The Anonymous Widower

Will The Hertford Loop Line Be Upgraded?

In All Change On Thameslink, I said this about the Hertford Loop Line.

In the future, don’t discount improvements to the Hertford Loop Line, to get more trains through the area.

The Current Hertford Loop Line

So what are the characteristics of the Hertford Loop Line? Wikipedia introduces it like this.

The Hertford Line (also known colloquially as the Hertford Loop) is a branch of the East Coast Main Line, providing a commuter route to London for Hertford and other Hertfordshire towns and an occasional diversion route for the main line. The line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 8, SRS 08.03 and is classified as a London and South East Commuter line.

Riding on the line is an experience like many of the commuter lines in North London, that were electrified in the thirty years after the Second World War.

  • It is double track throughout.
  • It is electrified at 25 KVAC using overhead wires.
  • It has a speed limit of 121 kph.
  • It has eleven intermediate stations, most of which have two platforms.
  • Hertford North station has two through platforms and a bay platform.
  • The trains are elderly Class 313 trains, which usually run in six-car formations along the Northern City Line into Moorgate.
  • It is connected to the East Coast Main Line using grade-separated junctions at both ends.
  • According to the History in the Wikipedia entry for the Line, it was built to relieve pressure on the Digswell Viaduct.

I don’t know the condition of the line, the electrification and the signalling, but the line was used for the testing of ERTMS, so it can’t be too bad.

New Class 717 Trains

But changes are happening in that the Class 313 trains are being replaced with new six-car Class 717 trains, which are cousins of the Class 700 trains used by Thameslink.

Yesterday I was at Stevenage station and there were problems on the fast line North of the station, which meant that my train directly into Kings Cross was swapped from the slow to the fast line to get it out of the way and into Kings Cross as soon as possible

Obviously, this is probably not an unusual action, but you wouldn’t be wanting to put 121 kph trains like the Class 313 trains onto the fast lines, as they’d slow everything down.

The speeds of the various local and Cambridge trains that use the East Coast Main Line are.

I would suspect that because of the need to occasionally run on the fast lines, that the Class 717 trains may well be 160 kph units. This would also mean that all the trains running on the Cambridge Line would be 160 kph trains or faster.

There is a factor about the order for the Class 717 trains, that doesn’t seem to have been noticed. At present there are effectively twenty-two six-car elderly Class 313 trains working the suburban services. These are being replaced with a fleet of  twenty-five six-car modern Class 717 trains.


  • The Class 717 trains could be substantially faster, than the Class 313 trains.
  • The Class 717 trains will handle stops faster.
  • The Class 717 trains will be more passenger-friendly, probably like the Class 700 train, I wrote about in A First Ride In A Class 700 train.
  • The Class 717 trains will have lots of gizmos and automation to aid staff and to inform and entertain passengers.
  • Wi-fi could even be fast and free on the Class 717 trains.

Add all of these factors together and I believe that there is going to be a massive increase in capacity on the services out of Moorgate. Unless of course, they park some of the extra new trains in sidings.

I suspect too, that Govia Thameslink Railway are hoping thast new trains on the Northern City and Hertford Loop ines will increase ridership and poach customers from rival services.

Voltage Changeover At Drayton Park

In the previous section, I noted that automation on the new Class 717 trains will assist staff.

One problem is the AC/DC changeover at Drayton Park. This may not be exactly the same as the similar voltage changeover at Farringdon on Thameslink, that will be performed hundreds of times a day by Class 700 trains. But it surely won’t be much different.

As a Control Engineer, who has experience in industrial automation, I can’t believe that a modern train won’t change power pick-up automatically, much faster and in a more reliable way, than a forty year old train.

As the electrical systems on the two trains must be virtually identical, by the time the Class 717 trains enter service, any power change on the Class 700 trains, will surely be fully debugged.

I’m sure Siemens will get this changeover to work smoothly, but on the Northern City Line, I’ve felt since I rode the of Bombardier’s Class 379 IPEMU prototype at Manningtree, that the line should be run using onboard energy storage, so that the tunnels are electrically dead.

The other alternative would be to use an overhead rail at 25 KVAC, which is what the Germans or Swiss would do.

Local And Cambridge Branch Trains On The East Coast Main Line

What local and Cambridge Branch trains will be running on the East Coast Main Line, between Hitchin and Kings Cross?

  • Thameslink – 2 tph Peterborough to Horsham – |Stopping Pattern Unknown
  • Thameslink – 2 tph Cambridge North to Brighton – Stopping Pattern Unknown
  • Thameslink – 2 tph Cambridge to Maidstone East – Stopping Pattern Unknown
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Peterborough to Kings Cross – Semi-Fast including stop at Welwyn North
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Peterborough to Kings Cross – Stopping including stop at Welwyn North
  • Great Northern – 2 tph Cambridge to Kings Cross – Non-Stop
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Cambridge to Kings Cross – Semi-Fast
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Cambridge to Kings Cross – Stopping
  • Northern City – 3 tph Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City – Stopping
  • Northern City – 2 tph Moorgate to Hertford North – Stopping via Hertford Loop
  • Northern City – 1 tph Moorgate to Letchworth Garden City – Stopping via Hertford Loop

So we get the following totals.

