The Anonymous Widower

Calls For Major Enhancement To Oxford And Didcot Route

The title of this post, is the same as that of an article in Issue 899 of Rail Magazine.

This is the introductory paragraph.

A major upgrade to the line between Didcot and Oxford is needed to deliver the benefits of East West Rail, according to a new report funded by the Department for Transport, Network Rail and local authorities.

Some points from the article.

  • At peak times the double-track railway is congested.
  • The route was planned for electrification, but it was cancelled.
  • By 2028 services between Cambridge and Bristol and Southampton via Oxford are possible.
  • Capacity through Oxford would increase to fifteen tph.
  • There will be three tph between Marylebone and Oxford by 2028, with two continuing along the Cowley Branch.
  • Services will also run between Birmingham Moor Street and Oxford and Bristol.
  • It is likely that there will be extra tracks on the route.
  • Grade separation is also possible at Didcot.
  • A service between Oxford and Swindon is proposed.
  • A new station at Grove is mentioned, as is improvements at Culham station.
  • The study supports an Oxford to Northampton service via Milton Keynes

One thing, that is not mentioned, is the promised rebuilding of Oxford station.


It is certainly a long wish list and would transform rail traffic through Oxford.

February 25, 2020 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , ,


  1. This is definitely a section of line that needs to upgraded. Contemplating the cemetery and (formerly) the scrapyard just outside the station is a venerable Oxford tradition but of even less utility, and certainly less colourful, than most in that city.

    Regardless of electrification, quadrupling is the obvious answer and ought to be relatively easy northwards from Kennington Jc, but is likely to attract opposition from Appleford through Culham with its Grade II* listed station building, over the Thames (twice) and up to Kennington Jc and Hinksey Yard. Keeping the four tracks northwards from Oxford station to Oxford North Jc would make sense too.

    What Oxford needs is a station with four through platforms, in addition to the existing through roads for freight. That is where it gets complicated and expensive. First you’ll need to double the width of the infamous low-height bridge over Botley Road and then pretty much the whole of the existing station and surroundings would need to be demolished and rebuilt, significantly affecting road access.

    It could be done, and probably should be done, but getting anything done in and near Oxford is never easy or cheap. It may come down to whether GWR, Cross Country, Network Rail et al really have the stomach (and the budget) to go head to head with the colleges, environmentalists and other powerful interest groups in the City of Dreaming Spires and the Thames Valley.

    Perhaps the best way to win them over is to submit designs (eg for new/rebuilt bridges and stations) of the highest possible architectural (not just engineering) quality, perhaps offering quadrupling as a more visually acceptable alternative to intrusive overhead electrification, plus long-term enhancements to the cityscape and traffic circulation in the Botley Road area. However, the record is patchy, at best, and much of NR’s work has been of lamentable quality and the ugliness of so many contemporary railway structures makes it much harder to get essential new infrastructure approved and accepted.

    Comment by Stephen Spark | February 25, 2020 | Reply

    • It always puzzles me to compare Oxford with Cambridge. Both are major rail junctions and Cambridge has managed to expand a Listed station with no trouble. It has also built a second station and is now contemplating a third. I used to live nearby and there has been no serious opposotion except to the guided bus.

      It should be noted that East West Rail has extensive plans for East Anglia and I suspect, it will have extensive plans for the Thames Valley.

      Remember in Oxfordshire, electrification of the GWR was help up by the Heritage Taliban not wanting a rather poor but Listed bridge to be rebuilt. Oxford needs to join the nineteenth century

      Comment by AnonW | February 26, 2020 | Reply

      • It’s hardly fair to compare Cambridge with Oxford. The station at Oxford is effectively on a small island, with the river on one side and the Oxford Canal on the other, the Sheepwash Channel at the north end of the platforms and the road bridge and cemetery just south of the platforms. The ‘island’ is prone to flooding, which is why Botley Road can’t be lowered to give more headroom under that bridge. Oxford station’s current site is highly constrained with almost no scope for sideways expansion to either east or west. By contrast, Cambridge is on a flat site, untroubled by rivers etc, so has adequate space for expansion on the east side.

        To my mind, the only solution to capacity constraints at Oxford – which surely will only increase over time – is to look at a completely new site, probably north of the Rewley Road swing bridge, currently taken up with carriage sidings. It’s still squeezed between the canal and Castle Mill Stream on the east side and new student accommodation etc along Roger Dudman Way on the west side, but it ought to be a more manageable site. The biggest practical difficulty, I suspect, would be creating convenient road (especially bus) access.

        The ‘Heritage Taliban’ are persuasive simply because so much of the railways’ new infrastructure is so eye-wateringly ugly. Put some artistry into everything from stations, to bridges, overhead structures to fencing and you’ll be surprised how many of the Taliban turn into pussycats.

        Unfortunately, NR has a bad reputation around the country for arrogance and ignorance (cf the woeful PR mismanagement of HS2 with all the risks that is posing to the whole project). Network Rail needs to learn how to treat people with respect. This is only simple decency and good neighbourliness. But more than that, good (eye-pleasing) design is good PR and also good for business: you’ll spend less time and money fighting opposition groups and you’ll attract more customers. Hence the reason those hard-headed Victorians put so much effort into the appearance of stations and structures.

        Engineers may hate the concept of covering their RSJs and dismal grey graffiti-attracting concrete in, eg, brick and stone, but most of our iconic 19th-century railway stations and viaducts were built by those who understood the value of combining inspiring architecture with practical engineering excellence. They did so because they needed to win hearts, minds and wallets – NR’s current struggles to gain acceptance for new projects are largely down to its refusal to learn lessons from its forebears.

        Comment by Stephen Spark | February 26, 2020

      • I agree with a lot you say about Network Rail. They are good at some things like track layouts, but their project management is appalling and as you say so is their PR. You only have to look at their near ten-year rebuilding of the Grest Eastern Main Line to realise they couldn’t plan their way out of a paper bag. Everybody from Jamie Burles downwards criticises Network Rail, as they’re always calling surprise blockades at the most inconvenient times. They think because they provide replacement buses that it’s OK. A caring company would plan the job from beginning to end and go for it! Inevitably, when a rail project goes to time, the contractor has done everything.

        Comment by AnonW | February 26, 2020

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