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.

Bicester Pre-Opening Report Part Two Tubb's Crossing

After Gavray Drive, I moved round to Tubb's Crossing.  The reason for the carpenters' work was revealed as was the purpose of the rows of steel pipes seen previously.  I saw three road rail machines in action here.
Here is the first of the road railers loaded with reinforcing bar.  
 In this picture construction workers are removing the shuttering from some pretty substantial concrete blocks.
On the east side of the bridge. work is being carried out on the blocks.
A bit further on piles of shutter can be seen against the fence.  Not quite sure what all this work is for.  Maybe sound barrier work although they seem a bit too substantial for that.
Another machine arrives pulling a generator and cement mixer.
It then proceeds to pour its load into partly filled block.  I understand the yellow T sign indicates the end of a temporary speed restriction.  I am grateful to the person that pointed this out..
The first machine having unloaded the rebar returns to the compound.
Followed by another towing a flat bed wagon.
 Finally a shot towards Gavray junction from far side of the footbridge.  Notice the piles on the left which I guess will support more concrete blocks.

Part three Bicester Town/Village station to follow.

Bicester Pre-Opening Update Part One Gavray Drive

I managed to get out to Bicester to have a look before the station re-opens and the new chord go into service.  With just over two weeks to go I imagined it would just be a case of tidying up the site.  I couldn't have been more wrong!  I found a hive of activity in all areas from the chord to the station.  I had thought to check out the line from Bicester to Oxford but I didn't know about the Oxford half marathon and the road closures that this involved.  That will have to wait until another day.  I went first to Gavray Drive to the new chord site.  I was pleased to find that the footbridge was now open which allowed a much better look at the new line.  On Charbridge Lane I was able to see that the speed limit coming off the Chiltern line onto the chord was 40mph.
Here the chord can be seen rising towards the Chiltern line.  Now that the new embankment has grassed over it is easier to make out.  Permanent fencing has been installed.  Two construction workers were walking the line and can be seen centre of picture.
  View from the footbridge.  It appears that both lines will be bi-directional from the signals.
Zooming in on the set for Gavray junction.  Note the stop boards on both lines
 And further on the set protecting Bicester South Junction. It appears that the Chiltern main line is steeply graded here but it is an optical illusion.
This is from the centre of the bridge.
And this from the far side staircase.
Looking the other way not so tidy here.
 In the work site some chippies were hard at work.  I wondered what for.  This became apparent later on.
 Moving under the Chiltern line, here are the recently installed signals with associated control cabinets on the re-doubled Varsity line.
 Looking east from the same spot.
 A bit further on the red buffers mark the end of the new double track section.
 At some stage the wing walls have been unsympathetically reinforced
 The underpass has been lengthened by the reinforcing
And more on the opposite wing wall

This is a fairly substantial culvert adjacent to the footbridge

Still some construction materials waiting to be used.  Two culvert or drain outfalls and some stancions inside the strip of land between the temporary and permanent fencing.