Watford DC Line

Watford DC Line

378210 at Watford Junction with a service from London Euston.
Type Commuter rail, Rapid transit
System National Rail
London Underground
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
Termini London Euston
Watford Junction
Stations 19
Services 2
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) London Overground
London Underground (Bakerloo line)
Depot(s) Stonebridge Park (LUL)
Willesden TMD
Rolling stock Class 378 "Capitalstar"
London Underground 1972 Stock
Number of tracks 2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 660 V DC third and fourth rail (fourth rail only on sections used by the Bakerloo Line)[1]

Watford DC Line

 Watford DC WCML
West Coast Main Line
Abbey Line
to St Albans Abbey

Watford Junction

Watford High Street

Metropolitan line
Croxley Rail Link (under construction)
Carpenders Park
Hatch End
Headstone Lane
Bakerloo line reversing siding

Harrow & Wealdstone London Underground

to Stanmore Village (closed 1964)


Metropolitan line
London to Aylesbury Line

South Kenton
North Wembley
Chiltern Main Line

Wembley Central London Underground

Stonebridge Park depot (LU)

Wembley Yard

Stonebridge Park

North Circular Road


Dudding Hill Line

North London Line
to Richmond

Willesden Junction London Underground London Overground

West London Line
to Clapham Junction
Willesden TMD

North London Line to Stratford
via Camden Road and Dalston Kingsland
Kensal Green

Queen's Park north sheds (LU)

Queen's Park London Underground

Queen's Park south sheds (LU)

Bakerloo line to Elephant & Castle
Kilburn High Road
South Hampstead
Chiltern Main Line

Metropolitan line
Jubilee line

Primrose Hill

Camden carriage sidings

North London Line to Stratford
Regent's Canal

Euston carriage sidings
Euston London Underground

The Watford DC Line is a commuter railway line from London Euston to Watford Junction. Services on the line are operated by London Overground. The line runs beside the West Coast Main Line (WCML) for most of its length. The London Underground Bakerloo line shares the track of the line from Queen's Park to Harrow & Wealdstone. The London Overground rolling stock used on the line is Class 378 "Capitalstar".

The "DC" in the title refers to the fact that the line is electrified using direct current. This was done in the early twentieth century with conductor rails (giving compatibility with the London Underground's four-rail system and the contemporary North London Line electrification), hence its name in contrast to the more modern overhead alternating current system on the adjacent WCML.


Services on this line began when London and North Western Railway (LNWR) completed the Camden to Watford Junction New Line in 1912, to provide additional suburban capacity and more outer-suburban services running non-stop to Euston. It incorporated part of the LNWR Rickmansworth branch (formerly the Watford and Rickmansworth Railway) between Watford Junction and Watford High Street Junction and part of the original Slow Main Line between Queen's Park and South Hampstead stations; two single-track tunnels take the line from South Hampstead to Camden, whence the line reaches Euston station by the main line tracks. Prior to 1912, at which time the entire route was finally electrified, services were steam operated. Although the operation of the line is mostly self-contained, connections at Watford Junction and Camden allow other trains onto it, a facility used occasionally with trains diverted from the West Coast Main Line should an alternative diversionary route be not available.


The line opened with conventional semaphore signalling mechanically operated from signal boxes at each station; this system remained in use after electrification.
The London, Midland and Scottish Railway introduced an automatic electric signalling system in the early 1930s over most of the route and some signal boxes were abolished. A similar system was also used for a shorter period between Bromley-by-Bow and Upminster now part of the District line. The very closely spaced mix of automatic and semi-automatic signals, repeater signals, and auxiliary calling-on aspects was intended to let trains to proceed, after a set delay, at low speed past "failed" signals on track with no junctions without the need to contact a signalman, but this could lead to a nose-to-tail queue of trains as they all reached the location of a real line blockage.

Train stops were provided (except at repeater signals) to allow LER trains to operate over the line without the special provision of a second man; this enabled the same practice to be continued with all other Underground and main line stock subsequently allocated to this line and which was provided with trip equipment.

Signal boxes remaining in use in the early 1970s included:

Normally Kilburn High Road and Stonebridge Power House which controlled only plain track with crossovers were switched out and only Queens Park, Willesden and Harrow boxes were staffed for at least part of the day, to deal with junction and siding traffic. In the early 1980s manual control of signalling was needed for a few months after dragging gear on a train destroyed many electric train-stops which were of a design almost confined to this line (LU train-stops are mostly electro-pneumatic). By this time the signal boxes at Stonebridge Power House and Kilburn High Road had been abolished. Emergency crossovers at other locations were controlled by ground frames enclosed in structures the size of a garden shed.

In 1988 the LMS system was replaced by a more standard system controlled from a new signal box, Willesden Suburban, and the remaining local boxes were abolished. The new system had solid state interlocking, but far fewer signals; as a consequence the maximum traffic capacity of the line was severely reduced. In the early 1960s there were headways of less than 2 minutes between Harrow & Wealdstone and Willesden Junction stations, the section of line used by nearly all services.

In the early 2000s Willesden Suburban was closed and control passed to Wembley Main Line Signalling Centre.


