North of Harrow & Wealdstone
The north end of the Bakerloo Line
How it Came About
The northern end of the Bakerloo Line started out life as part of the London & Birmingham line (later to become the London and North Western Railway), opening in 1837 and running from London, terminating at Harrow & Wealdstone. Over the next few years, the line continued to extend northwards, eventually arriving at Watford Junction in 1858.
Rickmansworth Service Opens
In 1868, the Watford and Rickmansworth railway opened. This used some of the existing tracks and a new branch to Rickmansworth to provide a passenger service to the town. Another branch formed a link to sidings along the Grand Union Canal so that goods could be interchanged between canal and rail. This service wasn't financially successful and was taken over by the LNWR in 1881.
In the early 1900s, the Bakerloo Line was formed and it was decided that services from the heart of London would share the same tracks as the LNWR, initially as far as Queens Park and so the lines were electrified to allow this to happen. Soon after, the mainline services were also electrified.
Croxley Green Service Opened
Soon, a new passenger service was created along the branch line originally created to serve the Grand Union Canal. Stations were built at Watford West and the line terminated with a station at Croxley Green Regular passenger services commenced in 1912 between Watford Junction and Croxley Green with Watford west opening the following year. Initially, this was ran as a steam service, but electrification soon followed in 1922.
Services continued to both Rickmansworth Church Street and Croxley Green until 1952, when it was decided to close the Rickmansworth branch, as it was felt that this station now duplicated the service provided by the nearby Metropolitan Line. The tracks were soon lifted and the line today can still be followed for most of its length as a paved footpath.
Watford Stadium Stop
The future looked rosy for the Croxley branch when a new stop was built near to Watford Stadium in 1984, to provide support for the increased crowds that were coming to see Watford Football Club play as they had risen from the Fourth Division to the old First Division (now the Premiership) in a short period of time. Unfortunately success for Watford was short lived and a slow decline set in for the Club.
Decline and Demise
In parallel with Watford FC, things weren't looking so good for the branch either. The line wasn't profitable to run and by 1996, a single service was being run on the line at 6am, starting at Watford High Street to Croxley Green and back again. This now effectively a parliamentary train, a token service so that the line didn't have to be officially closed - a costly process. The very start of the branch line was often used to stable trains overnight to prevent a longer journey back to the depot.
The fatal blow came when a new bypass was needed to alleviate the heavy traffic on nearby Ascot Road, near Croxley Green, which would intersect the branch line just east of the Grand Union Canal bridge. It was deemed uneconomical to bridge the new bypass to resume the meager service that was now being provided so on the morning of Friday 22nd March 1996, the last 6am service trundled up and down the line. Work soon commenced on the bypass and Croxley Green station was breached from the rest of the branch. Unlike many other closures however, the tracks were left in place and almost all the line still exists today, although now slowly rusting away.
In the meantime, the Bakerloo service from Queen's Park to Watford Junction was stopped in on 24th October 1982 as it was viewed that the mainline train services were adequate to support the stations along that route. Two years later however, a Bakerloo Line service was reinstated as far as Harrow & Wealdstone.
Maplet showing the old stations in relation to the proposed new stations along the Croxley Rail Link
There are now approved plans to re-use at least some of the route which may possibly explain why the rails haven't been lifted. Construction work was scheduled to begin in 2014. The plan, known as the Croxley Rail Link extends the Metropolitan Line by branching just north of Croxley using a new viaduct over the local roads and Grand Union Canal to re-join the branch near to the Ascot Road bypass and then follow the existing route of the branch, providing a Metropolitan Line service to Watford Junction. Although work on this project was started, by 2016 it had stopped due to funding issues. While this plan is still not completely shelved, very little further progress had been made by 2020 (the revised opening date).
Should the scheme be completed, it would see the closure of Watford station to Metropolitan Line services, though there is still discussion about keeping the branch line open, being operated as a reduced shuttle service.
The scheme bypasses the existing Croxley Green station so this will remain closed and ultimately what's left there will be removed. Originally, it was planned to re-open the original stations along this route but now, two new stations are to be built. Cassiobridge (originally planned to be named Ascot Road) which will serve the area originally served by Croxley Green and Ascot Road stations and Watford Vicarage Road station (originally planned to be named Watford Hospital), which would serve the communities originally served by Watford West and Watford Stadium stations.
When this extension is completed, it leaves this web site with a some interesting stations to document - four disused stations on a London Underground Line, that never existed as part of the London Underground network...
What's to see there today?
As already mentioned, the majority of this now largely forgotten branch line still exists - though increasingly in a derelict form. The tracks are still there for the most part, but now have vegetation growing between the rails to the point that in some locations, the rails are invisible.
In late October 2005, I decided to walk along the roads around the Croxley Green branch to see how much of it was visible. I started out by catching a train to Bushey and then walking through Oxhey park along the footpath that follows the river. The first part of this now defunct line that became visible was the remains of the little used south bound branch with the mainline railway (very little used even when it had rails). The path the tracks took to form this junction forms a raised embankment, but today, where the tracks were intersected by Wigenall Road road (A4178), the bridge that spanned this gap no longer exists.
Moving north up along Wigenall Road,the north-bound junction can still clearly be seen, from a road bridge which spans the branch line, just after it has separated from the mainline tracks. As soon as the branch had taken place, the tracks appeared very rusty and vegetation was seen growing around the tracks - this branch hasn't been used since its closure in 1996. Sometime in 2005, the actual junction itself was lifted, so there is no longer any physical connection with the mainline.
