Regular travellers by train to Oxford will be aware of ongoing works to the railway around Oxford. Network Rail is delivering a range of projects that will transform the railway and prepare for the expected growth in passenger numbers. Collectively the works are known as the Oxford Corridor Improvements and involve renewing track, installing new signals and laying new cables. A major summer blockade of the railway through Oxford between 7 July and 22 July (dates inclusive) will allow much of the operational work at Hinksey, Oxford Station and Wolvercote to be completed.
The track to the north of the station will be removed and replaced as it is life expired. The new track, crossings and signals will allow for increased line speeds, better regulation of trains (both passenger and freight) through the station with a more reliable signalling system.
Summer Engineering Blockade
Much of the work will be carried out in a major blockade of the line through Oxford. From 7 July to 22 July (and also on 28/29 July) there will be disruption to train services with no trains running out of Oxford Station. On these dates buses replace trains between Oxford and Didcot, Oxford and Banbury and Oxford and Oxford Parkway although a limited fast train service will run between Oxford, Reading and London Paddington from 16 to 20 July inclusive. The following replacement buses will run
- Didcot Parkway to Oxford (stopping service)
- Oxford to Banbury (stopping service)
- Oxford to Hanborough (Mondays-Fridays)
- Oxford to Oxford Parkway (use Park & Ride service 500 – valid rail tickets accepted)
- Hanborough to Oxford Parkway (direct service)
- Didcot Parkway – Oxford – Banbury (direct service)
- Didcot Parkway to Hanborough (Mondays-Fridays) (direct service)
- Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh (weekends) (stopping service)
- Didcot Parkway to Moreton-in-Marsh (weekends) (direct service)
Work being done and in progress
Phase 0 of the Oxford Corridor Improvements – essentially an interim phase creating new platform space to facilitate Chiltern Railways’ service to London Marylebone – has already been completed. However between Oxford Parkway and Oxford station the route is operated as a single track pending completion of works to Oxford North Junction.
Redoubling the junction and relaying the crossings for higher speed forms part of the work included in Phase 1 of the Oxford Corridor Improvements. It is necessary for East West Rail operations via Bicester to Bletchley and beyond.
Other track renewals, and remodelling will provide more capacity for freight and sidings for the stabling and turn-back of electric trains.
The current signalling system in the Oxford area dates back to the 1960s and is a big contributor to delays faced by rail users today. Re-signalling work is taking place across the whole Great Western route. Signalling at Oxford is being replaced and will be re-controlled to the state-of-the-art Rail Operating Centre at Didcot and is necessary for electrification.
Flood alleviation at Hinksey
The line has flooded 11 times in 14 years, each time causing chaos to rail travellers and the local roads. Working closely with the Environment Agency and local authorities, flood resilience works at Hinksey include raising the track and constructing a large culvert under the track to create a long-term, sustainable solution to this problem.
Works at Oxford station
As well as the new bay platforms 1 and 2 used by Chiltern Railways, Network Rail will also be extending platforms 3 and 4 to accommodate the new, longer electric IEP trains running between London Paddington, Oxford via the north Cotswolds to Worcester and Hereford. At Oxford station, a new gate line is being constructed at the end of platform 1. It will help ease congestion through the main gate line on platform 3. Work is continuing to clad the new operational building and install the canopies over the platforms. Part of platform 3 will also be raised.
Electrification will allow the introduction of a new fleet of cleaner, greener electric trains, with a 20% increase in capacity. To achieve this Network Rail needs to clear the route and create enough space for the new trains and electrical equipment to fit under bridges and through tunnels.
It may require the demolition and reconstruction of some bridges and also construction of electricity grid sub-stations to supply traction power at strategic locations along the line. Clearance of line side vegetation is also required.
Electrification from Appleford level crossing (north of Didcot) to Oxford is currently paused, pending track realignment and resignalling of Oxford. Subject to funding in the next accounting period from 2019, extension of electrification to Oxford still appears very likely. (Or at least I am an optimist!)