Future developments at Culham station

Since the Ticket Office was closed to passengers and put up for let in the late 1970's various tenants have occupied the building, all for different purposes. Also, perhaps most significantly, the refurbishment of the building which was first proposed in 2002 sought to preserve what was left. It is unfortunate that the original Goods shed, shelter on platform 1, and the signal box were not saved from demolition and so were no longer around to be preserved.

Change is inevitable as time passes and needs change, with some proposals having a potentially significant affect upon the station at Culham. As we become aware of any possible future developments which could affect the station we will document them here, those which do come to fruition will be transferred to the 'Changes 1994-present day' page.

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Great Western Main Line electrification

During 2015 and 2016 work seemingly progressed, albeit rather slowly, in preparation for the electrification of the Didcot to Oxford line. The positions for the support gantries were surveyed (several times!) and marked with temporary wooden posts with due regard to working round the Old Ticket Office. Other enabling works took place around the station as recorded on the 'Changes 1994-present day' page. Piling operations were started and masts appeared at various points along the line, most notably from Didcot to Appleford Crossing but then, in November 2016, the government announced that electrification work on the line had been indefinitely deferred. The deferral was supposedly due to imminent resignalling and remodelling of the existing track layout in and around Oxford, but the time and cost over-runs also plaguing the electrification project as a whole are well known.

Latest intelligence suggests that a decision whether to restart the project to electrify the line between Didcot and Oxford before 2024 is yet to be made.

Problem with Thame Lane bridge

The Thame Lane bridge, which is a listed structure, is causing some problems. A few years before it was listed Network Rail had thought about replacing it with a brand new bridge, but no action was taken. When the electrification project came along it was found that there was not enough clearance underneath it for the overhead wires and first thoughts were to take it down and rebuild it at a higher level. That plan was abandoned in favour of lowering the tracks instead but so far no firm plans have been announced.

Problem with the Old Ticket Office

Close inspection of satellite images of the ticket office show that it does not sit exactly parallel with the railway track. Several surveys have been carried out, using both modern laser equipment and traditional optical instruments. Discussing the results with the different surveyors revealed a difference of opinion. The south west corner of the building may, or may not, slightly foul the safety margin from the overhead wires. If it doesn't then all is well. If it does then it has been suggested that a section of canopy will have to be removed. This difference of opinion has caused some angst, especially as the building's listed status would have to be taken into account before any alterations can be made.

Longer platforms and new car park

Planning approval was obtained during 2016 for Network Rail to extend platforms 1 and 2 towards Oxford so that longer trains could stop at Culham. We were also told that the ultimate plan was that when Network Rail eventually vacated their hard materials store at the end of platform 2 a larger car park would be developed similar to the one at Radley.

Nothing had started on either front as of mid 2017, but we did have had a chat with some contractors who were saying that the new platform extension would comprise prefabricated sections being placed onto supporting piles. One slight concern was that the platform extensions would have to follow the curving track. It doesn't seem that these developments will lead to any improvement in the station facilities which at present comprise of only a glass waiting shelter and customer service point on each platform.

However, a letter dated 10th April 2018 from the Office of Rail and Road to Network Rail Infrastructure Limited regarding 'Enhancements Delivery Plan (EDP) change control: January -March 2018' contains the following paragraph...
W004 Thames Valley platform extensions
You are requesting to defer platform extensions at Culham and Appleford, to integrate the works with overhead line electrification from Didcot to Oxford. You are requesting to revise the regulated milestone for entry into service -infrastructure authorised (Didcot to Oxford) from June 2019 to “CP6”. We approve your requested changes to the EDP. We intend to log the June 2019 regulated milestone as revised.

So who knows when it will actually happen. Interestingly however, the platforms at Radley were extended during the summer of 2018.

Intriguingly, during early 2019, 5 and 10 car stop signs appeared along the platforms. It will be interesting to see how that will work out in practice if ever such a train were to stop at Culham.