  • 6 tph between St. Pancras and Finsbury Park
  • 6 tph between Kings Cross and Finsbury Park
  • 6 tph between Moorgate and Finsbury Park
  • 18 tph between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace
  • 3 tph between Alexandra Palace and Hertford North via Hertford Loop
  • 15 tph between Alexandra Palace and Welwyn Garden City
  • 12 tph between Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage – 2 stop at Welwyn North
  • 1 tph between Hertford North and Stevenage via Hertfood Loop
  • 13 tph between Stevenage and Hitchin
  • 4 tph bertween Hitchin and Peterborough
  • 9 tph bertween Hitchin and Letchworth Garden City
  • 8 tph between Letchworth Garden City and Cambridge

Obviously on the East Coast Main Line, there is a mixture of fast, semi-fast and stopping trains, but as the whole route is quadruple track between Finsbury Park and Hitchin, this service pattern could probably be easily handled.

Simple Cross-Platform And Same-Platform interchanges

There are three different London end destinations for local services on the Southern section the East Coast Main Line.

  • St. Pancras and the South, through the Canal Tunnels.
  • Kings Cross, using the East Coast Main Line.
  • Moorgate using the Northern City Line.

Passengers to and from these stations, will need to get to and from any station on the following routes.

  • The East Coast Main Line to Peterborough.
  • The Cambridge Line to Cambridge
  • The Hertford Loop Line

Quite a number of stations will be ideal places to change if you can’t get a direct train. These stations and some others might become recommended interchanges.

  • Finsbury Park
  • Alexandra Palace
  • Potters Bar
  • Welwyn Garden City
  • Stevenage
  • Hitchin

Will these stations be given a platform layout, where interchange between different services entails just getting off one train and then getting another train from the same platform face or one at the other side of the platform?

Some stations like Finsbury Park, Alexandra Palace and Stevenage already have this layout or it has been substantially implemented.

But I think it essential, that all recommended interchange stations have simple step-free changes.

Passengers Will Duck And Dive

In a few years time, passengers will be very savvy and armed to the teeth with apps, cards and electronic devices to use the network in the fastest and most cost efficient way possible.

So the passenger wanting to go from say Ashwell and Morden to say Gillingham will be guided through the Thameslink network according to how the trains are running, by their large number of intelligent friends.

I do this now, often using National Rail’s information web site from my phone, to check routes and make sure, I don’t get stuck in Croydon, Scunthorpe or Manchester.

This passenger freedom and flexibility, will not be bad for train companies, as how long before an app is developed, that sends passengers on less crowded routes.

looking at the Hertford Loop Line, no passenger is going to mind being recommended to take a Hertford Loop Line train one day and a main line train another, provided the cost is acceptable for both journeys.

Could More Trains Run On The Hertford Loop Line?

It is interesting to compare the 15 tph between Alexandra Palace and Welwyn Garden City and the 3 tph between Alexandra Palace and Hertford North on the Hertford Loop.

As the line is self-contained with grade-separated junctions at both ends and a bay platform at Hertford North and Gordon Hill stations, running 3 tph on the line, must be way under the maximum capacity, when there are double track electrified lines with lots of stations, like the East London Line that can handle 16-20 tph.

I think we’ll see the line improved in the following way.

  • An upgraded speed limit of perhaps 120 kph.
  • Longer platforms if needed
  • Perhaps a couple of reopened or new stations.
  • Better interchange at Alexandra Palace and Stevenage stations.

I am certain, this would enable some extra trains to serve the line to perhaps Stevenage, Peterborough or Cambridge.

Before I look at the train services on the Hertford Loop Line in detail, I’ll look at other issues for local and Cambridge Line trains on the two Northern branches of the Thameslink Great Northern network.

Upgrade Of The Slow Lines Between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace Stations

I found this statement in a Network Rail document posted on the web.

The section is entitled Upgrade to down slow 2 and creation of up slow 2 line between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace.

This is said.

Up slow 2 and down slow 2 lines available for passenger use with increased linespeeds with a new platform provided at Finsbury Park in the up direction. No platform faces are provided at Harringay and Hornsey. The scheme allows some Hertford North/Gordon Hill to Moorgate inner suburban services to operate independently of outer suburban services and long distance high speed (LDHS) services, which removes a timetable constraint.

I would assume it means that there are two slow lines in both directions, one of which leads directly to the Hertford Loop Line. This is also said.

Due to the focus on the off peak timetable, the line upgrades between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace have a smaller impact, as the majority of services call at intermediate stations on this section. However, provision of platform faces on the upgraded lines has the potential to ease timetabling constraints on the busy Alexandra Palace – Welwyn section.

