Chiltern Main Line

Chiltern Main Line
Chiltern Main Line

Chiltern Railways "Clubman" at West Ruislip
Type Commuter rail, Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
South East England
East Midlands
West Midlands
Termini London Marylebone
Birmingham Snow Hill
Stations 32
Opened 1910 (complete line)
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Chiltern Railways
London Midland (in part)
CrossCountry (in part)
First Great Western (in part)
Rolling stock Class 67 & Mk 3 Coaches
Class 150 "Sprinter"
Class 165 "Network Turbo"
Class 168 "Clubman"
Class 172 "Turbostar" (from 2011)
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 221 "Super Voyager"
Line length 106 mi (171 km)
No. of tracks Two
Track gauge Standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Operating speed 100 mph (160 km/h) maximum

The Chiltern Main Line is an inter-urban, regional and commuter railway, part of the British railway system. It links London and Birmingham on a 112-mile route via the towns of High Wycombe, Banbury, and Leamington Spa. The West Coast Main Line is the main InterCity route between London and Birmingham, but the Chiltern Main Line complements it by providing an additional link between England's two largest cities.

In addition to services between the two cities, the Chiltern Main Line forms part of the suburban rail networks in both cities. The majority of towns on the London half of the branch are prosperous suburbs, or commuter belt towns, such as Ruislip, Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield. Such towns have a sub 30 minute commute to London Marylebone.

The line is currently undergoing a major upgrade which will see significant reductions in journey times by 2013 (see here). It is not electrified, although electrification is a future aspiration.[1] Currently, the main operator on the route is Chiltern Railways.



Early history

The original Great Western Railway (GWR) line from London to Birmingham was completed in 1852; in 1854 it was extended to Wolverhampton.[2] This route was from London Paddington via the Great Western Main Line to Didcot and then via Oxford and Leamington Spa. This circuitous route could not compete with the London and North Western Railway's London-Rugby-Birmingham route on journey times.

At this time, the only segments of what is now the Chiltern Main Line in existence were the Aynho–Banbury–Leamington–Birmingham route, and the single-track Wycombe Railway between Princes Risborough and High Wycombe; the latter continued further south, via Bourne End, to Maidenhead on the 1838 Great Western Main Line.

GW/GC Joint Line

In an attempt to compete with the LNWR's London–Birmingham route, and also speed up goods traffic between London and the west-coast port at Birkenhead, the GWR took advantage of an existing partnership with the Great Central Railway (GCR) to build a new, direct route referred to as the Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway (the two companies were already working together over a link between Woodford Halse station and Banbury). This enabled the GCR to run faster services than had been possible on the Metropolitan Railway route through Aylesbury and Amersham, which was congested with stopping trains.

The new route started at Northolt Junction in Middlesex, from which two lines ran southward:

  • a direct line, referred to as the New North Main Line, towards London Paddington via Greenford and Old Oak Common, built by the GWR. This line also included a triangular junction at Greenford, providing access to the 1838 Great Western Main Line via Castle Bar Park;
  • a line via South Harrow and Wembley to meet the existing GCR route at Neasden Junction, near Neasden station on what is now the Jubilee Line. This is the line used by almost all present-day Chiltern services. It was authorised by a GCR Act of 12 August 1898,[3] being fully opened on 2 April 1906.[4]
Robinson A5 steam locomotives operated GCR (later LNER) local services to High Wycombe, Princes Risborough and Aylesbury

The new Joint Line route, also built by the GWR, ran northwest via Gerrards Cross to High Wycombe, where it met the existing route of the Wycombe Railway's single-track branch from Maidenhead to Aylesbury via Princes Risborough. North of High Wycombe station the existing route was reused, with significant upgrading of the formation, including dualling, and a new route chosen for the new up line north of Saunderton. The original route, taken by the down line today, has a gradient of 1 in 88, which was too steep for the heavy coal trains run by the GCR. As a result, the two tracks of the route are horizontally and vertically separated at this point, with the down line crossing the Chiltern Hills at the Risborough gap and the up line passing through an 88 yard tunnel on a flatter gradient.

On reaching Princes Risborough, new construction was started again. The station was already a major junction, with the single-track line dividing into three branches; one to Chinnor and Watlington (which survives in part as the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway), one to Thame, Wheatley and Oxford, and one to Aylesbury. The new main line was constructed in the 'V' formed by the three branches, and ran northwest to Ashendon (not yet at this point a junction), where the line curved north to join the GCR's pre-1906 main line at Grendon Underwood Junction in Buckinghamshire.

