Oxford Parkway

Today, the "Chiltern Railways" network links London Marylebone with Aylesbury, Birmingham, Oxford, and Stratford-upon-Avon. The operation started life as the "Chiltern Train Operating Unit" (CTOU) on 1st April 1994, one of twenty-five shadow franchises created in the run-up to privatisation. On 21st July 1996, the CTOU was officially transferred from the British Rail Board to a management buyout by the name of "M40 Trains Ltd", although the ceremonial handover took place at Birmingham Snow Hill the following day (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 1996). The name "M40 Trains Ltd" was used during the franchise bidding process to show that the target market was the entire corridor of the M40 motorway between London and Birmingham; however, the brand name of "Chiltern Railways" was used for trading (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1996).

Under the "Chiltern Railways" umbrella, three major investment programmes took place that each bore the name "Evergreen". The first of these, known as "Project Evergreen", involved doubling the line between Aynho Junction (six miles south of Banbury) and Bicester, a distance of nine miles. This was started in 2001 and completed in the subsequent year at a cost of £60 million. It followed in the footsteps of a £13 million doubling of the Chiltern Main Line between Princes Risborough and Bicester, which was completed in 1998. "Project Evergreen 2" was announced in December 2004: this involved track realignment, speed increases, and signalling upgrades on the Chiltern main line, in addition to the building of two new platforms at Marylebone. An investment of £70 million, this scheme was completed in December 2006, the then new platforms at Marylebone being formally opened on 12th of that month (ref: The Railway Magazine, February 2007). The third scheme, naturally called "Project Evergreen 3" and which this section concerns, centred around providing a new direct service between Marylebone and Oxford. Announced in 2009 and priced at £320 million, the project included the following:

  1. A connection between the Oxford to Bletchley line and that from Banbury to Marylebone, by means of a double-track chord positioned about half a mile south east of Bicester North station. This was planned to be about 45-chains in length and have a 40-MPH speed limit (ref: Branch Line News No.1190, Branch Line Society, 3rd August 2013)
  2. The rebuilding of Bicester Town (now named "Bicester Village") and Islip stations.
  3. Double-tracking between Bicester Town and Oxford.
  4. Additional bay platforms at Oxford.
  5. Construction of a "park and ride" station at Water Eaton, about 3½-route miles north of Oxford, on the line to Bicester Town.

The track of the Bicester Chord was laid in December 2014, this of which is on a 1 in 33 gradient and subject to a 40 MPH speed restriction. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

Works to build the chord between the routes began in summer 2013, which included using 80,000 tons of recycled ballast to form an embankment of about half a mile in length (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 2013). The last passenger service from Bicester Town prior to the closure of the route to Oxford North Junction for upgrading was scheduled to be the 21:31 to Oxford on Friday, 14th February 2014; that would be followed by a return working from Oxford at 23:12 (ref: Branch Line News No.1198, Branch Line Society, 7th December 2013). Closure of the line was effective the following day.

The proposed site of the then-named Water Eaton Parkway station was positioned about 2¼-route-miles north of Oxford North Junction. The land was occupied by a rail-served stone terminal operated by aggregates firm "Hanson", in addition to a long-disused grain silo. It was proposed to relocate the stone terminal further north to make way for the station (ref: Branch Line News No. 1188, 6th July 2013); the grain silo was listed for demolition. Adjacent to the site was an existing park and ride for buses to Oxford city centre, and opening of the parkway station was projected for summer 2015.

The grain silo, which dated from World War II, was demolished in October 2013 (ref: BBC News, Oxford, 30th October 2013). By this time, the proposed name of the new station had changed from "Water Eaton Parkway" to "Oxford Parkway", and the projected date of opening was 17th May 2015 (ref: Branch Line News 1195, Branch Line Society, 26th October 2013). Construction of the station began in October 2014 (ref: Rail Magazine, 23rd September 2016). The contract for the £320 million "Evergreen 3" project was awarded by Network Rail as a joint venture to "Carillion" and "Buckingham Group Contracting", which included building the new stations. £130 million of this sum was provided by Chiltern Railways and the rest by Network Rail (ref: Railway Gazette International, 26th October 2015).

By February 2015, the main station building at Oxford Parkway was largely complete and concrete-sleeper double-track laid, albeit the latter was not yet fully ballasted — the platforms and footbridge had also not been started. The main building was positioned on the eastern side of the rails and comprised a sloping distorted roof of about 26-metres by 20-metres dimensions. A light and airy glazed ticket hall was provided, adjacent to which was an area destined to become a coffee shop. Construction was swift, for the station formally opened on Sunday, 25th October 2015, the first arrival being the 07:25 departure from Marylebone (ref: Branch Line News No. 1245, Branch Line Society, 4th November 2015). At this time, the section from Oxford Parkway to Oxford North Junction had not opened to passenger traffic. From the outset, trains typically arrived and departed from the new station’s platform 2; a trailing crossover east of the station facilitated a change between tracks (ref: Branch Line News No. 1245, Branch Line Society, 4th November 2015). At the time of Oxford Parkway’s opening, finishing touches were still being put on station. Regular passenger services were extended from Oxford to Oxford Parkway on 11th December 2016; a formal opening of this section of the route was conducted by the Transport Secretary the following day (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 2017).

25th August 2019

Similar main buildings were brought into use at Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village. The sloped profile of the roof is seen to good effect, underneath which is a spacious booking hall with ticket office, toilets, and a coffee shop. The columns supporting the end of the roof are clad with blue tiles, reminiscent of the London Underground. © David Glasspool

25th August 2019

The car park on the right of this north eastward view towards Bicester has capacity for 830 vehicles. In the background can just be seen the relocated aggregate terminal. The carriage stock had arrived from Paddington behind record-breaking steam locomotive No. 60103 “Flying Scotsman” and was also Oxford-bound. © David Glasspool

25th August 2019

Another north eastward view from the footbridge shows Chiltern Railways Class 168 No. 168112 departing platform 2 on the last leg of its journey from Marylebone to Oxford. The fastest journey time from London to Oxford via this route takes 1 hour 13 minutes, which compares to 45 minutes from Paddington. © David Glasspool

25th August 2019

The lift-equipped footbridge has a partially-glazed main span. Each platform is equipped with a small waiting shelter. This south westward view shows Class 168 No. 168112 in the distance heading to its final destination: Oxford. © David Glasspool