The only stations without platform faces on the upgraded lines in this section are Harringay and Hornsey.

It would appear to me, that this could be a half-finished job.

The ability to separate Hertford Loop Line services from those on the East Coast Main Line has been enabled, but no provision has been made to allow separated Hertford Loop Line services at Harringay and Hornsey stations. It’s not that the two intermediate stations are lightly used, as these are the usage statistics for 2014-2015.

  • Bowes Park – 0.96 million
  • New Southgate – 0.69 million
  • Alexandra Palace – 1.42 million
  • Hornsey – 1.35 million
  • Harringay – 1.26 million
  • Finsbury Park – 6.26 million

It’s not as though Hornsey and Harringay hardly see any passengers.

So for the present time, all passenger services must share the same slow lines between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace.

Have Network Rail got the planning of this section right?

Finsbury Park Station

Three routes come together at Finsbury Park station.

  • Thameslink – 6 tph between St. Pancras  and Finsbury Park
  • Great Northern – 6 tph between Kings Cross and Finsbury Park
  • Northern City – 6 tph between Moorgate and Finsbury Park

I wonder if we’ll see a simple cross- and same-platform interchange, so that Northbound passengers can get off their train from Kings Cross, Moorgate or St. Pancras at Finsbury Park and without changing platforms get a train to any station towards Cambridge or Peterborough, either up the East Coast Main Line or the Hertford Loop Line. Obviously going South, passengers will need to reverse the process.

To complicate matters, Finsbury Park station will be one of the main interchanges between the Thameslink Great Northern network and the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines.

This map from, shows the lines at Finsbury Park station.

Lines At Finsbury Park Station

Lines At Finsbury Park Station

Finsbury Park station certainly has a lot of platforms and crossovers and it strikes me that given the current work at the station, that Network Rail has an acceptable solution.

I took these pictures at the station.

There is plenty of work to do and questions to answer before the station is ready for Thameslink.

  • Will Northern City Line services to use platforms 1 and 8?
  • Will Kings Cross services continue to use platforms 2 and 7?
  • Platforms 2 and 3 and Platforms 6 and 7 are either side of a single track, although Platforms 3 and 6 don’t seem to be currently used.
  • Is the work outside of platform 8, creating two new platforms 9 and 10?
  • Will the spiral staircases to the Underground be adequate?

There has been no indication as to which platforms Thameslink will use, although all platforms at the stations are probably long enough for the two-hundred metre long Thameslink trains.

But our French friends at have a map, which shows the routes between the Canal Tunnels, that take Thameslink trains between St. Pancras and the East Coast Main Line.

It would appear that the lines through the Canal Tunnels connect directly to the slow lines, that go through Finsbury Park.

  • The Canal Tunnel lines are shown at the bottom left of the map.
  • There is even a convenient flyover taking the up slow lines to the correct side of the main lines for Thameslink.

So it would appear that the Thameslink lines South of Finsbury Park will take the same route as local services out of Kings Cross do now.

Remember that between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace stations, there are two slow lines both ways, which will have to accommodate 18 tph, empty stock movements and some freight trains.

I feel this means that at Finsbury Park, there is sufficient capacity to adopt a logical strategy, that will be easily understood and remembered by passengers.

I suspect that the platform allocations will be as follows.

  • Platform 1 – Services to Moorgate – 6 tph
  • Platform 2 – Services to Kings Cross and Thameslink – 12 tph
  • Platform 7 – Services up the East Coast Main Line – 15 tph
  • Platform 8 – Services on the Hertford Loop Line – 3 tph

Given all the advanced signalling in the area and on the trains, I don’t think these frequencies are unreasonable.

Could we also see Thameslink trains on Platforms 2 and 7 opening doors on both sides?

Possibly, as there may be advantages in this!

Whilst at Finsbury Park this morning, I saw an outer suburban train stop in Platform 4 and quite a few passengers got off to continue their journey on the Underground. After Thameslink opens, would there be any value in having a cross platform interchange to Platform 3, where Thameslink trains would open their doors on both sides, so giving extra connections?

Obviously, if it would work going into London, it would work going out of the capital.

But these are only my speculation.

Moorgate Station

Moorgate station is one of those outposts of the UK rail network, that has had a sorry and tragic history.

At Moorgate, the Northern City Line tunnels are above those of the Northern Line, in an unusual double-decker station design.

This map from shows the two lines.

Lines At Moorgate Station

Lines At Moorgate Station

The caption says this.

Northern Underground and Northern City Line tunnels and stations are superimposed between Old Street and Moorgate.

These are pictures that I took of the Northern City Line station.


  • The two platforms are not spacious by modern standards.
  • Two escalators connect the Northern City Line platforms to the ticket hall.
  • Two fairly long escalators lead between the Northern City Line and Northern Line platforms.
  • The platforms could do with a well-designed makeover.

In addition, the two Northern Line platforms have a pair of escalators connecting them to the booking hall.

