey Line to light rail, meaning that the line would run a tram-like service rather than traditional heavy rail. This would have brought benefits to the travelling public; in particular a more frequent service and an easier to remember timetable.

How this would have worked

Under the proposals, responsibility for the line would have transferred to the county council, so it would have become locally operated and accountable. The DfT would have transferred to the county council the money that would otherwise have been paid to London Midland, who currently operate the service.

The new services would have used the same railway track and overhead power lines as the existing service. It would have required different vehicles, which would have had to have been procured, and potentially some modifications to the line?s infrastructure and power supply.

The basic requirement of the scheme was that services between Watford Junction and St Albans should have run at least half-hourly. However, it may have been possible to run them even more frequently than that, and/ or with extended operating hours.

Public consultation

From 4 January to 31 March 2010, the DfT and the county council consulted the users of the Abbey Line, and the public in the St Albans and Watford areas on the proposal. You can find details of the consultation and the report detailing the responses at

Further information

If you have any questions about the Abbey Line project, please contact us at