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Author Topic: Is the service between Oxford and Swindon really practical?  (Read 2687 times)
Charlie (in Gloucester)
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« on: August 22, 2019, 01:47:12 pm »

I have recently been travelling to Oxford on a monthly basis, and the first thing I noticed is that it takes the exact same time to travel to London as it does Oxford. Example: I board the 10:51 Gloucester-Paddington. The service arrives into Didcot Parkway at 12:03. I then have a 27 minute connection before a trip on a shuttle towards Oxford that takes 15 minutes. In the time from when I left Didcot, if I remained on the 10:51 to Paddington then I would be there at the same time I alight at Oxford. Journey time: 1 hour 53 minutes.

In the December 2019 timetable change, services from South Wales no longer stop at Didcot Parkway (bar a few services) meaning that a passenger travelling from Cardiff to Oxford will have to change at Swindon, and then again at Didcot. Example: A passenger boards the 0755 Cardiff-Paddington. The service arrives at Swindon at 08:51. Connect onto the 09:00 Worcester-Paddington service arriving into Didcot Parkway at 09:15. 22 minute waiting time before the 09:37 to Oxford arriving into Oxford at 09:52.  Journey time: 1 hour 57 minutes.

In the next 10 years it would be nice to see a practical solution for services towards Oxford, and see something like a Swindon to Oxford non-stop service. Saying that, capacity along the Swindon-Didcot and Didcot-Oxford stretch is pushed as it is..
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ChrisB
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« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2019, 02:33:36 pm »

You answer you own point in the final paragraph.

Also, consideration of the passenger flows dfrom each originating West service wanting to 'turn' left at Didcot. Without running 10min shuttles between Didcot & Oxford, someone on several different service origins will get that sort of a wait.

I don't think you'll get a regular West to north service until four-track arrives west of Didcot, then you'll likely get at least one more station quite quickly so those services will become local stoppers. I suspect there's fewer than 10pax/hour outsidfe the peaks wanting that west to north service - plus maybe a handful wanting an easier connection into XC services that currently connect in Ra=eading
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grahame
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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2019, 03:01:53 pm »

... I suspect there's fewer than 10pax/hour outside the peaks wanting that west to north service ...

Interesting.

Stagecoach run an S6 service from Swindon to Oxford every 20 minute all day, taking 82 minutes and reports I hear are that it has a significant end to end traffic. Trains take between 38 and 47 minutes (again that's a current daytime figure) allowing for the change at Didcot.   The Bristol - Oxford service of the last decade wasn't overcrowded off peak - but neither was it empty, and since then passenger numbers using trains in general have soared.  Both Swindon and Oxford and in England's Economic Heartland and we could expect they'll be working closer together from now on than they have in the past.

I suspect that a sub-40-minute through train from Swindon to Oxford, perhaps calling at Wantage Road and Radley would generate rather more traffic that you're predicting - especially if it arrived at Swindon from further west. ChrisB - what evidence did you use to arrive at your suspicions?
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froome
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« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2019, 04:14:35 pm »

On the few occasions I've travelled from Bath to Oxford I've normally got off at Swindon and caught the bus there. Timings have mostly meant I would get to Oxford at the same time as I would have if I had stayed on the train to Didcot, and it is much cheaper as I have a bus pass.

I agree with Graham that there are likely to be many more than 10 passengers an hour wanting to make this journey off peak by rail. Apart from all the other users, there are certainly many tourists who travel from Bath to Oxford and would use a direct train.
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Reading General
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« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2019, 06:03:10 pm »

I know little of the paths available West of Diddy, but it would make sense to me to extend the current Didcot-Oxford/Banbury  train to Swindon if there are vehicles and a terminating arrangement available at Swindon and reversal is possible. As long as it's still timed to meet the electric stopper from Reading at Didcot, Oxford changing can be done at Swindon and vice versa.
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2019, 07:30:42 pm »

I agree with Graham that there are likely to be many more than 10 passengers an hour wanting to make this journey off peak by rail. Apart from all the other users, there are certainly many tourists who travel from Bath to Oxford and would use a direct train.

