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Author Topic: Cotswold Line 2tph - an alternative proposal  (Read 400 times)
Richard Fairhurst
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« on: January 10, 2021, 04:55:05 pm »

Regular readers will remember that the North Cotswold Line Taskforce - a body led by county councils, with Network Rail and GWR involvement - has proposed a new service pattern for the Cotswold Line, backed up by infrastructure enhancements.

Recap

The core pattern involves 2tph from Worcester, with 1tph calling at Vale of Evesham stations; all at Moreton; the other 1tph at Kingham/Charlbury; and all at Hanborough. Additional 'Oxford Metro' services bring Hanborough up to 4tph. To support this, redoubling is proposed between Wolvercot Junction (near Oxford) and Hanborough, and between Evesham and Pershore.

You can see the plans here: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2020-0004/NORTH-COTSWOLD-LINE-TASK-FORCE-STRATEGIC-BUSINESS-CASE-DEC-2019_ISSUE_110120-(002).pdf

The key pages are p5, a diagram showing the service pattern; p46, the options considered (option 5 is the one selected); and p50, which has a sample weekday timetable.

Although Worcester benefits with two faster services to Oxford/London per hour, most stations on the line won't benefit - they remain at 1tph, perhaps with minimal journey time improvements. Alternating between "Vale of Evesham stoppers" and "Oxfordshire stoppers" breaks connectivity between the two areas. Broadly, the only stations to benefit significantly are Worcester, Moreton and Hanborough; other stations, including the two busiest at Charlbury and Evesham, see no improvement.

Context

Worcester has a long-standing aspiration for faster trains to London. The merits (or otherwise) of this have been extensively debated on this board over the years and I don't propose to rehash them.

In Oxfordshire, housing is being developed at Salt Cross (nearest station, Hanborough: 2200 houses), West Eynsham (Hanborough, 550), East Chipping Norton (Charlbury/Kingham, 1200), and North Witney (Charlbury/Hanborough, 1400). Improvements to the A40 will provide better bus services for the Witney/Eynsham corridor, but longer-distance traffic is expected to go by train.

Further west, new homes are planned at Long Marston (Honeybourne: up to 3500), in northern Pershore (700), and on the southern edge of Worcester (Worcestershire Parkway: 2000+).

There's also the issue of the Honeybourne-Long Marston-Stratford line, which Warwickshire County Council is keen to reopen.

Scoping out an alternative

I believe strongly that the proposals are not good enough as they stand. They offer nothing to most of the line, and indeed reduce through travel options. Housing developments in the Vale of Evesham and West Oxfordshire will generate significant demand that, outside Hanborough, these plans don't address.

They also do nothing to address the biggest gap in the Cotswold Line service at present - the limited journey opportunities from the Vale of Evesham. There is a significant travel market from Evesham and Pershore to Birmingham, as well as to other towns within Wychavon district and elsewhere. The NLCTF proposals have this as a "Future extension option" conditional on Honeybourne-Stratford reopening.

So I've been looking at whether something better is possible. The constraints I've assumed are:

  • Through services from Paddington, departing/arriving Oxford at the same time, served by IETs
  • Infrastructure enhancements identical, or similar to, the NLCTF proposals
  • 2tph base service including faster services for Worcester
  • Oriented around principal travel patterns (Vale of Evesham<->Worcester; eastern stations<->Oxford and London) but retaining other journey opportunities where possible
  • Potential direct services from the Vale of Evesham to the West Midlands

The alternative service pattern

Happily - it is indeed possible! In brief:

  • 1tph principal stations Oxford-Worcester, as at present
  • 1tph principal stations Oxford-Moreton, then Evesham, Worcestershire Parkway, Worcester
  • 1tph Vale of Evesham stopper, all stations Honeybourne-Worcester
  • 2tph 'Oxford Metro' Oxford-Hanborough

This gives the following timetable:



Single-line utilisation at the eastern end (Charlbury-Hanborough): up xx13-20 [H], down xx23-xx30 [C], up xx43-50 [H], down xx53-00 [C]

Single-line utilisation at the western end (Norton Jn-Pershore): up xx07-xx14 [P], down xx15-23 [N], up xx29-xx35 [P], down xx36-44 [N], up xx50-xx57 [P], down xx58-06 [N].

(Blue = single-line sections. Purple = Oxford Metro services. [H]/[C] etc. = where services cross. All section timings are from current WTT as per RealTimeTrains. All times departure unless otherwise shown.)

Going further

I've concentrated on the regular plan between Worcester and Oxford as this is where the biggest infrastructure constraints (and proposed spending) are.

The Vale of Evesham stopper is expressly intended to continue to Droitwich and Birmingham. Considering how best to slot this into the existing Worcester-Birmingham pattern would be an exercise in itself.