The Joint Line was completed in 1906 (with portions opening as they were completed), operated by the GWR and immediately benefited both parties. The GCR, unable to secure adequate access to its route via Aylesbury, Amersham and Harrow, gained a new and fast bypass route for its express passenger and freight services between London and the East Midlands, while the GWR gained a faster route for its Birmingham trains, from Paddington via Gerrards Cross and Princes Risborough and then temporarily (1906–1910) on to the Wycombe Railway via Thame to regain their original route at Oxford, pending the opening of the even more direct Bicester cut-off to Banbury (see next subsection). Those GCR Marylebone–Sheffield expresses that were non-stop between London and Rugby could now use either the Metropolitan route or the Joint Line, depending on the best available paths, while the Joint Line was used by GWR expresses from Paddington to Birmingham and Wolverhampton and on to Shrewsbury, Chester and Mid/North Wales, plus goods traffic to Birkenhead.

The Bicester cut-off

Four years later in 1910 the GWR completed a further stretch of line, starting at what thus became Ashendon Junction (a flying junction) and running north-west via Bicester to meet the existing route from Oxford at Aynho Junction. This meant that the section of the original Joint Line running north-eastwards from Ashendon Junction to Grendon Underwood became GCR-only and was sold to the GCR. The new cut-off gave the GWR a faster route between London and Birmingham, avoiding Oxford entirely; the final saving in distance was about 20 miles (32 km).

Heyday, decline and rationalisation

ex-GWR King Class locomotive 6008 King James II hauling a Paddington to Birkenhead Woodside express in 1950
Class 52 hauling an express from Paddington to Birkenhead Woodside near Seer Green in 1962

During the heyday of the route, many prestigious trains ran from Paddington to the northwest of England via the Joint Line, reaching Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Wrexham, Chester, Liverpool[clarification needed] and Birkenhead Woodside. Various through services from Marylebone to the GCR network also ran via the Joint Line between London and Ashendon Junction.

At nationalisation in 1948, the line passed to the Western Region of British Railways, which continued to operate Paddington – Birmingham – Wolverhampton fast services through the 1950s in competition with the London Midland Region's (LMR) services from Euston via the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

The Paddington – Birmingham – Wolverhampton fast service was sharply increased in frequency, up to 15 trains a day each way, from the 1959–60 timetable in order to compensate for the withdrawal of most LMR trains during electrification works on the WCML.[5] For the same reason, the Chiltern line was used by many trains between Paddington and Birkenhead/Liverpool from 1965.

All local trains on the route were diverted to Marylebone in 1963 and operated by 4-car Class 115 DMUs, and the main-line platforms at Greenford station on the New North route between Old Oak Common and Northolt Junction were closed.

After the Great Central main line was closed between Calvert and Rugby Central in September 1966, some trains from the South Coast were diverted north of Banbury via the route. These became the forerunners of today's CrossCountry services between Birmingham and Bournemouth.

Class 115 DMUs operated Marylebone - Banbury local services between 1960 and 1992

But on 6 March 1967,[6] after completion of the WCML electrification, express services from London to Birmingham/Wolverhampton on this route were discontinued as part of the Beeching Axe. The route was downgraded to secondary status and subsequently single-tracked between Princes Risborough and Aynho Junction, which remained a flying junction, with a passing loop retained at Bicester but not normally used. Through lines were removed from most of those stations which had them, such as Beaconsfield and Denham, and the relief lines were lifted between Lapworth and Tyseley. The tunnel between Birmingham Moor Street and Snow Hill stations was closed on 2 March 1968.[6] Local services from Leamington and Stratford thenceforth terminated at Moor Street, and the remaining services from Paddington and the South Coast were diverted into New Street. Snow Hill closed completely, along with most sections of the line to Wolverhampton, on 4 March 1972.[6]

Although a two-hourly locomotive-hauled semi-fast service from Paddington to Birmingham continued to run via the route (serving High Wycombe, Princes Risborough, Bicester, Banbury, Leamington and Solihull), in the early 1970s all but one daily peak-hour return journey were diverted to run via Reading and Oxford, and later via Coventry, and in the 1980s even that was truncated to run to Banbury only. All other passenger services were operated by DMUs to and from Marylebone, which were extended from High Wycombe to Banbury (for onward connection to Birmingham), operating on a two-hourly frequency.

The route was considered for partial closure in the 1980s. Under this plan, all services would have run to Paddington via the New North route, and Marylebone station and all lines leading to it would have been closed. Services to and from Aylesbury would have run via Princes Risborough. However, Marylebone was formally reprieved in 1986, and the closure proposals rescinded.

