Bicester Traffic Action Group (BicesterTAG) have recently become aware that the total number of trains passing through Bicester on the new East West Rail link will exceed the original estimate of nine by four making it a total of thirteen.
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The four additional trains per hour will comprise two freight trains and two passenger. The information was reported in the latest edition of 'Rail Magazine' (Edition 780, 5-18 August 2015). Part of the
article can be downloaded here.
The higher figure does not mean that there will be thirteen trains passing through Bicester Town station from the opening of the East West Rail line in 2019, it means that this is the increment
possible based on the line capacity. Yet it is vital to remember that rail freight has increased by 40% in tonnage and from 8%-12% as market share (1993-2012, Source: RFG). Freight
capacity on existing railways is also highly congested. Consequently it is likely that the new capacity will be quickly exploited by train operators.
Whilst the all the passenger trains passing through London Road will be capable of a maximum of 100mph they will be preparing to stop at or accelerating away from Bicester Town station so will be traveling slower. The freight trains will not stop but only have maximum speeds of between 60 and 75mph however as the line is curved at this point, they travel at lower speeds.
What does this mean for bicester?
To date we have worked on estimates that if London Road level crossing were to close nine times per hour, for three minutes each closure then the crossing would be closed for 27 minutes per hour, assuming equally spaced trains. Yet with thirteen services this number increases to 39 minutes each and every hour. That means for 65% of each hour, residents and business of Bicester will not be able to use London Road level crossing and will encounter the resulting congestion.
Worse still, that assumes that the trains all run evenly spaced. This is very unlikely. The probable situation will be that one train passes and another is due shortly so the barriers will remain closed (Network Rail have very detailed rules on these matters). This means that London Road's crossing gates may be closed for up to 45 minutes each and every hour or 75% of the time.
LONDON ROAD CROSSING WILL CLOSE FOR:
- From 2019, a minimum of 27 minutes every hour;
- With a potential of 39 minutes every hour, assuming perfect spacing of trains;
- However a likely closing of 45 minutes every hour to accommodate actual train spacing.
- This assumes that Network Rail don't simply close the crossing without consultation on safety grounds as they have the legal power to do.
Closing London Road level crossing for anywhere between a minimum of 27 and 45 minutes will have a detrimental effect on Bicester. London Road is a key transport link not only for inter-town traffic and pedestrians but also traffic to and from the south.
Closing this essential link for between 45% and 75% of every hour is going to have many consequences, including;
- Traffic congestion building up back to Market Square and the Rodney House roundabout.
- Increased journey times for businesses and bus services
- Fewer shoppers visiting Pioneer Square, Sainburys etc.
- Increase congestion on Queens Avenue and the A41 roundabout
- Read more about the issues here in 'Bicester 2019: Carmageddon'
WORST CASE SCENARIO
You do not need to be a Traffic Planning Expert or a Professor of Human Psychology to realise that closing a key road through our rapidly growing town is going to create congestion. So to bring it home here is a little scenario we hope will never come to fruition;
It is 2021 in Bicester. Alfie is 19 and has grown up in Bicester all his life. He has just bought himself a new
Ford Focus GT3. He worked long and hard for this car and anyone who knows him knows that his car is his pride and joy particularly his girlfriend Carri who wishes he would shut up about it
for at least 5 minutes.
Alfie has just picked up Carri who lives on the new estate south of Langford where 2,000 new homes are being built. They're going to see a movie. They're late, Alfie is always late. Well he was waxing his car until 30 minutes ago.
Worse still, they're stuck in traffic. They've been queuing to get through the level crossing on London Road.
They have 5 minutes to get to cinema before the film starts. Alfie knows Carri will be cross if they miss it, she's always on at him about being late.
Oh great Alfie thinks, the traffic starts moving again they're going to make it. But before more than 20 cars have
gone through the crossing lights start flashing again. It's ok Alfie thinks, the traffic is moving fast we can make it. The car in front is also going for it. Cool Alfie thinks,
glad he's not some loser.
But unfortunately Alfie and Carri will lose, for unknown to them, the traffic is about to stop suddenly because the
frustrated driver of a car waiting to turn ahead unexpectedly pulls out into the traffic causing everyone behind to brake hard, including Alfie.
Alfie Carri and his pampered car are now stuck on the level crossing as the barriers close.
Then Driver Mattison comes around the corner driving the 1634 Immingham Docks to Toton container freight. As soon as
Eddie Mattison, driver of 23 years experience sees the situation he recognises that there is a car stuck on the crossing and presses his emergency brake. Yet with 25 wagons, his train
weighs well over 1,000 tonnes and has a theoretical stopping distance of 803 metres. Eddie later discovered this information from the accident investigator's evidence. Yet with a Ford
Focus under the wheels of his Class 66 locomotive, the train stopped in 738.2 metres.
The accident inquiry also heard from Network Rail that they now planned to close this level crossing as their had been a number of near accidents at this site already.
As this is a theoretical scenario, we're going to let impatient Alfie and hapless Carri walk away from this one
uninjured. We're also going to avoid Driver Eddie Mattison being unable to return to work for six months and having on-going counseling due to this being the second no-fault fatality of his
career. Unfortunately real-life is not always so kind.
why are we in this situation?
- Oxfordshire County Council have been part of the East West Rail Consortium since 1995.
- The other 37 level crossings on the East West route are to be replaced by alternative means or closed. London Road Bicester is the only one not.
- Oxfordshire County Council have made a HUGE mistake by ignoring this problem for so long.
- Oxfordshire County Council, their Leader, their Cabinet Member for the Environment and our local County Councillors are not taking the consequences of this problem seriously.
what's not happening?
Oxfordshire County Council is both a project sponsor of East West Rail and simultaneously has jurisdiction for all public highways within Oxfordshire. Six months on from the date they said
they would publish proposals they have not. Their engineers have visited the site on numerous occasions and have considered several variants but they have not eluded to anyone what these
maybe. So what are the potential solutions;
- Bridge - Simply building a bridge is unfeasible because the lead in ramps would stretch almost into Market Square and completely obliterate existing access roads as well as resident's
- Tunnel - A tunnel we are told is also unfeasible for similar reasons and the fact that the water table in that area is very high.
Yet, Oxfordshire County Council have no budget for this project. Despite being part of this project since 1995 and making provision to replace crossings elsewhere,
Oxfordshire County Council seem to have made a HUGE mistake here.
Our Oxfordshire County Councillors had told us that the council was applying to Central Government for funds to manage this task however in this period of prolonged austerity, this solution seems
less viable. We are now hearing rumours (we stress that these are rumours but from someone who is considered knowledgeable of the situation) that no compulsory purchase will be
permitted, meaning no funding is available.
So what is going to happen?
At the moment, Plan A is to allow the crossing to remain open. Network Rail have already questioned this. Remember that under the powers of the Railway Act they can close the crossing
without consultation on safety grounds.
BicesterTAG very much fear that the 'Alfie and Carri' scenario above will force their hand and the crossing will close. Terminating not only vehicle and but also pedestrian access as the
bridge at Bicester Town station will not be accessible except to those who have purchased tickets to travel.
Shocked? We are!
ARE YOU IMPACTED?
If you are a business owner, a Mum with children, a working person, a student or anyone else and you have been impacted by these issues, please add YOUR thoughts below in the comments
section. Only by recording your voice can we demonstrate to our politicians that these issues are relevant to the people and businesses of Bicester and the surrounding villages. Thank