There are many options for what the other trains do west of Shrub Hill. The NLCTF plan envisages increasing Malvern to hourly, which would be easy to add onto the 2tph Worcester-Oxford service. They are also proposing extending half of the services (the Oxfordshire stoppers) to Kidderminster, which seems a dubious proposition to me, but nonetheless Kidderminster extensions could be achieved with this plan too. Needless to say, the more trains that can continue to Foregate Street as the city centre station, the better.

In the event of the Honeybourne-Stratford line reopening, the Vale of Evesham stoppers could be extended to Stratford with no further infrastructure work required on the Cotswold Line.

This proposal vs NCLTF proposal

The service level at each station:

  • Oxford: no difference
  • Hanborough: 4tph east, 2tph west - no difference
  • Charlbury: 2tph - extra 1tph, retains all existing through services
  • Kingham: 2tph - extra 1tph, retains all existing through services
  • Moreton: 2tph - no difference
  • Honeybourne: 1tph east, 2tph west - extra 1tph west, retains all existing through services
  • Evesham: 3tph - extra 2tph, retains all existing through services
  • Pershore: 2tph - extra 1tph, retains all existing through services
  • Worcestershire Parkway: 3tph - extra 1tph
  • Worcester Shrub Hill: no difference

Journey times Shrub Hill-Oxford are 1hr15 for the principal stations, 1hr06 for the fast. This compares to the NCLTF proposal of 1hr08 and 1hr04. In other words, Worcester still gets an hourly fast service (2 minutes slower than the NCLTF proposal), which hits the magic 2hr00 from Paddington (2hr01 up). I suspect there's the opportunity to shave another couple of minutes off here and there.

The enhanced service at Evesham and Worcestershire Parkway has the potential to be a gamechanger. With a 20-minute interval at Parkway, connecting onto CrossCountry services becomes much more attractive: Worcester gets a fast regular connection onto the Cardiff service, for example. Meanwhile, Evesham effectively gets a turn-up-and-go service to Worcester at half the travel time of the X50 bus. Evesham, the biggest settlement between Oxford and Worcester, has a lot of untapped potential.

Notes

This is a standard hourly pattern. The Cotswold Line does of course have a different pattern in the peaks and I'd anticipate that would continue. Conversely, the service could be thinned down in the evenings.

I looked into omitting Evesham from the "fasts", but the constraints of the single line mean there's no time advantage in doing so.

The Vale of Evesham stoppers continue to Honeybourne principally because this is a practical place to turn the train. In order to pick up passengers here you'd probably need to build out an extra platform face on the Long Marston side. Alternatively, you could run ECS here, or not go to Honeybourne at all but reverse into the Evesham siding instead.

In the interests of honesty, what downsides does this proposal have? Two that I can see. First, the single line between Pershore and Norton Junction is intensively worked, with trains regularly crossing at Pershore. There are two longer recovery periods per hour, but ideally some modelling would look at the likely impact of delays here, and consider whether moving the single line section would help. Second, Worcester departures are regular to Evesham (every 20 minutes) but have 40/20 intervals to Oxford. This is inevitable given that the two services need to arrive at Oxford on the half-hour, but one has fewer stops. I don't see it as a major issue - it happens all round the network, day in, day out.


So. Shoot me down. What have I missed?
« Last Edit: January 10, 2021, 05:00:20 pm by Richard Fairhurst » Logged
IndustryInsider
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2021, 05:17:06 pm »

I?ll have a good look at this when I get chance, but I too thought the timetable proposal from the original report was pretty poor, though of course it was only a proposal.
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2021, 07:37:38 pm »

Not in the interest of shooting you down but something that's not mentioned in either your or the "official" proposal: Ascott and Shipton. I don't really know the area so maybe I'm missing something quite obvious?
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Richard Fairhurst
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« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2021, 09:25:05 am »

At present, Ascott, Finstock and Combe each get one peak-time train in each direction per day. (Shipton gets a couple more in the evening.) That's the "Oxfordshire Halts" service which forms part of the peak variants. I wouldn't see any reason to change that and I don't think the NCLTF are proposing changing it either - they're tiny little halts with no parking and, in the case of Finstock and Combe, some distance from the settlements they serve.
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2021, 10:14:12 am »

Thanks. Yes, don't know Combe but have ridden past Finstock station on a cycling event and thought "But where is Finstock?!!"
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2021, 10:19:56 am »

Quote
There's also the issue of the Honeybourne-Long Marston-Stratford line, which Warwickshire County Council is keen to reopen.
How realistic is this? It would be nice but there would seem to be several problems:
They will have a fight because it's a popular and "official" cycling, walking and horse-riding route.
There are three (from memory) level crossings. With no scope for a cutting or embankment, these would presumably have to be road bridges.
There are a similar number of farm crossings. I'm not sure if these also fall under the prohibition of new level crossings?
The available track bed finishes at the very edge of Stratford, just outside some 1990s(?) housing with a bit of a walk to the city centre, though there is probably room for a car park.
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« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2021, 11:37:57 am »

So. Shoot me down. What have I missed?

