Oxford Mail:

Thomas Ableman
Director, Chiltern Railways

It’s a month since we opened the first new rail link from a major British city to London in over 100 years.

I’ve quoted that statistic more times than I can count, yet it remains true. Last time a train company waved the green flag on a new line to London, Queen Victoria was Empress of India, the Boer War was drawing to an inglorious close while, in the world of transport, enlightened individuals were pushing the idea of an engine to propel buses – as opposed to the traditional horse.

We have been overwhelmed by the positive reaction we’ve received from passengers that have used Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village.

The new line has been largely reliable, the staff friendly, the stations welcoming and the quality of the trains appreciated.

Opening the new line meant opening a new station in Bicester, and splitting the train service. Previously, three trains ran from Bicester North to London every hour.

Today, there are two from each of the stations. Overall, more trains run, but we had to predict which stations our customers would use. And, being honest, we got it wrong. Roughly half of Bicester’s population live closer to Bicester Village, and we thought most of them would use the new station.

What has actually happened is that most have stayed at the old station.

To passengers on the 06.25 and the 07.11 trains to London and the 17.21 home, I apologise. It was a hard judgement to make, but we got it wrong. From December 13, we’ll be tweaking the lengths and that will give all these trains more carriages.

There have also been a number of issues that have affected our Banbury and Bicester North punctuality. I’d like to reassure passengers that running an efficient rail service is our absolute highest priority. I am confident these issues will be fixed.

Train companies don’t build new railways anymore. But we have proved that it can be done, and the people of Oxfordshire have a brand new rail link to prove it.

As more people discover just how easy and simple the new service is, I look forward to welcoming many more.

And to those we’ve disappointed from Bicester North and Banbury: we are working to put it right.


Oxford Mail:

Ellie Coleman, magazine researcher commuting to London from Bicester

Longer journeys? Fewer peak time trains? Plunging punctuality?

That’s what Oxfordshire’s new train stations have brought commuters at Bicester North. Not a success by anyone’s definition.

You used to be able to set your watch by Chiltern Railways. In two-and-a-half years of commuting to London I could count the times I had been substantially delayed on one hand.

Up until last month, that is.

Since then I have been so regularly late to work I don’t even bother letting my manager know any more.

In the evenings I get home at least 15 minutes later – and that’s on the rare occasions the train is on time. No longer do we have Wi-Fi and a modern comfortable carriage – it seems all the decent rolling stock has been sent over to Oxford to wow the new customers (and Bicester Village shoppers).

Instead, us regular commuters on the 17.21 from Marylebone are treated to a drafty, slam-door train with no charging sockets and much less wi-fi, so there’s no catching up on the work I’ve missed then either.

So while it’s great to see such ambitious investment in our railways, so far the opening of Oxford Parkway has been to the detriment of many existing commuters who use Bicester North.

Not only is punctuality terrible and the rolling stock like something out of the 1950s, but the number of peak time trains has reduced, and journey times have increased.

My commute has been increased by nearly 80 minutes per Monday to Friday week due to these changes – and that’s when the trains are on time.

For a commuter who pays nearly £5,000 for my annual season ticket this leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Yes, Bicester commuters can choose to use the revamped Bicester Town station instead but that’s not within walking distance of home for many of us. And no one wants to encourage more cars on the road.

The fact that the new station is now called “Bicester Village” may be some clue as to where Chiltern’s priorities now lie .

Chiltern, please fix your terrible new timetable soon.