An Oerlikon electric train at Harrow and Wealdstone (1956)

The original electrification was on a fourth rail system, similar to that now used by London Underground, which allowed LER trains to use the New Line. Power was supplied from the railway's own power station at Stonebridge Park until the 1960s when it was closed, after which it has been obtained from public supplies. As originally installed, there was provision for interconnection of the high voltage section of the power station to adjacent public supplies for output or intake but this ceased when national supplies were standardised at 50 Hz. This power station was used for both internal and external scenes in an early episode of the BBC series Doctor Who in which the building can be seen substantially as it was at the time of closure but after the wooden cooling towers had been removed.

In the late 1950s, the original electric multiple units built for the line were replaced by new Class 501 rolling stock. These were in turn displaced in the mid 1980s by Class 313 units. The line is now operated by London Overground Class 378 "Capitalstar" units.

In the 1970s, the track and the rolling stock used on this line and the North London Line were changed to use a modified version of the BR standard third rail system, with the fourth rail (now bonded to the running rail used for returning traction current) left in place on the sections of line shared with LU Bakerloo line trains. North of Harrow & Wealdstone, now the limit of LU operation, the fourth rail has in most places been dropped onto the sleepers and remains bonded, thus leaving the resistance of the current return path unaltered. The fourth rail remains in the normal position from Queens Park to Kilburn High Road up platform, where a trailing crossover between those two stations is maintained in use to allow reversal of Bakerloo line trains unable to gain access to London Underground at Queens Park, due to planned work or other reasons. The line is currently electrified (like all shared lines) using the standard compromise voltage of 660 volts. This falls comfortably within the lower permanent voltage limit for the Capitalstar stock (500 volts) and the upper permanent voltage limit for the 1972 tube stock (760 volts).[2]

A consequence of converting to third rail with the fourth rail provided only for LU use was that both planned and emergency use of the line by other 3-rail-capable trains was possible. Ignoring recent use of Class 508 trains, this last took place when Class 416 trains were diverted to Willesden Junction Low Level station when part of the North London Line was closed for a number of weeks in the late 1980s.

The electricity grid Willesden substation in Acton Lane, Park Royal supplies 11 kV, three-phase power to ten substations on the line, located at Camden, South Hampstead, Queens Park, Willesden, Harlesden, Wembley, Kenton, Harrow, Hatch End, Bushey and Watford.


The construction of a curve to link Rickmansworth (Church Street) to the Euston main line was planned. A new line would have then run south to Wembley, then passed under the main line and run on the east side to Euston, terminating in a loop.

The loop was dropped on grounds of cost and, instead, services terminated at Euston main platforms or ran on the North London Railway to Broad Street. Pressure from local groups led to the building of a curve near Bushey, diverting the main route for new services over the existing branch line north to Watford Junction instead of south to Rickmansworth. In 1917 LER Bakerloo line services were extended over the New Line from Queen's Park station to Watford Junction.


Bakerloo line services were cut back in stages and ceased north of Stonebridge Park station in 1982; in 1984 they were restored as far as Harrow and Wealdstone.

The Croxley Green branch fell into disuse in the 1990s, and is now derelict. It is planned to divert the Metropolitan line over the branch and on to Watford Junction (for more information see Croxley Rail Link). Some clearance or preparatory work has been reported [3] as having occurred in late 2006.


The line was operated by British Rail (from 1986 as Network SouthEast) until privatisation. In the Network SouthEast period, it was rebranded as the Harlequin Line, after the stations of Harlesden and Queen's Park.

From March 1997 until November 2007, the line was operated by Silverlink. In November 2007 Transport for London (TfL) took full management control of all the intermediate Watford DC Line stations as part of the London Overground (LO) service with staffing during opening hours, automatic ticket gates and planned station refurbishment to the standard of the Tube network.


An old Silverlink Metro train calls at Harlesden
The line is also shared with London Underground

The local passenger services which run over the DC line are:

During the partial closure of the North London Line in autumn 2008, London Overground's Monday to Saturday services were diverted away from Euston, running instead via Camden Road onto the North London Line and on to Stratford; the Sunday service was normal.

London Midland also run a fast service between Watford Junction and London Euston along the West Coast Main Line (which runs parallel to the Watford DC Line), calling at Bushey and Harrow & Wealdstone before running non-stop to Euston. The service offers a quicker alternative to the all-stations London Overground service, especially as the operator now accepts TfL's Oystercard ticketing. Some peak services to/from Euston are advertised as starting/terminating at South Hampstead or Queens Park or Harrow and Wealdstone in order to persuade passengers to take the frequent faster services.

Discontinued services

Past services have included:

When the south curve of the triangular junction between Watford High Street and Bushey existed, a few trains used Croxley Depot (now demolished), which was shared by LU and BR trains.


Metropolitan line

A diagram of the proposed rail services
Main article: Croxley Rail Link

Another proposal to bring London Underground service to Watford Junction is the Croxley Rail Link,[4] which envisages diverting the Watford branch of the Metropolitan line along a re-opened stretch of track to the west of Watford, effectively reinstating the former Croxley Green to Watford Junction service. Underground trains would then join the DC line at Watford High Street, potentially forming an interchange either with London Overground or the Bakerloo line, depending on the outcome of other projects. Funding for this project has now been agreed as of 23 November 2015 and the Metropolitan line will gain an interchange with Overground services.[5]

Bakerloo line

Various proposals have been made to alter services involving both extending or truncating Bakerloo Line services but there has been no basic change until 2015 other than to rolling stock and service patterns. As of 2015, plans and suggestions (from official bodies and others) connected to development of Crossrail and the Old Oak Common area have current potential consequences.


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