Friday, 25 March 2016

Bedford to Hitchin - Part Two - Ickleford to Henlow Camp

Now a look at the section from Ickleford to Henlow Camp.  The difficulties of using the old route increase as we move north.

On the other side of the field shown at the end of the last post, the line crossed Snailswell Lane.  In this picture from 1964 the bridge had been reduced to a single span but a walkway replaced the other span.  This was quite a low clearance bridge.

 This is the bridge looking back towards Hitchin with the large field immediately the other side of the bridge.
 Here is the site of the bridge today.  Absolutely no sign of its existence now or is there?
 On the left is a well built culvert taking a drainage ditch under the line which has survived.  I am sure that there are people living here who have no idea that a (once) twin tracked main line railway passed through here.

After Snailswell Lane the embankment became a cutting. Here the line passes under Three Arches bridge heading towards open farm land.  I can remember visiting this bridge with a friend few times in 1962 not realising that the line had closed to passengers.  Unsurprisingly we never saw anything pass under the bridge.
Looking back towards Ickleford.  This cutting was controversially filled with rubbish in the 1980's.  There were fears that flooding would cause contaminated water to leech out into the village.  Presumably the embankment between Arlesey Road and Snailswell Lane was removed at the same time and used to cap off the landfill.

This is shot taken from the site of Three Arches bridge looking the same way as the last picture showing the filled in cutting. The farmer does not appear to use the land.
Here is probably why the land is not used.  One of a number of monitoring boreholes.
 A closer look reveals the label stating it is an observation monitoring borehole and that it should not be filled.
 This was the site of the actual bridge. The bridleway dips a bit where the ground has settled over the years.
 Looking north towards Henlow, the land above the infilled cutting is being farmed
 Looking back toward three arches bridge from the edge of the next field
 Moving on towards Henlow, the ground is quite uneven where the infilling has settled.
 The cutting ended around here and the line continued on a low embankment. This looks back towards Ickleford.
The line crossed this field but no trace of it remains apart from possibly this small culvert in the centre of this picture.
Again the course of the line is quite clear from the air. Fifty odd years of ploughing still haven't managed to remove the evidence of the route it took.
 I couldn't follow the trackbed any further so I had to relocate to the A600 Bedford Road. This picture looks over to the infilled cutting marked by the fence line.
 Turning left from the same spot, the line continued behind the small trees.
 It then emerged on this still visible raised ground to cross this field.  The overhead line gantries of the ECML are visible in the background.
 After crossing the field, the line continued towards Henlow on another section of embankment marked by the tree line.
 More of the same embankment.  Where it ends on the left it has been narrowed considerably by ploughing over the years. It carries on across the next field before entering what was Henlow Camp station.
 The dip in the driveway marks what would have been an occupation crossing still visible more than 50 years after closure.
 From the crossing looking towards Ickleford.  The large tree in the centre marks the start of the embankment.
 Looking the other way to the edge of Henlow Camp. Trees in the centre mark the start of another embankment which took the line into the station.
 Here is the same heavily wooded embankment seen from a new housing development.
The name of play area acknowledges the former existence of the railway as do some of the road names.  Maybe not the best idea though as Network Rail spend millions on getting the safety message about not playing on or near railway lines across!
The overgrown embankment continued until encroached on by the back gardens of new housing.marked by the fence.
Next post will be Henlow Camp with some old pictures of the station.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Oxford Parkway to Bicester Re-opens

On 26th October the line from Oxford Parkway to Bicester officially re-opened and the new chord went into service permitting the start of the new Chiltern Railways Marylebone to Oxford service to commence.  However Chiltern Railways announced on Saturday that services would actually start on Sunday 25th to allow testing of the line.  Passengers were welcome to try out the service but would have to pay!  The new station at Oxford Parkway was opened by David Cameron and the rebuilt stations at Islip and Bicester Village (formally Town) re-opened.  Considering how much still remained to be done two weeks ago, they certainly pulled out all the stops to open on time.  OK there is still a lot of finishing touches to be completed such as sound barriers but it was still quite an achievement.

Whilst this is all about a new rail link to London, it also represents an important step in the construction of the East West Rail link.  The fact that Chiltern Railways and Network Rail were prepared to make provision for East West Rail when building the Bicester chord is almost certainly the catalyst that finally made the project move from an aspiration to a reality.

