The Cherwell Life

About Bicester and North Oxfordshire

Chiltern Railways

All train services through Bicester are operated by Chiltern Railways (and have been since privatisation of British Rail in 1996). Chiltern Railways first franchise ran from 1996-2002. The current 20 year franchise is due to run until December 2021.

On privatisation, Chiltern Railways inherited a fleet of 2 and 3-car Class 165 diesel turbo units. These had begun service with British Rail. The seeds of today’s Chiltern Railways operation began with Total Route Modernisation of the route out of London Marylebone in the late 1980s. In those days a 2-hourly service ran only as far as Banbury using first generation diesel multiple units (DMUs) which were slow and unreliable. Just a few years previously a scheme had been tabled to close Marylebone station and convert it to a coach station by the Thatcher government at the height of the early 80s recession.

That scheme would have seen trains from High Wycombe diverted to Paddington and underground trains operating on the route between Aylesbury and Baker Street as an extension of the Metropolitan line. And road coaches operating through the tunnels on a busway into Marylebone Station.

The “Chiltern Line” name was first used as a marketing term of Network SouthEast. The route was originally part of the Great Western Railway’s main line between Paddington and Birkenhead. Most Inter City services had been discontinued in 1968 after the route was singled.

Bridging ‘No-man’s-land’

The Chiltern Rail Users Group (CRUG) was born in 1989 out of commuters increasing frustration at the poor train service amidst an improving economic background and considerable investment in the road network at the M40 extension from Oxford to Birmingham opened in 1991. Another issue was that the line between Banbury and Leamington Spa was a kind of operational no-man’s-land under BR. Network South East operated services from Banbury south towards London with Regional Railways being responsible for local services between Birmingham and Leamington.

In 1990 there were just 12 Inter City trains from Banbury to Leamington Spa on a weekday. There was a roughly hourly service between Poole or Paddington or sometimes Brighton and Manchester, Liverpool or even Glasgow. Freight traffic then comprised coal from Midlands pits to Didcot power station, and containers or cars to and from Southampton. The passenger service was slow and irregular.


Today the service between Banbury and Leamington is unrecognisable with a regular 4 trains every hour today – 2 Chiltern Railways ‘Mainline’ services between Marylebone and Birmingham and 2 Cross-country – 1 between Manchester and Bournemouth and the other from Newcastle to Reading. Chiltern Railways also operates a third train each hour from Banbury to Marylebone. In general post-privatisation the passenger service is more frequent and operates to a much more regular pattern. There is still a lot of freight but the coal has disappeared from the mix.

Innovations and Highlights

  • Redoubling of line between Princes Risborough – Bicester North – Aynho Junction. Evergreen 2
  • New trains – Class 168 100mph air conditioned units, the first new trains introduced by any operator, post privatisation
  • New stations – Warwick Parkway, Aylesbury Vale Parkway; Oxford Parkway; also at Stratford on Avon Parkway.
  • New Oxford – London Marylebone via Bicester service completed December 2016
  • Future plans could include reopening of the branch from Oxford to Cowley – with new stations at Oxford Science Park and Oxford Busness Park

Chiltern Facts

Chiltern Railways is the only operator at Marylebone station. It is also the only London terminus station to remain entirely diesel operated.

Company was a management buy-out. Subsequently sold to Laing Rail. Latterly the company is now part of Arriva and is owned by DB Deutsche Bahn – german state railways.

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