The railway first came to Bicester in 1850 when Bicester Town station opened on what became known as the 'Varsity Line' stretching between Oxford and Cambridge. Bicester North station was a
late arrival in 1910 when the Great Western Railway wanted a shortcut to Birmingham. Until the 1990s, Bicester North was a sleepy little stop with Bicester Town closing between 1968 and
Then Britain went railway mad, for a second time. Not since the times of George Stephenson have so many new railways been built in this country. From Crossrail in London, High Speed 2 (HS2) to
the north and many regional projects, Britain wants to travel by train again.
Bicester is at the centre of this action with three major projects;
Since the 1990s, Chiltern have invested to reduce journey times to London. Their work has been rewarded by ever growing numbers of commuters from the Bicester area attracted by the fast and reliable service. The 'Evergreen3' project is the final stage in their programme and will allow trains to reach Oxford via Bicester using a new link near Gavray Drive. This will allow 2 trains per hour in each direction between Oxford and Marylebone, all stopping at Bicester. This project (partially) opens in 2015.
East West Rail is a consortium of councils across the central belt of the country to use better transport links to create growth. The plan was first proposed in 1995 by a group of councils to reactivate the 'Varsity Line' closed in the 1960s. The planned timetable will see two trains pass Bicester each hour, in each direction (Reading-Oxford-Milton Keynes and Reading-Oxford-Bedford). The line is due to open in 2022 (delayed from 2019). 37 of the 38 level crossings will close. Bicester's London Road is #38 and it may close.
The 'Electric Spine' is a new railway route designed to provide an all electrified railway all the way from the Port of Southampton to the north as far as Sheffield. The route will be intended for freight trains carrying containers. No fully electrified route exists. Rail freight is rapidly expanding and current lines are at capacity. It is simply a route and could be accessed by any operator. Timetables and train length estimates are therefore unknown.
East West Rail's promotional video.
Work in progress: these photographs are from March 2015 and show the scale of the rebuilding that is going on to make the line capable of carrying 100mph, electrified freight trains. This
has involved removal of all the previous infrastructure including tracks, signal, platforms and in many cases bridges. Photographs courtesy obrag.org.uk, EastWestRail and BicesterChord.co.uk.
The three projects each have a different implication for the town and most will be extremely positive such as;
Chiltern Railway's Evergreen3 project will terminate at Oxford. In November 2014, Chiltern ran a trial train from Oxford along the currently
freight only branch line to the BMW factory. By 2020, Chiltern would like to build stations at Oxford's Science Park and Business Park with direct trains from Marylebone via Bicester and Oxford.
This project is supported by Oxfordshire LEP headed by ex Chiltern MD, Adrian Shooter. Photo: John Stretton/Rail Magazine.
However the negative impact will be felt in 2019 when East West Rail and 'Electric Spine' services commence. This will bring a minimum of eight trains per hour passing Bicester plus unknown freight trains. As residents, we will be impacted at two key points, both railway level crossings; London Road and Charbridge Lane. The issues are outlined below;
London Road level crossing is the crossing closest to Bicester Town station and shown below.
There were originally 38 road crossings on the entire East West Rail route. Network Rail plan to close 37 of them, London Road was the sole exception. Network Rail's corporate policy is to close level crossings wherever possible due to poor safety as described here. London Road was to remain open because Oxfordshire County Council planners could not squeeze in either a bridge or tunnel into the space available.
Based on timetables published by Chiltern Railways and East West Rail, we know there will be eight trains passing this level crossing per hour.
If the road is closed for three minutes per train, this results in the road being closed to traffic for 24 minutes per hour or 40% of the time.
This estimate excludes freight trains.
However, from information supplied to us by Oxfordshire County Councillors familiar with this problem: at peak times the gates will be closed for up to 45 minutes per hour or 75% of the time.
In 2010, a local resident gave evidence to the Public Enquiry suggesting this would be the case. Chiltern Railways 'expert' denied the claims. This information is on public
record. Yet our councils and councillors would like us to think that they only became aware of the issue in late 2014/early 2015. This is neither true or acceptable.
In early 2015, we discovered that Network Rail has decided that in line with their safety policy, the London Road crossing must be closed because it will close so
frequently and for so long that it will cause a potential safety issue with motorists attempting to cross when the red lights are flashing.
Yet Oxforshire Country Council STILL have failed to publish any possible alternative routes and still have no budget to pay for them anyway.
Then in January 2015, despite outline business cases and estimated timetables being published since at least 2010, Oxfordshire Country Council finally realised that from 2019, at peak times the
crossing will close for up to 45 minutes per hour.