I don't think you've missed much at all, Richard.  You have pointed out the areas where things are not quite ideal, but overall this is a much better timetable than that contained in the NLCTF proposals.  That had some really daft missed opportunities such as only stopping the 1tph at Evesham, which I agree has very significant growth potential.  Ticket barriers should be installed as part of any future service increase there.

I would make the following observations:

* Pathing in the Worcester area.  We all know how inflexible this is.  Would your timetable of 6tph at Worcester Shrub Hill (up from 2tph currently) work in terms of pathing those trains as well as the other GWR services, WMR services and freight?  To help this, is your Worcester to Honeybourne service likely to be an extension of an existing WMR service from Birmingham?  Either way, I can see it being difficult to run two of the three trains between Evesham and Worcester via Foregate Street, and impossible for all three to go that way.  So, something would have to give - either the Kidderminster to Paddington through service goes or the Honeybourne to Worcester local service doesn't serve Foregate Street.

* Presumably there would no longer be room for the flagship fast service per day as outlined in the NLCTF proposals?  I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, but given the need to please various groups of influential people perhaps that might not go down too well?

* Norton Junction to Pershore occupancy is indeed pushing it with those 6tph and gives no scope for any additional paths for anything to/from Long Marston.  Extending the planned redoubling from Pershore to just before Worcestershire Parkway might help that - though obviously add cost.

* You mention a siding at Evesham.  That would be new infrastructure?  Certainly I think either an ECS move or new platform at Honeybourne is a better option (as you suggest), though if those trains did extend to Stratford as per longer term plans, the timings are a little awkward as the two trains would meet on the reopened line.

* Combe/Finstock/Ascott/Shipton could be served by an extension to one of the Oxford to Hanborough trains using diesel/bi-mode stock perhaps?

* There certainly is scope to shave a few minutes off the schedules here and there.  Without any improvements to the infrastructure at all, there is already an additional two minute wait in up services at Worcestershire Parkway than is needed.  Targeted improvements, such as replacing the 25mph crossing at Norton Junction in the down direction with a 70mph one, and also upping the speed between Moreton (well, Aston Magna to be precise) and Evesham from 75mph to 90/100mph would help at the western end.  Upping the speed from Shipton to Moreton from 90mph to 100/110mph, and upping the speed at Wolvercote Junction from 40mph to 50/60mph, would also help in terms of giving an extra performance buffer and possibly enabling a minute or two to be trimmed here and there.


Overall though, an excellent effort.
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TonyN
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« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2021, 05:32:08 pm »

This certainly looks better than the task force proposal.

The main concern I have about the intermediate stations not getting a better service with the  task force proposal. Is that the prices will have to go up to pay for it. Passengers from every station will face fare increases but only Worcester Moreton and Hanborough passengers will benefit.

On the Cotswold line we have seen big jumps in fares caused by changing the off peak times on two occasions in recent years. First when the line was doubled and then in Dec 19 when the timetable was supposedly improved but in reality spoilt by removing the Reading stops in the evening peak.

These have meant that some passengers who use trains on the shoulder of the peak times have paid a lot more. Surely all prices should rise slightly to pay for improvements rather than a few going up a lot.

An example being up trains around 07:45 and 08:25 from Pershore/Evesham. When the line was doubled the off peak concession to London was removed from these trains but a few local off peak fares remained available. Then in Dec 19 all off peak fares where removed and so the Senior/Disabled railcard concession went as well.

There will be issues with capacity at Worcester. I cannot see West Midland wanting to Divert one of their trains from Bham to Malvern to run to Evesham instead so it would have to be one of the Kidderminster line trains that was extended to Evesham/Honeybourne.
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TonyN
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« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2021, 09:39:26 pm »

A couple of further comments.

The single to double line points at Pershore can be as far west as Drakes Broughton. Any further west would require a new bridge over the minor road from  Drakes Broughton to Stonebow. This bridge was replaced with a single line structure in the 1990s.

While Evesham has expanded a lot in the last 30 years most of the housing and commerce is south of the river Avon and a long way from the station. In normal times the station car park is full on weekdays. You only have to try and drive from north to south through the town to realise that most people drive to get to the town centre, so are unlikely to walk from the housing areas south of the river to the station. So I think the potential for extra business at Evesham is limited. There is however space that could be used additional car parks around Honeybourne station and  maybe even a bigger car park at Pershore sometime this century.
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