Published: 8th November 2014
Chiltern Railways are known for being a bit different from other rail franchisees and have made many service innovations investing hundreds of millions of pounds in their 20 year franchise. They have another five years left in their franchise and are still looking to expand their network. In fact they are planning a new service which may not even be operating at the end of their contract with the Government.
After several upgrades of the Chiltern main line, they have reintroduced 100mph loco-hauled trains between London and Birmingham offering real choice for passengers and competition for Virgin and London Midland. They will go into competition with First Great Western when their new route between Marylebone and Oxford via High Wycombe and Bicester opens in September 2015. They are also opening several new stations between Bicester and Oxford in this project which will attract more passengers as the roads in this area are heavily congested.
Just over three years later, the line will reopen between Milton Keynes and Bedford to Aylesbury and crucially will link in with the new Bicester and Oxford line offering a new 100mph east-west rail route. This will provide excellent links with southeast Oxford, home to a Science and Business Park where currently 7500 people work.
The resultant traffic congestion and pollution and a growing population in this area means that the three mile freight line that runs through this area to the Morris Cowley car factory where Minis are built, offers a unique opportunity. The line once linked Princes Risborough with Oxford but was closed half a century ago - apart from the link into the car factory.
Chiltern Railways operated a special train on this line on November 5 carrying local stakeholders to demonstrate the opportunity to all parties. They will combine to plan and fund two new stations called Oxford Science Park and Oxford Business Park on this former GWR main line.
This service could operate from 2020 and the Marylebone to Oxford trains would be extended from Oxford along this line also freeing-up capacity at that busy station as in essence, the reopened line would be used as a long turnback siding.
Trains would take five minutes between Oxford to Oxford Science Park and another five minutes to Oxford Business Park. This would probably mean that another train and set of traincrew would be needed to maintain a half hourly service to and from London than if the trains only served Oxford station.
The route uses a spectacular 81 metre long cast iron viaduct over the River Thames at Kennington which will have to be assessed to carry the extra traffic.
Chiltern md Rob Brighouse told rail.co.uk that a business case for the half hourly service was being planned and could be operating in 2020. But this was predicated on the freight branch has being modernized and brought up to passenger standards. At the moment, the train driver has to stop at Kennington Junction and collect or put back the branchline token in a hut by the line.
He added that by then trains would be operating from Bedford, Bicester and Milton Keynes creating yet more demand for commuters from these high technology towns linking with Oxford’s science park. Some of these trains would also run to and from Marylebone from 2019.
The special train ran as far as the Network Rail boundary with the BMW car factory and then ran back towards Oxford to the temporary platform built in just six days at Oxford Science Park. Guests on the train alighted here and attended speeches in the adjacent Science Park but they missed the special train doing a demonstration runpast through the temporary station.
Both new stations will have a single platform, a car park and offer a local transport interchange. The train service will not start until the current Chiltern franchise has been relet and the intention is to include the specification in the tendering process.
Chiltern Railways will develop and promote the service with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail and once the business plan has been completed, the DfT and other funding agencies and partners will look to see how they can support the project and deliver it.
The next opportunity for Chiltern Railways Mr Brighouse said, would be to offer a cross-platform interchange at Princes Risborough linking with the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway. Ironically, this railway would use some of the line that used to go to Morris Cowley and Oxford! Currently, Chiltern’s passengers have to use a bus between Princes Risborough and Chinnor run by Chiltern Railways.