Changes at Culham station, 1994 to the present day
Here we will try to document the significant changes that have (or have not) affected the station since 1994. The page covering changes since opening is written in ascending date order, but is was felt more appropriate to sequence this page in descending date order instead, with the latest changes appearing first.
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September 2019 - External maintenance
On the 18th September contractors working on behalf of Network Rail made a start on the long awaited repainting and maintenance of the outside of the Old Ticket Office. A welfare unit and a small container for materials storage arrived and were parked neatly in the far car park for the duration of the works. The initial paint phase (non rail elevations) took almost three weeks and the building was left looking splendid as evidenced by the shiny front door.
Minor repairs, such as replacing broken slates, fixing gable coping and unblocking drains etc. have also been promised as part of the project.
In order to work safely on the rail side of the canopy it will be necessary to close the line a few times at night. It is planned to co-ordinate this with the line closures for rail replacement during November.
September 2019 - New bus service
Whilst not affecting the Old Ticket Office directly, on Monday the 9th a brand new bus route between Abingdon and Culham Science Centre began running, operated by Thames Travel in conjunction with the Science Centre. This is a significant development as the only bus service which used to pass near the station was axed some time ago upon the withrawal of the subsidy by the County Council. The bus stops on the main road outside the Science Centre are just a few minutes walk away so this new service, whilst only running Monday to Friday, provides a viable means of getting to or from the station by public transport. The service is number 45 and you can check the latest timetable by clicking or tapping on the thumbnail image.
April 2019 to November 2019 - Track renewal
Network Rail announced a major track renewal programme, taking place mostly at weekends, between Appleford and Culham. The whole process is handled by a special huge train which removes the old rails, collects the old sleepers and levels the trackbed, then places new sleepers and rails in position before finally filling in with new ballast. Network Rail have produced a short video showing the train in operation which can be viewed by clicking or tapping on the thumbnail image.
September 2018 to January 2019 - Replacement rails
Notice was given to all lineside neighbours (as Network Rail puts it) that extensive work was to be carried out, mostly during the night time, to 'replace sections of track that have reached the end of their designed life'.
September 2018 - Network Rail property sale
In early September it was announced that Network Rail had sold its commercial property portfolio, mainly comprising of converted railway arches, for £1.46bn. The property had been bought by investment groups Telereal Trillium and Blackstone Property Partners, on a leasehold basis, with Network Rail retaining access rights. As tenants in the Old Ticket Office, Entikera were somewhat concerned as to what this may mean for them. However, a few days later a letter arrived confirming that the Old Ticket Office was not part of the sale and that Network Rail remained their landlord. So although this was one potential change that didn't happen it is worth noting as it is relevant to the ongoing history of the station.
July 2018 - Line closure
The line from Didcot to Oxford was closed between Saturday 7th July and Sunday 22nd July (with limited non stopping services between Oxford and Reading/Paddington for the five days from the 16th to 20th) for what now seems to have become an annual blockade for major works to be carried out. Work to install new points (or switches) and track just north of Oxford station meant that the line was effectively closed as far as Banbury with Oxford station itself closed to all trains including Chiltern Rail who ran in and out of Oxford Parkway.
Nothing much went on at Culham itself, but we did notice that the new signals installed during the 2017 blockade were brought into operation. The new signalling along the line is set up for bi-directional working in an effort to increase capacity and flexibility apparently. This explains the signal gantry over the Down line with its display towards the Up direction. Associated with this, new stop marker boards have appeared at the 'wrong' end of the platforms, clearly ready for trains operating in reverse direction.
During the line closure Radley, the next station down towards Oxford, benefited from a start being made on its EMU platform extensions. It seems that Appleford and Culham will have to wait a while longer until their planned platform extensions are built.
June 2018 - New sleepers
Following on from earlier rail renewal, the Orange Army again descended on the station with large teams working to replace old concrete sleepers at various places along the line. Here we can see where the old and new rails have been joined beside platform 1, together with a comparison between the old and new sleepers with their different fixings.
Early 2018 - Replacement of life expired rails
During the first few months of 2018 Network Rail were busy replacing life expired rail through the station and along other parts of the line between Didcot and Oxford. This took place mainly at night or at weekends and so did not affected train services through Culham. The only real evidence of the work being the extra lengths of rail alongside the track ready to be installed and the old rails waiting to be taken away.