Link to Culham Science Centre

One possible development that has come to light, although it is only at the early discussion stage, is for a new footbridge and access pathway to link the station directly to the Culham Science Centre. A growing number of commuters use Culham to travel outward in the morning and a much larger number commute to the Science Centre each day. A direct link to the Centre would hopefully attract yet more.
The document 'Culham Science Centre – Travel Plan' published in April 2016, states that 6.1% of trips to and from the site are currently made by rail. Judging from the numbers of commuters passing the station each morning this is becoming an increasingly popular way to travel.

Housing proposals

During 2016 the Oxford Mail reported on a number of schemes which could greatly affect the immediate area. It would seem that the UK Atomic Energy Authority has plans for the development of 500 new houses on the Culham number 1 site. This housing would be primarily for staff at the Culham Science Centre.
A futuristic ‘science city’ of at least 3,000 homes and related facilities has been also been suggested. This development would stretch from Culham station towards Abingdon and could feature driverless cars to take people to work, as well as ‘intelligent buildings’ linked to each other digitally. South Oxfordshire District council has so far ruled out the proposal over concerns about a lack of existing road infrastructure and because it would mean building on Green Belt land. These concerns have not inhibited proposals for developments elsewhere, so this grand plan may yet proceed in a decade or two. The scheme does have some support as it could help provide funding for a Clifton Hampden bypass, a new Thames Bridge and various rail schemes including the quadrupling of portions of the track between Dicot and Oxford.

Track quadrupling

Even with the increased track occupancy supported by the new signalling system, the twin tracks between Didcot and Oxford present a significant bottleneck. This will become even more of a problem when the capacity of Oxford station is increased with more tracks. Plans involve the opening up of a new platform 5 with a through line and the later conversion of platform 2 from a bay into another through line resulting in no less than six tracks (two of which are relief lines) through the station. These particular changes will, amongst other work, involve the demolition of the large YHA hostel adjacent to the Botley Road bridge and a nearby nursery, and the building of an overall concourse, similar to that at Reading, from which all the platforms would be accessed, together with widening the railway bridge over Botley Road.

To ease the capacity situation, it is proposed to quadruple the tracks between Oxford and Radley, with consideration also being given to quadrupling the entire 10.7 miles to Didcot. The former can be achieved relatively painlessly as existing structures along this section would accommodate the extra tracks, but there are constraints to further quadrupling with the Thames river bridges and listed structures along the route closer to Didcot (including Culham of course). This is all a long way off (post 2025 at the earliest) and by no means certain.

An overall picture of the potential changes to Oxford Station can be found by clicking or tapping this link. Sadly, the authors of this report got the date for the opening of the original Botley Road station wrong by eight years!

As an aside to the above, the line from the bay platforms 1 and 2 in Oxford to Oxford Parkway and beyond joined the up relief line for a short stretch before diverging towards Oxford Parkway. This bi-directional working understandably caused traffic conflicts which were not good. The East/West line development from Bicester North to Bletchley would only serve to increase the problems and so the track layout was improved with additional cross-overs between the up relief and up main lines to provide a less conflicting path.

Oxford to Cowley rail link

In 1864 the Wycombe Railway extended its line from Thame to Kennington Junction just south of Oxford, thus completing their line from the junction at Princes Risborough through to Oxford. The GWR took over the Wycombe Railway company in 1867.

Although closed in 1967 a portion of this line survives between Kennington Junction and the BMW factory in Cowley, being used for daily car transporter trains carrying finished cars to either Southampton or Purfleet. Active consideration is being given by Chiltern Railways to its possible reopening for commuters from Oxford to new halts at the Oxford Science and Business Parks, Littlemore and BMW Cowley. Certain trains would therefore not terminate at Oxford's platforms 1 and 2 (the bay) but would continue along the main line through to Kennington Junction and terminate at Cowley instead.

Again, this change would not affect Culham station directly, but it is an interesting local development. Unlike some of the other proposals this one appears to be definitely a case of 'when' and not 'if'.