To state the bleedin' obvious, passengers will not use a service that isn't there.

Perhaps Graham could let us know how many passengers used Melksham station when there were only two trains per day in each direction, and how many are using it now (when there are supposed to be more than two trains a day in each direction...)
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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2019, 08:10:38 pm »

I agree with Graham that there are likely to be many more than 10 passengers an hour wanting to make this journey off peak by rail. Apart from all the other users, there are certainly many tourists who travel from Bath to Oxford and would use a direct train.

To state the bleedin' obvious, passengers will not use a service that isn't there.

Perhaps Graham could let us know how many passengers used Melksham station when there were only two trains per day in each direction, and how many are using it now (when there are supposed to be more than two trains a day in each direction...)

At two trains each way per day,  there were about 10 journeys a day - that's 5 arriving and 5 leaving on 4 calls. At eight trains each way per day, that rose to about 250 journeys a day.

To have a flourishing and used service you need ...
1. A reliable train service at sufficient frequency and
2. Sufficient people to use it

In June, I took a look at a number of other low service stations with, sadly, a universally tiny number of passengers - they all failed on "sufficient frequency".   But taking a look under the surface, I'm pretty sure they fall under that universal umbrella into two categories - those which would rocket in use with an increase even as modest as the improvement we've had at Melksham, and those which would remain sparse even with a train calling every 20 minutes!

I have resisted the temptation to publish lists of guesses as to which are which, and indeed to speculate in public about some of these and others which are absurdities at the moment, but given service and local development could grow from a seed into a great tree.

I know little of the paths available West of Diddy, but it would make sense to me to extend the current Didcot-Oxford/Banbury  train to Swindon if there are vehicles and a terminating arrangement available at Swindon and reversal is possible. As long as it's still timed to meet the electric stopper from Reading at Didcot, Oxford changing can be done at Swindon and vice versa.

Yes ... except why end it at Swindon?

 
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didcotdean
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« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2019, 08:21:31 pm »

The new timetable also removes some off-peak Didcot-Oxford services that start back at Paddington which in the present timetable fill in the holes from London in the hours when there isn't a Cheltenham service.

The 2-car 165 shuttles even off-peak can sometimes be full to standing; the one I travelled on this morning was for example. The amusing thing was the disbelief amongst a number of people waiting at the platform, presumably non-regulars, that this actually was the train to Oxford when it arrived and needed reassurance.
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IndustryInsider
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« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2019, 08:38:33 pm »

The fact it usually announces that the next train to arrive is the terminating service from Oxford and “Please do not board this train” causes most of the confusion.
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« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2019, 09:01:11 pm »

I know little of the paths available West of Diddy, but it would make sense to me to extend the current Didcot-Oxford/Banbury  train to Swindon if there are vehicles and a terminating arrangement available at Swindon and reversal is possible. As long as it's still timed to meet the electric stopper from Reading at Didcot, Oxford changing can be done at Swindon and vice versa.

Yes ... except why end it at Swindon?

 

I was thinking more of keeping it a local regular train from Swindon to Banbury to create interchange still making use of the intermediate stops like Culham and Radley, so instead of change from the West occurring at Didcot it would occur at Swindon instead. It could start from elsewhere but I guess it could get complicated as a regional service. I was thinking keeping the frequency half hourly if it was possible.
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2019, 09:55:53 pm »

A few questions:

1. What spare capacity is there between Swindon and Didcot, bearing in mind that part of it is already quadruple tracked through the existence of loops? I don't know if they are currently available for passenger train use but making them so would surely not be an insurmountable problem?

2. I see this as a potential new service rather than an extension of an existing one. Surely there are enough trains already serving Didcot from both Oxford and Swindon so any new service could go direct via the west curve?

3. How likely is extending quadrupling going to be given that the knitting has only recently gone up and any additional tracks would require repositioning all the support masts?

If I were a cynic I might say that the introduction of a direct Oxford to Swindon shuttle might give GWR something else to cancel due to its apparent inability to employ enough staff, and thereby take some pressure off the Transwilts line...