August 2017 - New power supply
August saw unusual activity at the station when a trench was dug all the way from the Network Rail site to the pole mounted transformer by the overbridge. This, we were told, was to provide the power supply for signalling control equipment to be housed in a new unit being built beyond the end of Platform 2. There was a bit of anxiety as there were a number of cars parked where the trench was to be dug. No prior notice had been given so it was a bit of a surprise to everyone.
During September and October, following the construction of the new power cabinet and control equipment housing, a new fence and gate to the Network Rail site was installed. Its positioning does not appear to make any allowances for the proposed platform 2 extensions and access ways, suggesting that this may now not take place - or is it simply another case of poor planning.
August 2017 - New lighting
During the middle of August all the platform lights were converted to high output LEDs, each controlled by its own light sensor. Chatting to the contractors, they explained that this was being carried out in readiness for the new Hitachi trains which would shortly start operating on the line. During the summer an unmarked white set had been used for gauging trials along the line from Paddington. Why do these new trains need LED lighting on the platform we asked. The answer was that the doors won't open if lighting levels are not sufficient - all to do with health and safety apparently. That's all well and good until there is a power cut and nobody can get on or off. Some doubts as to the veracity of this statement have been raised as a couple of months later all the lights on the station approach road were also upgraded.
Mid September saw the installation of remote control and monitoring equipment for these new platform lights. Lighting on all stations was gradually being upgraded to this new standard apparently.
July 2017 - Signalling changes
The line was closed between 22nd and 30th July 2017 to facilitate works near Oxford, mainly track upgrades and changes to pointwork between Oxford station and Kennington junction. The line towards Banbury was also closed for works north of Oxford station, but for a shorter duration. The latter did not affect Chiltern Rail services between Oxford and Marylebone which operated with only minor timetable changes. Whilst the Didcot to Oxford line was closed to passenger traffic, it remained in use for the odd works train and also for the car transport trains to and from the BMW Cowley works which continued to pass through Culham each day. The latter were unaffected by the line closure as they go via Kennington junction which is well south of the work site.
The opportunity was used to do some work close to Culham station with a number of lengths of rail being replaced. The most obvious change was the installation of new signalling just south of the station, this being one of a number newly installed along the line. The original Up (towards Didcot) colour light signal was always too far round the curve for drivers to see when leaving Culham and so a 'Driver's reminder appliance' sign had been attached to the fence at the end of Platform 2. A replacement signal was installed (but not commissioned) closer to, and so visible from, the platform. Opposite this on the Down side a new substantial gantry post was erected but with nothing attached to it. By mid September this gantry had sprouted a girder and large signal enclosure which was positioned over the Down line. Looking at it makes one question whether it will foul the overhead cabling when, and if, the line gets electrified.
This impressive piece of kit appeared outside the ticket office the week before the line was closed. We wondered what it was going to be used for, but it soon became apparent when it passed by on the Up line on the Monday morning propelling a trolley carrying a couple of large metal castings. It can be seen in the above photograph together with the new signal and lattice gantry opposite being worked on. We had a grandstand view whenever materials were being loaded onto trolleys by Platform 1 ready to be pushed down the line to the work site.
Power line changes 2016/17
Two power lines used to cross above the track by the station. During November 2016 the one to the south (Didcot side) of the main road bridge was raised on a much taller pole. This was to increase the clearance below the electricity lines to provide sufficient height above the overhead wires when they are installed at some point in the future. The height of this new pole is very apparent in this photograph taken in the summer of 2017. Visible in the distance is Didcot power station with its three remaining cooling towers from the demolished Didcot 'A'. These will themselves be taken down in due course with much of the surrounding area being earmarked for major redevelopment. The railway curves off towards Appleford bridge over the Thames and onwards to Didcot. A few yards up the road is a favourite spot for recording trains as it offers a clear vantage point of this long sweep of track.
A similar power line crossed the track next to the footbridge going towards the Railway Inn and some nearby cottages. This was rerouted to cross the tracks below ground in early 2017. A subsantial double pole and small transformer was installed near the ticket office with the overhead supply coming in to the lefthand pole and the outgoing supply being taken down to ground level via the righthand one.