The four platforms are certainly well connected to each other and to the surface by escalators. The only thing lacking is a lift for step-free access to connect the booking hall to both levels of platforms.

The current Underground ticket hall will be extended and become the new Western ticket hall for the double-ended Liverpool Street Crossrail station.

On this page of the Crossrail web site, this is said.

The Moorgate worksite also incorporates a 42m deep shaft that provides ventilation and emergency access to the new ticket hall.  The Moorgate shaft is currently being used by our station tunnelling contractor to build an access passage linking the Crossrail platforms to the Northern line.  Later this year our Eastern Running Tunnels contractor will use the shaft to carry out out concrete works to form the foundation slab that will support the trackwork in the tunnels.

I have to ask if this access passage linking the Crossrail platforms to the Northern Line, will link to the Northern City Line as well. If it does it will probably be step-free and have a high-capacity as well.

But even if it doesn’t, access to and from the Northern City Line, will still be by two escalators from the ticket hall and two from the Northern Line platforms.

I suspect that as the Northern City and Northern Lines are superimposed on each other, I do wonder if a large enough corner has been identified, where a lift can serve all levels of the station.

If we have Crossrail going through a short distance away, where forty-eight (2 x 24) massive trains per hour will be stopping, even if only a small proportion of passengers, wanted to use the Northern City services out of Moorgate to explore the delights of North London and Hertfordshire, the current 6 tph out of Moorgate will be seriously inadequate.

But the Northern City Line is getting new Class 717 trains and as I said earlier, these trains will bring in a large increase in capacity.

So how many trains per hour could work the lines into the two-platform terminus at Moorgate?

At present Moorgate handles 6 tph most of the day, but during the peaks the line handles at least 9 tph.

But even 9 tph is very small compared to the upwards of thirty tph handled at both the two-platform Brixton and Walthamstow Central termini on the Victoria Line.

Given that the Class 717 trains are versions of the Class 700 Thameslink trains, that are planned to run at 24 tph under London, with a voltage change at Farringdon, I suspect that the theoretical limit for the number of trains per hour into Moorgate is higher than the 9 tph achieved by the scrapyard specials in the peak.

So is London going to get a new high-capacity route from the City to North London and Hertfordshire, that links to both Crossrail and Thameslink?

You bet it is!


  • Moorgate can probably handle up to fifteen to twenty Class 717 trains per hour, with signalling and operational improvements.
  • The Class 717 trains will hold more passengers than the Class 313 trains.
  • The greater performance of the Class 717 trains will probably speed up the services.
  • Finsbury Park station should be ready to accept the higher frequency and give same platform interchange to Thameslink.
  • The doubling and improvement to the slow lines between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace will allow the increased frequency to be handled.

If twelve trains per hour ran into Moorgate and they split equally between Welwyn Garden City and the Hertford Loop Line as they do now, that would give a ten minute interval on both routes, which is twice as many trains as the current time.

I think the biggest problem will be to persuade the RMT, that running say twelve trains or more per hour into Moorgate, is safe.

Harringay Station

Harringay station has two platforms, with one for each direction.

This Google Map shows Harringay station.

Harringay Station

Harringay Station


  • The bridge across the tracks with steps leading down to the two platforms.
  • The station is not step-free, with steep staircases.
  • There is no platform faces on the newly-created second pair of slow lines.

To be fair, Harringay is a dump and one of the worst stations on the line, but an architect with flair could make it work, with cross platform interchange between trains on both pairs of slow lines.

These pictures show Haringay station.


  • The station certainly is a dump.
  • The two down slow lines lie between platform 2 and the retaining wall.
  • In a couple of pictures, you can see the Harringay Curve that connects the Gospel Oak to Barking and East Coast Main Lines.
  • Platform 1 actually lies between the two slow lines.

The station obviously needs a rebuild.

  • This would incorporate acceptable passenger access and customer services.
  • There appears to be space to create a double-sided up platform 1.
  • Platform 2 is probably easier to move between the two slow lines.

But rebuilding would probably mean complete closure of the lines through the station and a large degree of inconvenience.

I doubt we’ll see little more than a general tidying up in the near future, with the station handling all of the stopping traffic and all other services, like freight and empty stock movements using the two lines without platform faces.

One advantage of the current layout, is that non-passenger services are kept away from the platforms.

Hornsey Station

Hornsey station has two platforms, with one for each direction.

This Google Map shows Hornsey station.

Hornsey Station

Hornsey Station

These pictures show Hornsey station.


  • The two fast lines go between the two platforms.
  • The current down platform is on the inner of the two slow lines and is actually between the two slow lines.

Like Harringay, Hornsey can be improved with respect to passenger access and customer services.

Building an island down platform looks possible, but as at Harringay, the current layout works safely.

Alexandra Palace Station

Alexandra Palace station has four platforms, but the station has the air of a work-in-progress as although there is some easy interchange between services, it’s not perfect or step-free.

This Google Map shows the station.