The first image was taken in April 2005, the second late October 2005, where the branch can be seen to have been severed from the mainline.
Looking at the mainline tracks themselves, the line still has the central rail, which was only used by London Underground trains when the Bakerloo service ran as far north as Watford Junction. Since mainline trains only use the outer rail for traction the voltage configuration for Underground trains was different to other parts of the Underground.
When tube trains use this stretch of track, the central rail is at a potential of 0 volts, and the outer rail at 650 volts so that Underground trains can use the same traction system as the mainline trains. London Underground trains normally run with the outer rail having a nominal voltage of +420 Volts and the inner rail running at -210 Volts. The potential difference of 600-650 volts remains the same though so the trains operate normally.
The central rail probably hasn't been maintained since Underground services to Watford Junction ceased in 1982, so although there in presence, resuming an Underground service along this stretch would require extensive maintenance before it would be possible.
Crossing the road and looking at the Croxley branch's tracks from that side revealed that this 4 rail layout carries on for several hundred metres. This is because in the latter years of when Watford Junction was served by the Tube, an Underground train was regularly stabled on this stretch overnight and on weekends to prevent the train from having to roll back to the depot.
From here on, it wasn't possible to follow the immediate path the tracks take as they were surrounded by private business and residential properties. The easiest way to walk to the next part of the track that can be observed was to walk north and then down Cardiff Road. When Cardiff Road ends, a gravel footpath continues until it goes under a bridge where the walk rejoins the line. Along the part that can't be followed, the long lifted branch to Rickmansworth High Street.
The footpath that runs from Cardiff Road to the new housing development passes under the branch line at this point.
Watford Stadium Stop
This stop was only ever used during special occasions by special train services from Watford Junction, when Watford Stadium was in use for football matches. A relative newcomer to the branch, the layout was basic with a single concrete platform, with a ramp that ran down to a footpath. Recently, a housing development has been built next to the stop's location, but the platform along with platform lighting and signs still remain.
The entrance gate is now replaced with a barrier. It has a child-sized gap in it, but not a Hywel sized gap... The second picture shows the ramp up to the platform, viewed through the barrier. Once trodden by jubilant/desolate football fans, sadly now it appears to be a prime fly-tipping site.
The platform itself has an eerie "end of civilization" feel, with the weathered Way Out sign and overgrown tracks. [James, April 2005]
Since it's not normally possible to see the platform areas from this location, a short walk was required to a more elevated location. Having walked under the bridge, soon a right turn in the housing estate (towards the tall mobile phone mast) eventually leads to Vicarage Road where the road passes over the line. Looking east from this bridge commands a splendid view of the old platform area - now completely overgrown and derelict.
Watfors Stadium Stop
On the other side of the road bridge, the line's course could be seen heading towards Watford West, though the vegetation had clearly been free to spread over the years since 1996!
From here on, the line continues, but once again a diversion is needed to get to the next viewing location. The shortest route was to carry along Vicarage Road until it meets Hagden Lane. When the road meets a roundabout, a short walk along Tolpits Lane led to the next location - Watford West station.
Watford West Station
This was a strange location indeed. Despite being closed for nearly 10 years, all the station signs and billboards remained as they were in 1996 when the station was last served by passenger trains. The old British Rail sign looked strangely clean and modern, but the boards themselves gave no new information! Looking at the station's entrance, the decorative arch was still there but its artistic look was jarred by a rude aluminium barrier.
Looking down from the road bridge, the platform itself, like Watford Stadium had the eerie post-apocalyptic look as if they had just been left there to decay after some form of disaster. The tracks were very overgrown yet at the same time all the lighting and train driver mirrors were still in place.
To get to the next location, where the reason for the line's ultimate demise in 1996 could be seen, some more street walking was required. I walked back to the roundabout and carried on following Haggden Lane until it meets Whippendel Road. A left here eventually led to a roundabout where the next stage of the line could be observed.
The line could be seen bridging the old Ascot Road and then the new Ascot Road bypass could be seen - with no line going over it. In 1996, when this bypass was created, the Croxley Green branch at this point was removed without a new bridge being constructed, thus rendering the line virtually useless.
The embankment on which the line used to run could clearly be seen on either side of the road, but obviously no bridge!
Old Ascot Road bridge
New Ascot Road, where the railway has been removed for the new bypass
Although now breached, the line still continued for a short distance beyond Ascot Road. In fact, immediately after the breach, the line crossed over the Grand Union Canal over a bridge with iron trellice work - quite a picturesque scene from the Watford Road bridge.
Closer examination of the railway bridge revealed that some trees and shrubs were starting to grow on the bridge itself.
Croxley Green Station
The entrance to the station itself was quite derelict looking. The signs that once marked its location are still there but look old and worn and the staircase up to the platform area is completely overgrown. Over the final years of use, the platform itself took the form of a temporary scaffold structure. Since 1996, the structure has decayed to the point that the platform itself is rapidly disintegrating ro reveal the rusting pipe-work beneath.
The old station entrance
Derelict platforms [James, April 2005]
Looking back, the gate that prevents access to the bridge over the Grand Union Canal can be seen through the bushes [James, April 2005]
Last Modified: January 23rd 2020
All material on this page is © 2005 Hywel Williams unless otherwise noted.
Pictures taken in April 2005 marked [James] were taken by James towards the end of April, 2005.
Research Material: Clive's Underground Lines, word of mouth and a visit to the location.