£320m Oxford link opens
CHILTERN Railways began operating trains right the way through from Oxford to London Marylebone on December 12, finally completing what it calls the first new rail link to be built between the capital and a major British city for over 100 years.
Network Rail and Chiltern have invested £320 million in the route, which opened as far as Oxford Parkway in October 2015 ( RAIL 787), and has now been extended the remaining four miles to Oxford’s main station.
More than 1.5 million passengers used the link in its first 12 months, and this figure is now expected to rise by 850,000 per annum.
Two trains per hour now run between Oxford and Marylebone in each direction, formed of between three and nine cars for peak-time services. Journey times for the quickest services are just over an hour, which is only a few minutes longer than existing Great Western Railway services to London Paddington.
In a day of celebrations on December 12, the first Chiltern Railways commuter service left Oxford at 0720. A ribboncutting ceremony was held later at Oxford Parkway, conducted by Chiltern Railways Managing Director Dave Penney, NR’s’ London North Western Route MD Martin Frobisher, Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling and NR Chief Executive Mark Carne.
“This is an historic day for Chiltern Railways, and it’s always nice to be able to say in anyone’s career that you’ve been able to open a brand new railway line,” Penney exclusively told RAIL.
“It’s also a good day for the people of Oxford because it brings genuine competition to the railways. And as we’ve seen with Oxford Parkway, if you provide the right facilities people will use them.”
Penney praised the strength of the collaborative relationship between Chiltern and Network Rail, that ensured delivery of the project on budget as the first part of the much larger East West Rail scheme. He added that the introduction of £130m private investment by Chiltern to part-fund the rail link, plus the operator’s focus on meeting customers’ needs, made it a forerunner to the type of closer integration that the Government now expects to see between operators and NR from future franchises (see pages 8-9).
“You cannot deny that having a 20-year franchise gave us headroom to invest, but £130m is not an insubstantial amount of
money.” he said.
“Rail margins are not great, but we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t think there was a good return to be made and lots of additional demand in Oxford.
“This shows how it [closer integration] can work as Chiltern Railways effectively had joint board responsibility during construction, which meant always keeping a strong customer focus on the delivery of outcomes. That is essentially what the Secretary of State’s recent announcement wants to see from the rest of the network for renewals and upgrade.”