Alexandra Palace Station

Alexandra Palace Station


  • The Hertford Loop Line curves across the East Coast Main Line.
  • Train stabling for the East Coast Main Line sits to the North of the station.
  • Hertford Loop Line services have to stop at the two outer platforms in the station.
  • Crossrail 2 might serve this station.

Knowing the station well, I feel that a good  station can be created here, where Thameslink, Great Northern to Cambridge and Peterborough,  and Hertford Loop Line services have a simple cross- or same-platform interchange in the Northerly direction.

These are pictures of the station.


  • If you are going North and you’re on the wrong train, you have a cross-platform interchange on Platforms 2 and 4 at Alexandra Palace station.
  • Trains for the South can stop at either platforms 1 or 2.
  • The station is not step-free, but lifts could probably be added to the existing bridge.
  • The Yard cafe at the station is excellent and I had a very good gluten-free frittata.

I never would have thought when I used to use the station in the 1950s and 1960s, that it would grow up to be a very capable station.

Other Stations Between Alexandra Palace And Welwyn Garden City

The stations on the Main Line are a bit of a mixed bunch.

  • Some have four platforms and some have just two.
  • Some are step-free and some are not.
  • Some are modern and some are fairly old and need updating.

These pictures give a flavour of the stations.

Welwyn Garden City station is unique, as it is one corner of a shopping centre, called the Howard Centre

Is it the only station in the UK, with a Boots, a large proper Marks and Spencer, a Next and a Monsoon, with John Lewis not far away?

Trains terminating at Welwyn Grden City seem to use platforms 3 and 4 by the Howard Centre, using the sidings to the North of the station if required. On leaving the station, the trains cross the main lines and get to the up slow line using a flyover.

Welwyn Garden City is certainly a well-designed station to return trains to London.

Gordon Hill Station

Gordon Hill station must be the only station with the same name as a footballer.

I’d never been until I visited a few days ago and I’d rather expected a typical bog-standard, rather poor two-platform suburban station.

This Google Map of the station gives a few clues about the station.


Note that it appears that the station could have once had four platform faces and these could easily be long enough for eight car trains.

What I did find was a charming early twentieth-century station as these pictures show.


  • The station has three working platform faces; two through and a bay one on the Eastern side.
  • There would appear to be space on the Western side to create a fourth platform.
  • The bridge is of no architectural merit and probably should be replaced by one giving full step free access.

I believe that the station could play a major port in an upgraded Hertford Loop Line, in that if the station was to be converted to a full four-through platform station, then it would create a passing loop that the line needs to increase capacity.

In some ways Gordon Hill station, shows how truly bad our planning was in the first half of the twentieth century. The station opened in 1910, so was well established when Chase Farm Hospital opened just after the Second World War, just a short distance to the North. Hopefully, these days, it would be hoped that when a new hospital is built, that it is connected properly to the local transport network. Since it was built the hospital has had a chequered history and with the way healthcare is changing and perhaps requiring smaller and more specialised hospitals, I can see a time, when the hospital site becomes housing, which to increase its green credentials could be connected by a footpath and cycleway to Gordon Hill station.

If the hospital stays operational, it should surely have a sensible modern connection to the station and not just the odd bus every hour or so.

This Google Map shows the hospital and the station.

Chase Farm Hospital And Gordon Hill Station

Chase Farm Hospital And Gordon Hill Station

We should think more holistically and not assume that everybody has a car.

Hertford North Station

Hertford North station is one of the busiest stations on the Hertford Loop Line and one of only two stations with more than two platforms.

This Google Map shows the station.

Hertford North Station

Hertford North Station

These are some pictures of the station.

I feel that with some clever engineering that Hertford North station can be upgraded into a four-platform station with two passing loops.

Other Stations On The Hertford Loop Line

All the other stations seem to be two platform stations, with minimal facilities and little or no parking.

With more and better trains, increased links to the stations and perhaps some better parking, I wouldn’t think it unfeasible to increase the passengers using the stations on the loop.

There might possibly be a case for reopening Stapleford station.

The Digswell Viaduct And Welwyn North Station

The two-track section over the Digswell Viaduct and through Welwyn North station is a major bottleneck on the East Coast Main Line.

The Wikipedia entry for the viaduct says this.

The viaduct carries the East Coast Main Line, which has to narrow from four tracks to two to cross the viaduct, making it a bottleneck restraining capacity over this strategic transport route.. This problem is exacerbated by Welwyn North railway station situated at the northern end of the viaduct, which blocks the line while trains are stationary and two tunnels to the north. Several ideas to overcome the limitations of the viaduct and station without damaging the viaduct’s essential historic character and rhythmic design are periodically discussed.

In some ways, the station is more of a problem than the viaduct. Every stop at the station and there are just two trains per hour in both directions, effectively blocks the main line for a few minutes. It’s a bit like having a level crossing on a motorway.