This is inspite of the fact that a Bicester resident acted as a 'statutory objector' in 2010 at a Public Enquiry and gave evidence that the crossing would close for 30 minutes each hour.
The enquiry was told by Chiltern Railway’s expert witness, Paul Tregear, that the impact on the local highway network would be of ‘slight magnitude’ and ‘moderate significance’. (Read one of Mr Tregear's reports
To date, Oxfordshire Country Council have failed to publish any alternative proposals and have confirmed that they have no budget allocated.
Unless Oxfordshire County Council put forward sensible and viable alternative solutions, Bicester will be economically and
socially impoverished by these changes. Worse still, most of our residents are unaware of this information as our Traffic Survey (March 2015) discovered (see below, click charts for full
How are the emergency services going to gain quick access to whole sections of Bicester and the southerly villages if one of the three routes to the south of the town is closed? We met with Oxfordshire Fire Brigade to ask, read more about it here.
Your councillors will attempt to tell you that they were unaware this outcome was happening and that the problem only arose when
the East West Rail project was given the go-ahead. Our evidence is based on the public record and shows otherwise. Do not allow our councillors to tell you
Charbridge Lane is the second level crossing in Bicester and will be particularly familiar to the residents of Langford Village and Launton as well as those who work around Bicester Distribution Park.
Four East West Rail passenger trains will cross it per hour meaning that it is likely to be closed for a minimum of 12 (4 x 3 minutes) minutes per hour. This estimate excludes unknown freight trains.
As mentioned previously, Network Rail wish to close 37 of the 38 level crossings on the East West route inline with their corporate safety policy. Charbridge Lane is one of the 37, however there is an issue. There is no potential replacement until approximately 2025. The problem with the Charbridge Lane site is that there is insufficient space to build either a road bridge over the railway or a tunnel beneath. So what is our council's solution? Errr, do you mind waiting?
Charbridge Lane level crossing will not have as much rail traffic as London Road because Chiltern Railways trains will join the existing Chiltern Mainline using a new link located behind Wickes. Only four East West Rail trains will cross Charbridge Lane per hour (4 x 3 minutes). Rail freight movements will be additional and are unknown.
Note the proximity to Business Distribution Centre, home to several transport businesses including DHL Kraft, Baker & Taylor and Fresh Direct. All are transport oriented businesses where timely deliveries are critical.
You may have already read our page entitled "No New Roads/Infrastructure" section about the lack of road infrastructure our councils have neglected to build to support the growth they are approving. The image below shows an approximate routing of a new road that will cross both railway lines using either bridges or tunnels. Once this new road is completed, Charbridge Lane will then be closed. However there are a number of problems with this proposal;
So in summary. A railway crossing that will close 12 minutes per hour (20%) serves a industrial park home to transport based businesses, a residential suburb of 6,000 people and a village has to close because Network Rail deem it a safety risk yet our councils will not build a solution for potentially up to 10 years?
Unfortunately the problems are not in isolation, the page entitled 'Bicester 2019'
illustrates how these problems compound with the existing traffic congestion caused by Bicester Village combined with 13,000 new homes.
Chiltern Railways will start a 2 train per hour service (each direction) from Oxford Parkway (Water Eaton Park and Ride) via Bicester Town to London Marylebone.
The last link between Oxford Parkway and Oxford station will open and all Chiltern trains will terminate there.
The East West Rail services between Reading-Oxford-Milton Keynes/Bedford are due to commence. The franchise has not been awarded to an operator.
The 'Electric Spine' railway will open.
Chiltern have recently suggested (and ran a demonstration train) that they would like to extend beyond Oxford following the currently freight only line to Blackbird Leys (the Mini factory) and including new stations at Littlemore and Oxford Science park. There are no timescales on these proposals.
Undoubtedly the new railway links will bring benefits to our town. As residents we will have access to fast, direct and frequent services to more destinations. Residents will be able to realistically be able to access a wider range of jobs, young people will be able to reach a broader range of educational institutions/courses.
The new services will also make Bicester a more attractive place to live bringing new people to the town and thus supporting a better range of goods/services in our town. Hopefully, some of
Bicester Villages visitors will even be able to travel to a station only a short walk from the stores reducing vehicle congestion.
However unless the issues outline with the two level crossings are addressed, Bicester will grind to a halt with the southerly half of the town becoming more isolated. The nightmare scenario of failing to address these problems is outlined here in 'Bicester 2019'.