Oxford and the surrounding area are about to experience a massive shakeup in railway services, and I thought I’d try and draw all this together into one simple summary. Things are going to get better, though they may get worse first!
Oxford to Bicester
Let’s start with the project that will affect Oxford soonest. Chiltern Railways are about to start work on their new route from London to Oxford. The line between Oxford and Bicester Town via Islip will close in February 2014 in order for a major upgrade to take place. The line is due to be completely relaid, and the section from Wolvercote to Bicester will be upgraded to double track. Bicester Town station (which also confusingly serves the Bicester Village outlet mall) is going to be completely rebuilt. A new piece of line (a “chord” in railway jargon) will be built in Bicester to link the line from Oxford with the main line to London. A brand new station, to be called Oxford Parkway, will be built next to the Water Eaton P&R site near Kidlington, with the car park site being expanded considerably. Oxford Parkway will open in the summer of 2015 as the temporary terminus of the line, with the line connecting to Oxford’s main station in the spring of 2016. Chiltern are planning to offer an Oxford – Bicester – High Wycombe – London Marylebone rail service with a journey time of 66 minutes. This compares favourably with the current 58 minute journey time to Paddington via Reading. Chiltern’s service will undoubtedly be cheaper to compensate for the slightly longer journey time.
Electric services to Paddington
On the main line to Paddington services are also being improved – the line will be electrified by the end of 2016, and the existing 90mph Class 165 trains will be replaced with 100mph Class 319 electric trains. This should shave a few minutes off the journey time and result in a much quieter ride. Trains from Paddington to Bristol will be electrified at the same time, and the wires will eventually reach Cardiff and Swansea.
Oxford station improvements
Oxford station will undergo a thorough remodelling. Extra platforms will be provided next to the short-stay car park for Chiltern’s service from Marylebone, and it seems likely that another new platform will be built on the south side of Botley Road (in what’s now the long-stay car park), with a new connecting footbridge to the station building. It seems likely that the exisiting rail bridge over Botley Road will need to be made wider to accommodate additional railway lines, and I’ve heard rumours that the span will be widened to make more space for vehicles, cycles and pedestrians passing beneath it. These improvements are due to finish in 2016.
East West Rail – Oxford and Bicester to Milton Keynes and Bedford
The East West Rail project, currently in the advanced design stage, will open in December 2017. The abandoned line from Bicester to Bletchley will be reopened as a double-track, 100mph line, meaning that Oxford will have a direct rail service to Milton Keynes in 40 minutes, and to Bedford in 60 minutes. It is likely that some of these services will start from Reading or Didcot. Only one new station will be opened on this line – at Winslow in Buckinghamshire. This line is due to be electrified – the Oxford to Milton Keynes route will be electrified during construction, but the section between Bedford and Bletchley will be electrifed by 2019. The line did used to carry on to Cambridge, but this section has been built on, and early feasibility studies are underway to consider building an entirely new line between Bedford and Cambridge. However, travel to Cambridge will get much quicker, as a 60 minute train ride to Bedford can then be followed by a 60 minute coach ride to Cambridge. This compares with a 3.5 hr coach ride on the X5 at present, and a 2.5hr journey time by train via London. An additional part of this scheme is a connection to Aylesbury (and onwards to Marylebone) from Milton Keynes.
Electric services to Banbury, Leamington and Coventry
The line north of Oxford will be electrified by 2019, with the wires continuing to Banbury, Leamington, Coventry and Nuneaton. This is being done mostly to allow freight trains from Southampton Docks to run to the Midlands, Northern England and Scotland under electric power. It’s likely that the CrossCountry passenger services that pass through Oxford will switch to electric trains once this is completed.
Other bits and pieces
There’s a strong possibility that there will be a new service running from the South to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, using the new Oxford-Bedford line. This might start at Southampton or Reading and run to Leicester, Derby or Sheffield, as all these routes will be electrified by 2020.
A project is in the design stage to construct a west-facing connection to Heathrow Airport. This will give Reading a direct service to Heathrow (replacing the execrable RailAir coach) and could potentially allow services to Heathrow from further afield, including Oxford. It’s most likely that the service will operate as a Reading-Heathrow shuttle, or possibly a Reading-Heathrow-Crossrail route.
- Feb 2014 – Oxford-Islip-Bicester Town service replaced by buses
- Summer 2015 – Oxford Parkway opens. Oxford Parkway – Islip – Bicester – High Wycombe – London Marylebone service starts
- Spring 2016 – Oxford – Bicester – High Wycombe – London Marylebone service starts
- December 2016 – Oxford – Reading – Paddington electrification complete, introduction of electric services on this route. Oxford station remodelling complete
- December 2017 – Oxford-Bicester-Milton Keynes and Oxford-Bicester-Bedford services start
- December 2019 – Oxford-Bedford service electrified. Oxford – Banbury – Leamington – Coventry electrified