If the viaduct were to be rebuilt to four tracks, which these days with modern construction methods is probably a very expensive possibility, this would still leave the problem of the station, which is on a very restricted site. Wikipedia also says this about the station.

The station is a rare survival of architecture from the early days of the GNR and this is now recognised with listed building status. The main station building, the footbridge, the tunnel portal to the north and Digswell Viaduct to the south are all Grade 2 listed.

This leads me to a very extreme solution to the problem.

Welwyn North station should lose most or all of its train services.

This Google Map shows the station and the viaduct.

Digswell Viaduct And Welwyn North Station

Digswell Viaduct And Welwyn North Station

Perhaps, a better solution would be a mixture of road and rail improvements .

  • Improve the traffic routes from the area to other stations at Knebworth and Welwyn Garden City.
  • Provide more car parking at Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage stations.
  • Provide a free and frequent shuttle bus between Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City stations calling at Welwyn North and Knebworth stations.
  • Build a new station at Stapleford on the Hertford Loop Line.

Perhaps a parkway station could be built in the South of Stevenage on the Hertford Loop Line.

Elimination of the stopping of trains at Welwyn North would lead to the following.

  • Extra paths in both directions through the station.
  • Services like Thameslink and the Great Northern services to Cambridge would save a few minutes.
  • The expresses to and from the North would be able to provide a faster and more reliable service.

In my view, we should go the whole way and close Welwyn North station.

A South Stevenage Parkway Station

This Google Map shows the area between Stevenage and Watton-At-Stone stations.

South Stevenage

South Stevenage

If Stevenage expands southwards, I wonder if a South Stevenage Parkway station could be built on the Hertford Loop Line with good connections to the A1M and lots of parking.

I would estimate the station would be around six kilometres from Welwyn North station.

It would be another carrot for the closure of Welwyn North station.

Stevenage Station

Stevenage station is a modern station, but it could probably be extended and improved.

  • The station has four platforms and is step-free.
  • Some long-distance services to the North and Scotland stop at the station.
  • The station is the only one between Kings Cross and Peterborough, where long distance trains stop.
  • It is first station, North of where the Northern end of the Hertford Loop Line joins the East Coast Main Line in grade-separated junction.
  • There are also plans to upgrade the station with extra platforms.

I think it is true to say, that the station is not a bottleneck on the East Coast Main Line, but that an improved Stevenage station could do the following.

  • Improve the flow of fast expresses, by ending the practice of trains stopping on the fast lines.
  • Give better services to the North and Scotland for passengers living between Stevenage and Kings Cross.
  • The station will probably be served by six Thameslink trains per hour.
  • Provide a better interchange for those coming South needing to go on the Hertford Loop Line.
  • The station could turnback some trains on the Hertford Loop Line.
  • Note that Hertford North to Stevenage takes just 13 minutes in the current Class 313 trains.

The question has to be asked if  Stevenage would be a better terminus for the Hertford Loop line, than Hertford North?

Operationally, this would probably be easier than turning the trains at Hertford North, especially, if other fast services were to be diverted to the Hertford Loop Line.

Assuming 12 trains per hour, were going into Moorgate and these split equally between the main line and Hertford Loop routes, turning trains at Stevenage wsould give a service with a ten minute interval to Moorgate.

As this is the same as the Thameslink frequency I believe a pattern of trains could be developed

At present one-in-three trains on the Hertford Loop Line, go on to Letchworth Garden City, so if the current policy prevailed Letchworth would get 2 tph to Moorgate.

There are certainly lots of ways to use an upgraded Stevenage station.

Hitchin To Peterborough

This is a line with capacity problems as there is sections of twin and triple track  in the mainly quadruple track, between Huntingdon and Peterborough.

The trains on this section are.

  • Thameslink – 2 tph Peterborough to Horsham – Stopping Pattern Unknown
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Peterborough to Kings Cross – Semi-Fast – London King’s Cross and Peterborough calling at Finsbury Park, Stevenage and then all stations.
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Peterborough to Kings Cross – Stopping – London King’s Cross and Peterborough calling at Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City and then all stations.

If there were continuous slow lines, then you could have an optimised stopping pattern, but as trains have to use the fast lines to progress in places, you can’t interfere with speeding Virgins.

I suspect that there’s a very unusual pattern of trains, as they sneak through.

The line definitely needs quadrupling where there are only two and three tracks.

You could probably argue that between Stevenage and Peterborough, there needs to be a service with a pattern like this.

  • 2-4 tph stopping at all stations.
  • 2-4 tph stopping at important stations with four platforms.

I wouldn’t be surprised that Network Rail and Thameslink have a plan to remove this bottleneck.

Htchin To Cambridge

The trains on this section are.