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eightonedee
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« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2019, 10:26:12 pm »

While we are drifting into fantasy timetable territory, how about this as a hypothetical service pattern that would suit this passenger?

Outer Thames service, clockface regularly spaced stopping service between Didcot and Reading, 4 an hour, 2x electric Swindon/Didcot/Reading then non-stop (or Twyford, Maidenhead & Slough) to Paddington, alternating 2x bimode Oxford/Reading/North Downs (one a Guildford, Shalford or Redhill stopper, one a Gatwick semi-fast).

The north west bound N Downs to Oxford to be timed to call at Didcot about 10 minutes after the eastbound Swindon - Paddington calls, giving a convenient connection for Swindon to Oxford passengers, and the southeast bound Oxford - N Downs likewise arriving 10 minutes before a westbound Paddington - Swindon for an equally convenient return journey.

I'll now sit back and await an avalanche of responses by those who know all the reasons why this will not work.

PS Graham - when they wire to Bath and Bristol, happy to extend the Swindon semi-fasts west - but may need to keep the paths for those East-West southwest to East Anglia services?

A chap can dream.....!
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grahame
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« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2019, 05:54:03 am »

Some elements not yet arisen in this thread / in this way:

1. Coal trains from South Wales and Avonmouth used to trundle along from Swindon to Didcot and they are now gone, releasing paths. "Super fast" short IETs will, from December be zipping through requiring new paths.

2. The Go-op open access proposal in most forms has included a Swindon to Oxford leg, and that's no mistake / not just looking to get their train between two lucrative sections

3. Trains from Westbury terminate from the west at Swindon and an hourly service with trains passing at either Chippenham or Royal Wootton Bassett (only possibilities for hourly service at present leaving a freight path on the line) would "sit" at Swindon for some time - no problem with the bay platform cleared from local "Cheltenhams" but a good use in extending to Oxford reducing need for extra unit(s) for a Swindon - Oxford - Banbury

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« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2019, 09:54:26 am »

Do you remember what was in the Western Route Study, based on the earlier market studies? No, I thought not. It lists "conditional outputs" - rail services that would run if loads of conditions are met (demand forecasts, infrastructure build, political and commercial need, etc) - between key cities and urban centres. Of course for smaller centres only links with neighbours are considered, since otherwise the number of links is enormous.

The list does include Bath-Oxford and Swindon-Oxford, but not Bristol-Oxford (Bristol-Peterborough appears, but the Conditional Output (MSCO) of "80mph, 1 or 2tph" is interpreted for the Route Study as  "As current (no direct services)"). For Bath, the MSCO is "80mph, 1 – 2tph" and the accepted objective is "1tph direct", while from Swindon the MSCO is "Total journey time (including waiting) of as close to 40 minutes as possible" and is adopted as "1tph". So the west<>north flow via Didcot hss at least been considered and quantified, even if the quantity is still "not a lot".

The 2043  ITSS - the timetable engraved into NR's crystal ball - included 2 tph from East-West Rail at Oxford going one each to Reading/London and via Swindon/Bath/Bristol. The words say that it had been accepted (in 2015) that that should go up to 4 tph, but where they would go south of Oxford was undecided. The exact timescale of that wasn't clear then - and still isn't!

While NR's view of the future from the past might not seem relevant, there is a strong tendency for that to happen, very, very eventually. In addition, do you remember their "Improving Connectivity" study? That approach would at least improve the connections at Didcot, but it was based on the idea of planning a core timetable for the whole country before doing anything else (including dividing the network into operational parts, or into collections of services to contract out). Now that idea has similarities to some of the muffled screams and grunts emerging from the Williams review process. So (for those of a patient disposition) watch that space...
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grahame
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« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2019, 05:23:14 am »

While NR's view of the future from the past might not seem relevant, there is a strong tendency for that to happen, very, very eventually. ...

A good, general, reminder to invest in longer term policy consultations as they help set a framework into which projects slot easily in years to come.
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