2016/17 - Signalling upgrade scheme
The entire line between Didcot and Oxford was closed between 30th July and 15th August in 2016 to facilitate the flood alleviation works at Hinksey. These included raising the track by 40cm, installing new culverts and bridges and the opportunity was taken to amend track layout at the same time. While all this was going on new cables were laid along the length of the line ready for the signalling upgrade project. This did not affect the station at Culham as the cabling was fed under the platforms in existing ducts. It was busy though, with many contractors and vehicles going up and down the line.
Works associated with this project continued on and off during the latter part of 2016 and early 2017. New control cabinets were installed within sight of the station and during April 2017 armies of orange clad Network Rail and Seimens staff started to connect them up. Often quite a number of contractors trooped past the Old Ticket Office window carrying tools and materials to the various work sites along the line. Most were working a bit too far away to photograph, but on some days there were so many that they seemed to be swarming all over the track in the distance. Lookouts were posted nearer the station, and as they passed trains would hoot acknowledgement that they had been seen.
Sometimes one or two would pop into the building to have a look round. Chatting to one group from South Wales revealed that they also volunteered to help out with the signalling on the Gwili Railway in Carmarthenshire - they must enjoy what they do!
All the colour light signals being converted to use modern LED lights, will eventually fall out of regular use when the new Digital Railway signalling system comes into operation. This system (moving block with in cab signalling as opposed to fixed block lineside signals) will increase the capacity of the line.
2016 - Platform extension plans
Late December 2015 saw the submission by Network Rail for the following works to be carried out at Culham station.
- Extend northern end of both platforms 1 and 2 by 72m and 93m respectively.
- Carryout ancillary platform work e.g. installation of lighting columns, CCTV, signage, fencing etc.
- Provide ramp and access/emergency walkway route to rear of both platforms.
- Extend width of existing platform 1, carryout re-gauging work to lift height of platform and re-surface.
- Install 400mm wide tactile paving to existing platform 2.
Approval was given to proceed on 15th February 2016, but work remains to be started.
These works will not materially affect the Old Ticket Office or the original Platform 2 upon which it sits. Whilst Platform 1 does, in part, comprise of the original platform it is not listed or protected from modification.
2015/16 - Bridge improvements
In preparation for the electrification of the line from Didcot, approval was granted during September for bridge modifications to ensure safety clearances be maintained. Both the footbridge and the 'new' road bridge had parapet extensions and warning signs installed during 2016. One unfortunate result was that it became impossible to photograph passing trains from the footbridge - unless you stood on a box. Perhaps surprisingly no work has so far been carried out on the old road bridge, possibly the parapets are high enough already. Other bridges along the line were similarly modified.
Developments and alterations to Railway Property do not actually require planning permission from the Local Planning Authority so long as they fall within certain specific criteria. Such changes are covered by the the Oxford Railway Act 1843.
Section CCXXXVI of the 1843 Act states: And be it enacted, That subject to the Provisions and Restrictions contained in this Act, it shall be lawful for the Company, for the Purpose of constructing the Railway, to execute any of the following Works; (that is to say) They may make or construct in, upon, across, under or over any lands […] within the Lands described in the said Plans or mentioned in the Said Books of Reference or any Correction thereof, such […]bridges […] as they think proper; […] They may from Time to Time alter, repair, or discontinue the before-mentioned Works, or any of them, and substitute others in their Stead; And They may do all other Acts necessary for making, maintaining, altering, repairing and using the Railway.
This bestows upon the railway company and its successors the power to make any developments necessary for the running and management of the railway, including alteration to bridges. It does not however give them cart blanche as, for example, listed buildings consent may still be required and other considerations may come into play.
2014 - Entikera Limited
By May 2014 the Old Ticket Office had a new tenant in Entikera Limited (trading as Mpfineartprinting.co.uk). It was obvious that there had been a number of previous occupants who had used the building for a variety of uses from being a workshop, offices and simply for storage. The building was very damp and in need of a really good clean and airing. The floor was covered with hardboard sheeting which had deteriorated badly and gone rotten in several places. With the permission of Network Rail this was removed to reveal the original wooden planked floor and stone hearths. It also revealed a large area where the floor in the Parcels Office had rotted through and been replaced during the 2002 refurbishment. Gaps between the floorboards in the main office were filled with aluminium swarf and there were many blobs of solder on the floor and counter tops, all revealing the variety of work that had taken place there over the years. A good proportion of the drawer knobs were missing and modern latches had been put on cupboard doors. These were left as was, but the missing drawer knobs were replaced with new ones of the same shape. A new drawer was made to replace what may have been the cash drawer which was also missing.
