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.
From Spring 2019 GWR are planning to introduce a small fleet of tri-mode Flex Class 769 multiple units, some for use between Reading and Oxford, again suggesting that electrification to Oxford will not happen in the near future.
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.
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.
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.
Even with the increased track occupancy supported by the new ERTMS signalling system, the twin tracks between Didcot and Oxford present a significant bottleneck as there are no passing loops along its entire length. This will become even more of a problem when the capacity of Oxford station is increased with more tracks over an amended rail bridge over Botley Road and the opening up of platform 5. These particular changes will, amongst other work, involve the demolition of the large YHA hostel adjacent to the Botley bridge.
The proposed solution is to quadruple the tracks. This can be achieved along certain stretches, but there are constraints in some places due to other planned developments or availability of land. This is an issue mostly around Culham station and Appleford halt. One solution that has been proposed is to lay a brand new twin track route bypassing these pinch points. This could diverge from the existing line north of Culham and rejoin south of Appleford possibly where the existing North Didcot junction is at present. Slow, or stopping trains would then use the existing route, with faster traffic being diverted along the new one.
None of these changes would affect Culham station physically, but it may see a change in the type of traffic which goes past. Non stopping GWR HSTs and Cross Country sets (or their equivalents) would bypass the station, but slower traffic such as freights and stopping trains would still be seen. This is all a long way off and by no means certain.
As an aside to the above, the line from the bay platforms 1 and 2 in Oxford to Oxford Parkway and beyond has to join the up relief line for a short stretch before diverging towards Oxford Parkway. This bi-directional working understandably causes traffic conflicts which is not good. The East/West line development from Bicester North to Bletchley will serve to increase the problems and so it is planned to improve the track layout and provide a dedicated path so traffic will not have to join or share the main line.