  • Thameslink – 2 tph Cambridge North to Brighton – Stopping Pattern Unknown
  • Thameslink – 2 tph Cambridge to Maidstone East – Stopping Pattern Unknown
  • Great Northern – 2 tph Cambridge to Kings Cross – Non-Stop
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Cambridge to Kings Cross – Semi-Fast -London King’s Cross and Cambridge calling at Finsbury Park, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock and Royston.
  • Great Northern – 1 tph Cambridge to Kings Cross – Stopping – London King’s Cross and Cambridge calling at Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City and then all stations
  • Northern City – 1 tph Moorgate to Letchworth Garden City – Stopping via Hertford Loop

So this gives  8 tph to Cambridge and an extra one to Letchworth Garden City. All are currently run by various parts of Govia Thameslink Railway.

Wikipedia says this about the infrastructure of the Cambridge Line.

The line is double track throughout. Traction current is supplied at 25 kV AC using overhead line equipment overseen by York Electrical Control Room, with Neutral Sections at Cambridge junction, Litlington and Shepreth Branch junction. It has a loading gauge of W8 and a maximum line speed of 90 mph


  • If after all the new 160 kph trains are delivered, it could be an efficient line to run, possibly even at a slightly higher speed.
  • At present, stations like Shepreth and Meldreth often only get an hourly service.
  • In a few years time, a new station will possibly be built for the East West Rail Link near Addenbrookes Hospital.

The big problem on the Cambridge Line was solved by the Hitchin Flyover, which allowed trains for Cambridge to leave the East Coast Main Line without delaying fast trains.

I think extending the Letchworth Garden City service to Cambridge North would give a lot of benefits.

  • Cambridge would now have three destinations in London; Kings Cross, Liverpool Street and Moorgate.
  • It would connect with the Kings Cross stopping train,  a 2 tph, high class local service into both Cambridge stations.
  • A Cambridge North to Moorgate service would connect the Cambridge Science Park to Silicon Rundabout.
  • If the service connected to a 2 tph service across Suffolk to Bury St. Edmunds, it would greatly improve Suffolk’s links to London.

I suspect there are other factors and they will lead to an improved service pattern on this line and the other ones radiating from Cambridge.

The Kings Cross To Peterborough Fast Lines

If as I believe, you can do the following.

  • Eliminate stopping at Welwyn North station, by enticing passengers to use other means.
  • Remodel Stevenage station, so that trains do not stop on the fast lines.
  • Create a four-track railway between Huntingdon and Peterborough.

You would then create an unbroken pair of fast lines from between Kings Cross and Peterborough, with slow lines on either side and two slow lines as far as Alexandra Palace.

The limiting factor of the number of trains on the line would probably be determined, by the number of platforms at Kings Cross.

It would be some railway for one mostly built in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Thameslink Trains To Cambridge And Peterborough

There are of four of these to Cambridge and two to Peterborough in each hour.

The stopping pattern has not been announced, except that they will be semi-fast.

So could they have a pattern similar to the current semi-fast trains of only stops at Finsbury Park, Stevenage and Hitchin, South of where the Cambridge Line joins at Hitchin?

The other major stations, where they might stop are Alexandra Palace, Potters Bar, Hstfield and Welwyn Garden City.

They would probably swap between fast and slow lines as they progressed, as there are restrictions, due to the platform and track layout.

  • The trains would be on the slow lines at Finsbury Park to access the Canal Tunnels.
  • Alexandra Palace station has no fast line platform.
  • Over the Digswell Viaduct and through Welwyn North station, trains would be on the fast lines.
  • Hitchin station has no fast line platform.
  • Trains need to be on the slow line through Hitchin, to access the Cambridge Line.

If it was desired, that there was no fast line stopping, this would mean trains would be on the slow lines, except through Digswell and Welwyn North.

Surely, that would be one preferred scenario, as it has advantages.

  • Stopping trains fit in well and would deliver extra passengers to Finsbury Park, Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage.
  • Stops at other stations with slow line platforms could be easily added.

It should be noted, that step-free access at some of the important stations isn’t perfect.

The Non-Stop Kings Cross To Cambridge Trains

If they continue after Thameslink starts, these would probably be run by 175 kph Class 387 trains, so they would be totally capable of running with the expresses, which would use the fast lines between Kings Cross and Hitchin.

As the new trains are generally faster than those currently on the line past Hitchin, we may even see a few seconds off the current forty-five minutes.

So it looks like these services would require two paths in every hour on the fast lines.

The Semi-Fast Trains To Cambridge And Peterborough

These trains, which would probably be run using 175 kph Class 387 trains, seem to stop at only Finsbury Park, Stevenage and Hitchin, South of where the Cambridge Line joins at Hitchin.

Although the Cambridge Line is only double-track, as all trains will be capable of at least 160 kmh, if the line was upgraded to run at this speed, with perhaps the removal of the level crossings, I suspect an efficient and fast service could be run to Cambridge.

On the route to Peterborough, it would be much better, if the line were to be four-tracked.

Again, it looks like these services would require two paths in every hour on the fast lines.

But after Thameslink opens, would these services be needed?

The Stopping Trains To Cambridge And Peterborough

Both services have similar patterns calling at Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City and then all stations.