The chimney is regularly swept professionally and a fire is lit each day in cold weather, the sight and smell of smoke drifting down the platform adding to the nostalgic atmosphere. The old gents' usefully serving as a fuel store.
Whilst there is evidence of damage done by previous tenants, great care has been taken to use existing screw holes when putting up blinds etc. The odd nail left in walls here and there being used to hang pictures - no new ones being allowed.
Whilst damp is a challenge with repairs to gutters and downspouts needed and ongoing maintenance being required, the building is now heated and ventilated so further deterioration should at least be slowed down. In 2016 a senior property manager with Network Rail visited. He had decided to take time out of the office and view some of the properties in their portfolio. Not realising the ticket office was occupied he was pleasantly surprised by what he found. Terms of the lease with Network Rail do not allow any work to be done on the building, partly because it is listed and partly as it is very close to a live (and busy) railway line. They therefore assume any such burden but as the visitor sadly commented 'there is no budget for such works'. He did however promise that if money were to be found the building would figure strongly in any bid for funds.
2012 - Bridges listed
Both the old station overbridge and Thame Lane bridge were given grade II listing status on 17th July. These bridges (together with the one at Appleford also listed grade II on 19th February), whilst of different design, are all as originally built when the railway was opened in 1844.
The listing describes the bridges thus: Thame Lane Bridge is an unusual form, being one of a small number of flying segmental arch road bridges designed under Brunel on early GWR lines. Although common nationally, single arch bridges are less common than the larger triple arch bridges on GWR lines. This is one of a small number that survive on the Didcot-Oxford line and of these Appleford Bridge and Culham Bridge are the standard, semi-elliptical form usually favoured by Brunel.
2007 - Ironing service
Whilst tenants may have come and gone since 1983, no record of any changes affecting the ticket office itself can be found until early 2007 when an application was made for change of use to 'B1(c) Light Industrial'. It was intended to use the building without modification as an ironing workshop. Approval was granted in the May.
2004 - Award
The Oxford Preservation Trust presented an award for the refurbishment which started in 2003. A small cast commemorative plaque is attached to the outside wall by the main Waiting Room entrance.
2002 - Major refurbishment
In November 2002 agents for Network Rail submitted a proposal for listed building development described as being 'External and internal refurbishment to restore this Grade II* listed building back to its original condition'. This was supported by a detailed specification of work to be carried out dated 21st February 2003 and letter of 4th April. Listed building consent was given on 14th July 2003.
Image courtesy of Sir William McAlpine
©Railway Heritage Trust
The specification detailed a comprehensive schedule of work and materials to be used. Some of the work, such as repairs to the stonework, was carried out to a high standard. Unfortunately, other work was not. For example, it has been pointed out by a conservation builder who visited once, that brickwork repairs did not use the correct specification of mortar. It is also suspected that whilst a good deal of work was completed, certain important aspects itemised in the schedule were left untouched.
The phrase 'back to its original condition' is one which can be widely interpreted. Original as in 1844 would be very different to that in which it was brought to. External (but not operational) outside lighting and wiring from the 1970's was left in situ, but other details such as the many advertising boards were not reinstated, so not as last used either. The internal and external colour scheme changed over time, at one time having green walls in the waiting room. The eventual scheme could best be described as being what one might expect an old GWR station to look like.
On the positive side, a lot of work was carried out, such as reslating the roof, which ensured the building would survive for a while longer and make it more attractive to potential tenants. The building was rewired, emergency lighting installed and a hot water boiler, sink and kitchen cupboards installed in the Ladies Cloakroom. No form of heating was provided however and work specified for the fireplace looks not to have been done, but it was left in a useable condition.
This project was largely funded by the good offices of the Railway Heritage Trust who awarded a grant of £40,000 in 2002/03 followed by a further grant in 2003/04 of £35,000. The works were completed in September 2003.