Meeting with talk by Chiltern about Oxford-Bicester line

Oxon & Bucks Rail Action Committee (note :  OBRAC, not OBRAG) and Railfuture (Thames Valley) are to hold a joint meeting at 19.00 on Wednesday 9th September 2015 at Bicester Town Counci Chambersl, The Garth Launton Road, Bicester, Oxfordshire, OX26 6PS.

Guest speaker will be Stephen Barker of Chiltern Railways on the Bicester-Oxford Railway.

Chiltern update

Chiltern have confirmed that the line will commence service from Oxford Parkway on Monday 26th October this year, with staff at each station offering a welcome, and probably some promotional offers.

The timetable still awaits confirmation of freight timing from NR but is deemed unlikely to change significantly.  However, there is still no news regarding fares.

Chiltern’s standard cycling policy will apply. “Most of the buses that will operate the 500 bus route between Oxford Parkway and Oxford station (via the city centre) will be able to carry bikes.”

“Car parking charges at Oxford Parkway will be at similar pricing to the Water Eaton Park & Ride (but with a simpler structure).” Parking at Islip Station will be free of charge (though limited).

They have been kind enough to supply a timetable specifically for Islip which highlights options to connect at Oxford Parkway to use other fast trains up or down.

There is still no further news regarding when the line into Oxford itself will open. The original intention to open in March 2016 seems impossible now, given the failure of NR to secure either planning permission or acceptance of noise and vibration from Oxford City Council in time.

Network Rail publishes timetable and plan

Network Rail have published their version of the timetable for the new service.

Sadly, service at Islip is missing the two trains that would  render commuting with London and High Wycombe viable :  the 06.12 and 20.15 departures for Oxford. (The 06.12 allowed connection at Oxford Parkway for London; the 20.15 allowed a departure from London at 19.07 – o’wise 17.50 or 21.35.) Earliest arrival in London is otherwise 09.27.

Chiltern have informed me that the NR timetable is not final, and that they still intend to run the two trains mentioned above. (I had thought that the NR timetable, published in May and December, was definitive, but that appears not to be the case.)

Aside from this, the NR timetable closely matches the earlier one provided by Chiltern, which is very welcome news.

NR have also just published their “Control Period 5” (CP5) Plan, which only confirms what we already knew :

  • EWR infrastructure will not be ready for the proposed Dec 2017 service between Milton Keynes and Reading until 2019
  • Oxford Parkway to Oxford opening remains scheduled for March 2016, but is subject to delays in obtaining planning permission for works at Oxford station and approval by Oxford City Council of noise and vibration mitigation.

At least the Oxford Area Resignalling project appears to have been completed on time (May 2015). Electrification also remains part of the plan but with no clear schedule.

Delayed opening

Chiltern have announced the date when the new service will open west towards London Marylebone from Oxford Parkway and Bicester: 26th October 2015, approx. 7 weeks later than previously proposed (5th September).

The date for reopening service into Oxford seems to be anybody’s guess, given that planning approval has only recently been granted for the construction of two new platforms at Oxford station, lengthened to accommodate the new trains. (This requires the demolition of the building which used to be the post office depot.) No reliable date is available for the completion of the Oxford Area Remodelling project, which will renew the track layout north of the station and replace signalling.

It seems likely that tunnel, bridge and track work on the line will be complete long before Oxford station is ready.  Chiltern will obviously have difficulty running the new service into Oxford without the modifications necessary for a half-hourly additional service to London with appropriate rolling stock. Even were it possible, the service would be prone to much disruption as work progresses and congestion occurs.

OBRAG has proposed running a reduced shuttle service with a two-car train, similar to the old service in this period.  This would eliminate disruption to the mainline service, while allowing Islip and Bicester commuters to resume access to the city of Oxford without slow and unreliable buses. It would also spare Chiltern the expense of running ‘bustitution’.

I will add their response here when it arrives.

Renaming Bicester Town station (cont.)

Here is a summary of the replies I have had thus far regarding the proposed renaming of Bicester Town station :

From the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) :

  • Network Rail does indeed own the station, which is merely operated by Chiltern

From Network Rail :

  • To change the name, Chiltern must follow the “Station Change Procedure”
  • ORR is ‘responsible for the above procedure
  • provided there is no net cost to NR, they will “will respond to their application taking into account the regulatory requirements of the Station Change Procedure”.

From the Dept. for Transport (DfT) :  “The Department does not have an approvals locus in the renaming of stations. This is a matter for the proposer to gather relevant stakeholder support and to agree the name change with the relevant operator(s) and Network Rail. It will then be for the train operator(s) to ensure the relevant contractual amendments are made to reflect the name change.”

I have no idea what language that was written in, but it sure ain’t English.  My best guess is that the following two points are made :

  • Chiltern have only to persuade NR to effect the change, since there is currently no other operator
  • they must gain stakeholder support before NR would respond positively (which they have patently failed to do).

They have yet to demonstrate the support of any ‘stakeholder’ other than the shopping mall concerned.

I am still awaiting a description of the Station Change Procedure from ORR, and how an objection may be made.

Meanwhile, I repeat my request for anyone who feels strongly on the matter (either way) to write to their Sir Tony Baldry (the local MP) who has promised to forward all material to his successor. (He has been a friend to our cause for many years and I wish him well.)