Thursday, 29 October 2015

Oxford Parkway to Bicester Re-opens

On 26th October the line from Oxford Parkway to Bicester officially re-opened and the new chord went into service permitting the start of the new Chiltern Railways Marylebone to Oxford service to commence.  However Chiltern Railways announced on Saturday that services would actually start on Sunday 25th to allow testing of the line.  Passengers were welcome to try out the service but would have to pay!  The new station at Oxford Parkway was opened by David Cameron and the rebuilt stations at Islip and Bicester Village (formally Town) re-opened.  Considering how much still remained to be done two weeks ago, they certainly pulled out all the stops to open on time.  OK there is still a lot of finishing touches to be completed such as sound barriers but it was still quite an achievement.

Whilst this is all about a new rail link to London, it also represents an important step in the construction of the East West Rail link.  The fact that Chiltern Railways and Network Rail were prepared to make provision for East West Rail when building the Bicester chord is almost certainly the catalyst that finally made the project move from an aspiration to a reality.

I decided to give the new service a try and my first opportunity to do this was on 28th October.  If you book early enough and are prepared to book a specific off peak train, it is very cheap, starting at £3.95 per leg.  I have to say I was hoping that I was not going to be travelling on a rail replacement bus, doubter that I was!   I am pleased to say that my doubts were misplaced and the journey went smoothly.  This was my first visit to Marylebone station and I was surprised (and pleased) to see that the logo of the Great Central Railway was still on both entrance gates some 92 years after it ceased to be an independent entity. The photo below shows the left hand gate:-

Above the departure board and in a number of other locations, banners proclaimed the arrival of the new service.  Our train was the 11.05 from platform 2 which can just about be seen at the bottom of the picture.  It duly left on time and it seemed that in no time we were passing through the rolling countryside of the Chilterns.  It was only scheduled to stop at Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Bicester Village.  After the stop at Haddenham and Thame, we continued on our way towards Bicester with the signs in the carriage proclaiming that this train was for Bicester North and Oxford Parkway..  The ticket inspector was forced to announce that this was wrong and that we would indeed be calling at Bicester Village much to the relief of the shoppers on the train!
After crossing the A41, we slowed to 40mph for the approach to the chord.  As we descended towards Gavray Junction I took a couple of shots through the quite dirty carriage window so I apologise for their poor quality.
In the compound centre of the picture, the chippies were still hard at work which you can just make out by zooming in.
 The large concrete blocks were indeed for sound barrier fencing.  It does seem an incredible amount of concrete to support what are effectively fence panels.  Some of this sound barrier has now been erected and work was continuing as we passed.  On arrival at Bicester Village I was surprised to hear the announcements made in three languages, English, Mandarin and Japanese.  This is obviously to assist the multitude of Chinese and Japanese tourists that visit the shopping village.  Work was still going on at the station but it was largely complete.  I was correct about the dedicated entrance to Bicester Village.

 From Bicester to Oxford Parkway, there was still a lot of work being carried as we passed through including at Islip station.  I noticed quite a few new bridges which were (quite rightly) necessary for safety
reasons with the line speed increasing from 40mph to 100mph. I will try and take a closer look at this section when time allows.
I took this after getting off the train and you can see the temporary buffer stops on the other side of the bridge. This is the terminus until the line into Oxford station re-opens.
 Looking back the other way.  The train dwells here as the timetable has been set to include the extra time to travel into Oxford and back.
 Looking down from the footbridge towards Islip.
 Quite a few cars in the new car park which has a capacity for around 850 cars and 150 bikes.
 Car park from the footbridge staircase.  Water Eaton park and ride is to the right.
View towards Oxford from the other platform.
 And towards Islip from the same spot.
 And finally the station building from the approach road. The replacement bus service to Oxford station was the 500 park and ride bus and one was waiting for us as we arrived so there no delay.  It was a bit of a slow grind into Oxford however.  There is a small cafe in the station and I chatted to the man behind the counter whilst we waited for our return train.  He said that trade had been brisk for the three days that the station had been open.

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