Chiltern Railways is moving ahead with plans to offer a new twice-hourly rail service from London Marylebone station to Oxford. The new service is part of its Evergreen 3 project which will see train times on its service between Birmingham and London reduced from two hours to one hour and forty minutes.
Chairman of Chiltern, Adrian Shooter, said that “the time reduction between London and Birmingham is possible principally by removing speed restrictions so that our trains can spend the majority of the journey travelling at 100mph".
"The second part of Evergreen 3 will then see us create a link to an existing but lightly used line heading west to Oxford, giving us a new London to Oxford service," he added.
Shooter says that the “two schemes together will cost around £250 million, and we are just about to go out to tender.... and we hope to be making an announcement in December that it’s all going ahead.”
The quicker journey times between London and Birmingham will start in December 2011, while the new Oxford service is expected to commence in May 2013, and will re-link Oxford and High Wycombe by rail for the first time since 1964. The infrastructure works involve:
- The creation of a new double track curve line linking the existing Chiltern route just south of Bicester North with the Bicester Town-Oxford line
- The complete upgrade of the Bicester Town-Oxford line including restoration of double track, a 90 or 100mph line speed, modern signalling with five minute planning headways, and the elimination of most level crossings through closure or replacement with bridges
- The construction of a new parkway station at Water Eaton Parkway, just to the north of Oxford, to give another station for Oxford and bring the railway closer to the substantial population along the A40 corridor in towns such as Witney, Burford, Eynsham and Chipping Norton
- The rebuilding of the existing Bicester Town station to provide a better facility with fuller integration to the popular Bicester Village complex
- The section from Wolvercot Tunnel to Oxford will be single track, but there is the option for an add on to the project to enable Wolvercot Tunnel to be altered to make it suitable for a double track alignment to W12 gauge if this is sponsored by others
- At Oxford, the restoration of an independent line from Wolvercot Tunnel to Oxford station on the course of the former LNW track alignment
- The rebuilding of the currently disused parcels bays at Oxford station to make them suitable to handle five-car passenger trains.
The works will enable two Chiltern trains per hour from London Marylebone to Oxford calling at Bicester Town and Water Eaton Parkway, with a 58-minute journey time Marylebone to Water Eaton Parkway and 66 minutes Marylebone to Oxford. In addition there will be:
- An improvement of frequency and journey time from Oxford to Bicester from seven trains per day taking 27 minutes, to an all-day, seven day per week service of two trains per hour with a journey time reduced to 14 minutes, giving a viable rail alternative to the congested A34
- Linkage of Oxford and High Wycombe with a journey time by rail of 38 minutes, running twice per hour, and giving an alternative to the M40
- A new station at Water Eaton Parkway for people living in north Oxford, which can be reached without travelling through the congested city centre – and which is well linked by bus to both the Banbury Road and the Radcliffe Hospitals complex.
Chiltern points out that the new Oxford services will run over separate tracks to the existing Great Western Main Line, so avoiding the risk of “performance pollution” between the two routes. It added that the Great Western Main Line faces major disruptions over the next decade as a consequence of works for Reading remodelling, Crossrail, and potentially electrification.
Shooter says that the competition on the Oxford route comes “mostly from motor cars and coaches”, adding that the existing operator [First Great Western] has “quite a small share of the market", adding that "we will improve the service for everybody by introducing further competition.” Chiltern already competes on the Birmingham route with Virgin Trains’ faster Pendolino service.
For more information visit chilternrailways.co.uk.
Report by Tom Otley