Transport systems all have some basic operating rules. For example we all know to drive on the left – there would be lots of accidents if we didn’t have rules in place to prevent them. On the railways too it is generally the custom that trains run on the left. But increasingly that is not necessarily always the case. Another rule or custom is that trains generally run in the “Up” direction towards London and “Down” away.
As the number of train movements has increased then sometimes right hand running is now the norm; though usually only for short distances. One such place this routinely happens is between Oxford and Oxford North Junction where the line to Bicester and London Marylebone diverges. Doing so is perfectly safe; the track is bi-directionally signalled to allow this. By Marylebone-bound trains not crossing the Up main line twice in short succession capacity is increased. It avoids holding up trains towards Didcot, Reading and London Paddington.
When the line between Princes Risborough and Aynho Junction through Bicester North was reinstated to double track, the signalling was upgraded to be bi-directional. Similarly the route through Bicester Village is also bi-directionally signalled. It gives additional operational flexibility which is useful during engineering works or at times of disruption. But even though the signalling is bi-directional, it is rarely used in normal operation.
The truth is the lines are just too busy and sections between crossovers too long for bi-di operation to be routinely used (it is 18 miles between Bicester North and Princes Risborough). Recently I have seen the bi-directional signalling used on occasion for a delayed fast mainline train to London overtake the slow stopper between Bicester North and Bicester South Junction. But this is not regular and it is not a long section.
Left or Right, Up and Down… or Down and Up!
Yet there were a pair of trains which routinely ran in passenger service on the right between Oxford Parkway and Bicester. So you had a train to London heading in the Down direction on the Up line! And not only that because when the line was built in 1850, Up was towards Bletchley and London Euston but the designation was swapped in 2015 and Up in this case is now towards Oxford and Paddington. But you would have been going Up on the Down – at least the signallers always know what they are doing.
Confused? Look closely at the photo below…
The above plan wasn’t all for fun. It allowed both platforms at Oxford Parkway to be in use at the same time. Before the line through to Oxford was reopened in December 2016, trains crossed over and reversed in Platform 2 at Oxford Parkway. The 07:08 from Bicester Village normally ran ‘wrong line’ in the opposite direction to Oxford Parkway but didn’t then cross over. Departure of the 07:24 would not be delayed if this train was late. And passengers on Chiltern’s flagship Mainline ‘Silver’ train to London didn’t need to cross the footbridge at Oxford Parkway.
It is not just on the railways where there is potential confusion. I remember when you used to go on the A43 from Northampton and Bicester to Oxford. Since the M40 was built in 1991 you go on the A34!
Once upon a time the A34 used to go through Woodstock. Now it is the A44. Even before that (before my time) the A42 went to Woodstock. Now you have to go a long way to find the A42 (clue: it is between the M42 and M1 in Leicestershire). I sometimes wonder if transport planners are dyslexic! When you see the dog’s breakfast of a junction on the M40 at Ardley (Junction 10) I do wonder if there is any logic to their planning?