These trains are the two troublemakers that currently call at Welwyn North.

If the decision is made to stop most services at Welwyn North, then there are various possibilities.

  • The stopping train could just use the fast lines between the Southern end of the Digswell Viaduct and Knebworth station.
  • The stopping trains go via the Hertford Loop and rejoin their current route at Stevenage.
  • The stopping trains are replaced by another semi-fast service.
  • The stopping trains are discontinued South of Stevenage.

There might even be a case to put these stopping trains into Moorgate rather than Kings Cross, thus separating Thameslink, fast and slow services.

It should also be born in mind that there will be six Thameslink services on the route, which will probably stop at Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage and Hitchin, so the stopping train won’t be as important as it is now, unless you want to go to an intermediate station.

How Would Times On The Hertford Loop Line Compare With The Main Line?

Currently the fastest Finsbury Park to Stevenage trains take eighteen minutes without a stop on the main line and fifty minutes on the Hertford Loop Line.

That is quite a difference.

I wouldn’t speculate on how much a Class 717 train would knock off the current time, but.

  • They are faster than the Class 313 trains.
  • There are eleven stations on the loop and modern trains are good at stopping and getting going again.
  • We must assume the line is improved.

I also think that increasing the number of trains on the Hertford Loop Line, would not be a bad thing, for passengers, the areas served by the line and train operators.


As I write this I’m getting more and more convinced, that the best solution to the problem of the two track section of the East Coast Main Line over the Digswell Viaduct and through Welwyn North station, is the following.

  • Close Welwyn North station to nost if not all trains.
  • Improve road connections in the Welwyn North area, as a more affordable and easier alternative to rebuilding the viaduct and station.
  • Improve the Hertford Loop Line with higher speeds and passing loops at Gordon Hill and Hertford North.
  • Possibly build a parkway station on the Hertford Loop Line, South of Stevenage.

Other improvements are also likely and would help services.

  • Improvements to Stevenage station.
  • Four-tracking between Hitchin and Peterborough.
  • Upgrading the Cambridge Line to a 160 kph line.
  • Full step-free access at all stations. Or at least where Thameslink calls.

This would give the operator a railway that could provide the services passengers want.

I can see a Thameslink Great Northern network that looks like this.

  • Thameslink services from St. Pancras and the South serving destinations of Cambridge, Peterborough and possibly Welwyn Garden City.
  • A possible fast Kings Cross to Cambridge/Kings Lynn service.
  • Suburban services from Moorgate serving the Hertford Loop Line and Welwyn Garden City, with possible extensions to Cambridge, Peterborough and Stevenage.

This would certainly free up platforms at Kings Cross and high speed paths on the fast line.




July 28, 2016 - Posted by | Transport | , , ,


  1. The problem at Digswell isn’t Welwyn North it’s a choke point whether trains stop there or not. In fact any disruption around there triggers the cancellation of all trains from Leeds (as there is no capacity left). The viaduct needs widening. It may be possible to extend the bridge deck to four tracks without a new viaduct, those brick structures are strong and can probably handle 2,000 tonnes of train on it at once. However you’d also need to build more tunnels on the north side. Since there is nothing important above those tunnels it could be done as a cut and cover and possibly inside a month. However during this time all trains would need to use the Hertford Loop.

    For more capacity it’ll need four tracking all the way to Tallington Crossing (south of there it’s three tracks to Huntingdon). Expensive but it’ll need to be done.

    Comment by John Airey | November 12, 2017 | Reply

    • It’s been a problem that has haumted train timetables for a very long time. The other similar problem at Stockport was sorted by extending sideways.

      I suspect, that it could be done, but effectively the East Coast Main Line would be shut for a long time.

      So any solution, that doesn’t nee rebuilding the bridge is preferable.
      Perhaps, they will just kick it far enough into the future, so that most of the Leeds to London trains go onh HS2?

      Comment by AnonW | November 12, 2017 | Reply

      • It’s funny you say that because the time to London on HS2 from Leeds will be the same (initially) but it’ll improve if indeed the line is capable of 250mph trains.

        I do get on my soapbox about reopening cross country lines as too much freight moves cross country via London which is ridiculous.

        Digswell Viaduct has to be made bigger somehow, even if that means building one more on each side or a whole new one on one side. If you consider that Waterloo station was partially rebuilt in a month and that’s our busiest station then enlarging these tunnels is possible in the same timescale. Which would give Welwyn North the slow lines it needs for stopping services. I like the way the ECML keeps the fastest lines in the centre because they don’t have to slow down for stations like Hitchin, the WCML did it the wrong way (they’ve started putting in barriers on the fast lines now)

        Comment by John Airey | November 12, 2017

  2. The ECML was much better designed than the WCML, but then it tends to go through less populated areas.

    But even in the 1930s, the LNER seemed to get some track layouts spot on. Putting the slow lines on either side seems to be different to most other main lines.

    Comment by AnonW | November 13, 2017 | Reply

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