I decided to give the new service a try and my first opportunity to do this was on 28th October.  If you book early enough and are prepared to book a specific off peak train, it is very cheap, starting at £3.95 per leg.  I have to say I was hoping that I was not going to be travelling on a rail replacement bus, doubter that I was!   I am pleased to say that my doubts were misplaced and the journey went smoothly.  This was my first visit to Marylebone station and I was surprised (and pleased) to see that the logo of the Great Central Railway was still on both entrance gates some 92 years after it ceased to be an independent entity. The photo below shows the left hand gate:-

Above the departure board and in a number of other locations, banners proclaimed the arrival of the new service.  Our train was the 11.05 from platform 2 which can just about be seen at the bottom of the picture.  It duly left on time and it seemed that in no time we were passing through the rolling countryside of the Chilterns.  It was only scheduled to stop at Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Bicester Village.  After the stop at Haddenham and Thame, we continued on our way towards Bicester with the signs in the carriage proclaiming that this train was for Bicester North and Oxford Parkway..  The ticket inspector was forced to announce that this was wrong and that we would indeed be calling at Bicester Village much to the relief of the shoppers on the train!
After crossing the A41, we slowed to 40mph for the approach to the chord.  As we descended towards Gavray Junction I took a couple of shots through the quite dirty carriage window so I apologise for their poor quality.
In the compound centre of the picture, the chippies were still hard at work which you can just make out by zooming in.
 The large concrete blocks were indeed for sound barrier fencing.  It does seem an incredible amount of concrete to support what are effectively fence panels.  Some of this sound barrier has now been erected and work was continuing as we passed.  On arrival at Bicester Village I was surprised to hear the announcements made in three languages, English, Mandarin and Japanese.  This is obviously to assist the multitude of Chinese and Japanese tourists that visit the shopping village.  Work was still going on at the station but it was largely complete.  I was correct about the dedicated entrance to Bicester Village.

 From Bicester to Oxford Parkway, there was still a lot of work being carried as we passed through including at Islip station.  I noticed quite a few new bridges which were (quite rightly) necessary for safety
reasons with the line speed increasing from 40mph to 100mph. I will try and take a closer look at this section when time allows.
I took this after getting off the train and you can see the temporary buffer stops on the other side of the bridge. This is the terminus until the line into Oxford station re-opens.
 Looking back the other way.  The train dwells here as the timetable has been set to include the extra time to travel into Oxford and back.
 Looking down from the footbridge towards Islip.
 Quite a few cars in the new car park which has a capacity for around 850 cars and 150 bikes.
 Car park from the footbridge staircase.  Water Eaton park and ride is to the right.
View towards Oxford from the other platform.
 And towards Islip from the same spot.
 And finally the station building from the approach road. The replacement bus service to Oxford station was the 500 park and ride bus and one was waiting for us as we arrived so there no delay.  It was a bit of a slow grind into Oxford however.  There is a small cafe in the station and I chatted to the man behind the counter whilst we waited for our return train.  He said that trade had been brisk for the three days that the station had been open.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Bicester Pre-Opening Report Part Three Bicester Town/Village Station

Finally I went to have a look at Bicester Town station or Bicester Village as it will be known.  At first glance the station itself look reasonably complete whilst the approach road and car park still have a way to go.  However on closer inspection there is still quite a bit to finish on the station itself.   London Road level crossing was closed so getting to both sides of the site involved quite a diversion.
First the London Road level crossing.  A cement mixer is filling the rail mounted mixer. I didn't notice it at the time (or I might have availed myself of it!) but there is a notice on the bus stop saying that there is taxi to to take pedestrians to the other side of the crossing if you wait there.
 Improvements are being made to Station Approach widening the entrance.
The car park still full of construction materials 
 The station building seen from Station Approach.  The footbridge is now in place and associated staircases.  The car park to the right is not part of the station as I first thought but an extension of Bicester Village parking facilities.
The station seen from the south side of the line.  The vegetation disguises the fact that it is not finished.
 One of the platform shelters with the footbridge behind.  Reasonably complete here although the fencing behind the shelter is still to be installed.
 Looking the other way still quite a bit to do.  The electronic train information board has a sign with "car stop" on the end.  The preliminary route indicator has the the look of a cactus!
 This is the exit from the station building on to the platform.  Permanent fencing still to be installed.
 Same shot from a different angle courtesy of a fire escape.
Now looking towards the west end of the platform.  Lot of activity here.
 Zooming in reveals a lot more to be done here.  Could that building to the right of the picture be a dedicated entrance to Bicester Village?
 Here are the two preliminary route indicators seen behind the hoardings.  Going to be a while before the left hand feather on the nearest sign sees much use unless it is a waste train for Calvert perhaps

Finally a large concrete foundation has been poured inside the work site.  I am not sure what is for but for something not vital to the re-opening I am guessing.  Hats off to Buckingham Group if this all ready for the 26th October.  It looks like they are pulling out all the stops but there is still a lot to do.