I have often used this column to discuss transport issues. Many residents commute in to London – and, indeed, choose to live here because of the good transport links. And I am well aware of the frustration felt when the system lets us down.
The biggest issue in recent years has been the challenges created by the new Metropolitan Line trains and the lack of seating capacity (a familiar theme in these columns). August tends to be the one month of the year when the chance of getting a seat at peak-time improves but once the schools are back, too many are standing for long distances.
London Underground has always argued that this issue should improve once the signalling upgrade is completed in 2018. This would enable a new timetable to be in place with additional trains and faster journeys. It should also mean that we could return to ‘fast’ trains at off-peak times.
So the fact that at the turn of the year, London Underground re-tendered the contract has raised concerns that there could be a further delay in completing the process. I wrote at the time to London Underground and they have recently confirmed to me that they expect to meet the existing timetable. I will continue to keep them under pressure on this – we have waited some time now for a more comfortable commute.
Looking into the future, there are a couple of other areas where transport services should improve. First, of course, there is the Croxley Rail Link. I have commented before how I think this is very good news for Watford and Three Rivers residents. Yes, there will be disruption and some residents living very close to the route will be adversely affected.
But it will also be of great benefit to residents to be able to have easier access by public transport to the Harlequin Centre, hospital, football ground and Watford Junction.
The latter may prove to be particularly important if plans go ahead to extend Crossrail to Hertfordshire, announced a few weeks ago. The idea is to link up trains currently serving the West Coast Mainline with Crossrail, meaning that there would be significant reductions in journey times to Canary Wharf, the City and the West End.
The proposal would be particularly good news for commuters in the north of my constituency who use Berkhamsted and Tring stations. But Watford Junction would also benefit and become a ‘Crossrail station’. You could see circumstances whereby a Croxley commuter would get the Croxley Rail Link to Watford Junction and then on to Crossrail. This might prove a quicker journey than the Metropolitan Line.
However, I think there is more that could be done to ensure that local residents can benefit from the improvements in rail infrastructure. The Croxley Rail Link will make it easier to get from Rickmansworth and Chorleywood to Watford but it will still be necessary to change at Moor Park – which could prove to be a lengthy and inconvenient experience.
The solution would be to have a direct link from Amersham to Watford, using the existing lines. In other words, there would be train service calling at Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer, Chorleywood, Rickmansworth, Croxley, Cassiobridge, Watford Vicarage Road, Watford High Street and Watford Junction.
This is not a new idea. The County Council raised it in their transport plan eight years ago and I understand there is even a map showing the route which was produced internally by London Regional Transport produced in 1994.
The benefits of such a link would not just be for commuters to London – or even principally for such commuters. Local residents would be more easily able to make use of the facilities along the route and businesses would find it easier for employees and customers to reach them by public transport. Given Watford Junction’s importance as a transport hub, easier access to it also means easier access to Birmingham and Manchester etc and the link might even reduce the pressures on our roads.
I think it is an interesting idea and maybe its time has come.
When it comes to transport, these columns tend to focus on the difficulties. But there are reasons to be optimistic. The point at which will get an improved service on the Metropolitan Line is still some way off but the Croxley Rail Link is positive news and the proposal about a link to Cross Rail is exciting. And there will then be a case for an Amersham to Watford link which could significantly help our area.