Hertfordshire to Essex Rapid Transit exhibition launches

A person has been hit by a train between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin

HCC launched public engagement so that contributions can be fed into the developing plans. - Credit: Archant

Proposals for a multi-million-pound public transport network linking Herts and Essex have gone on show in a virtual exhibition.

Travelling east-west by public transport can currently involve travelling in and out of London, adding time and cost onto journeys.

With 100,000 new homes planned in Hertfordshire within the next 15 years, there are concerns that, without action, existing roads will become increasingly congested for motorists.

But now transport chiefs are drawing up plans that could cost up to £2.5 billion for a fully integrated public transport network across the county, using a similar route to the A414.

At its heart is the 45km Hertfordshire to Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) stretching from Watford and Hemel Hempstead in the west to Harlow, in Essex, in the east.

Transport chiefs say this would provide a fast, frequent and affordable service making it easier to travel across the county and in and out of west Essex.

It would be part of a larger network that connects a series of town centres, train and bus interchanges and increases connectivity to all areas of Herts.

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The complex project is expected to be years in the planning and would need to secure government funding.

Herts county council has now launched a period of public engagement so that contributions can be fed into the developing plans.

Speaking at a briefing, county council leader Cllr Richard Roberts said the project was "a really important piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Hertfordshire’s future".

With increasing investment in the county – from sectors including film, TV and engineering –  he said there was a need to address transport generally and the congestion around the A414.

He said this was an "exciting" project, that re-thinks transport in the county.

With a focus on sustainable transport, the county council’s head of highways implementation and strategy Richard Thacker stressed that the project would support the county as a whole.

It would, he said, be "affordable, accessible and inclusive" and would provide a "viable alternative" to car use – providing an opportunity for people to think and do things differently.

With the project still at an early stage, no exact routes have been determined for the Hertfordshire to Essex Rapid Transit (HERT) service, although it would broadly follow the A414 corridor.

Nor is it known whether it would be run with buses, trams or other vehicles, with officials waiting to see how technology will develop.

But at the media briefing, it was said that the vehicles would be modern, comfortable and spacious – easy to use for all passengers, with accessible step-free access and wide aisles.

They would be zero-emission vehicles and they would have digital connectivity for "productive" journeys.

There would be fewer stops than on a conventional bus service, to ensure faster journey times.

And there would be sections of road where the HERT vehicles would be segregated – either by increasing the width of the road network or reducing the number of existing carriageways for existing traffic.

In the short term, says Mr Thacker, that could create "an element of pain" for general traffic until the balance shifted more towards the HERT and the network started to rebalance.

But he stressed that if no action was taken congestion would get worse.

“If we don’t do anything congestion is going to get worse,” said Mr Thacker.

“Journey times are going to increase significantly. Congestion and all of the impacts of that – on the climate, on people’s health, people’s ability to be able to get around on foot and by bike – will be hindered by the fact we haven’t provided an alternative that people see as a real viable way of getting around Hertfordshire.

“This is a solution that’s looking to be able to create a better future transport network, rather than one that is going to hinder people’s ability to get around.

“Because that ability to get around is going to be challenged in the future by the very fact there will be more people and more congestion if we don’t do something.”

Before the pandemic, data shows that just five per cent of journeys along the A414 were made by bus. In contrast, it was reported that 76 per cent were made by private car.

The virtual exhibition can be found at www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/HERT.