Between 1988 and 1992 British Railways carried out a total route modernisation which included resignalling from Marylebone to Aynho Junction (as well as both Marylebone to Aylesbury routes) from the new Marylebone Integrated Control Centre. But the modernisation was combined with track rationalisation that removed most of the vestigial traces of main-line heritage from the Chiltern route, downgrading it to a purely commuter line with a minimal infrastructure. Until then, much of the four-track section between Northolt Junction and West Ruislip had survived, and High Wycombe station had retained almost all of its original track layout, though the other major stations on the line had already been downgraded with their through lines removed. At the same time, the New North route between Old Oak Common and Northolt Junction was singled between Old Oak Common and Park Royal and between Greenford and Northolt Junction. In 1992, the old signal box at Aynho Junction was closed and replaced with modern signalling controlled from Banbury South signal box; the structure stood until 2002, when it was demolished. As part of these renovations, BR also installed the advanced Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, mainly as a trial with a view to rolling it out nationwide. However, privatisation intervened, and the Great Western Main Line was the only other line to be equipped with ATP.


Class 165 DMUs were introduced to the Chiltern Main Line by Network SouthEast

With "Sectorisation" of British Rail in the mid-1980s, operations south of Banbury fell under the control of Network SouthEast in 1986, under the Thames & Chiltern sub-sector, which was later split into its two constituent parts. In 1987 a new station was opened at Haddenham & Thame Parkway. Birmingham Snow Hill station was also reopened in 1987 (albeit on a much smaller scale than the original, beneath a multi-storey car park), with its tunnel reinstated and a new station on the through lines at Moor Street, where the terminus was taken out of use, with Leamington/Stratford services diverted to Snow Hill.

The opening of the extension of the parallel M40 motorway from Oxford to Birmingham in 1991 spawned development in towns along the northern section of the route, notably Bicester, Banbury, Leamington Spa and Warwick. This generated additional patronage for train services in the corridor.

New Class 165 Turbo trains were introduced on the route in 1991, initially running only between Marylebone and Banbury. These improved passenger comfort and enabled journey times to be reduced; service frequencies were also increased with an hourly stopping service to/from High Wycombe and hourly semi-fast service to/from Banbury. In 1993, Marylebone-Banbury services were extended through to Snow Hill, calling at Leamington Spa, Warwick, Solihull and Moor Street, initially on a two-hourly frequency, then increased to hourly the following year, when a Dorridge call was added. In 1995 the Jewellery Line was re-opened to allow Worcester line services to be diverted from New Street to Snow Hill; this allowed some of Chiltern's weekday peak-period services to be extended beyond Snow Hill, first to Stourbridge Junction and then to Kidderminster.

Chiltern Railways era

Upon rail privatisation in 1996, the new Chiltern Railways franchise was won by M40 Trains (a consortium of a management buyout; Laing Rail, a subsidiary of construction company and PFI specialist John Laing plc; and venture capitalist 3i), and in 1998 the line between Princes Risborough and Bicester North was redoubled by the company. This included the total reconstruction of Haddenham and Thame Parkway station at platform level, with two side platforms instead of the single platform constructed in 1987, and a new down platform at Princes Risborough, together with the raising of the speed limit. Also in 1998 the first of the new 168 Clubman trains with a 100 mph maximum speed were introduced to reduce journey times between London and Birmingham.

Chiltern Railways ordered 19 Class 168 DMUs for its Marylebone - Birmingham services

In 2000 Chiltern Railways opened a new station at Warwick Parkway, sited to the west of the town next to the A46 and close to M40 Junction 15. This was intended to be a railhead for nearby towns without a station such as Kenilworth, and for towns south of Birmingham close to the M42 with no direct rail link to London, such as Redditch and Bromsgrove. Station construction was funded by Chiltern Railways with some support from Warwickshire County Council. At first only Chiltern services called there but it is now also served by London Midland trains.

In 2002, after Chiltern won its 20-year franchise, the line between Bicester North and Aynho Junction was also redoubled. Chiltern Railways also took over the operation of the Hatton to Stratford-on-Avon line from the Thames Trains and Central Trains franchises, with direct services operating between Marylebone (rather than Paddington) and Stratford. Also at this time Chiltern took over the operation of Leamington Spa, Warwick, Hatton and Lapworth stations from Central Trains, as the latter's services (now operated by London Midland) no longer operate beyond Dorridge, except during weekday peak periods.

John Laing plc acquired 84% ownership of M40 Trains in 1999, buying out 3i, and was itself bought out by Henderson Investments in 2006, resulting in the sale of Laing Rail to the German national railway operator Deutsche Bahn in 2007.

The Cherwell Valley line between Banbury and Leamington Spa was resignalled during 2004, with the closure of Fenny Compton signal box and the removal of its remaining semaphore signals. The new signalling, along with the existing signalling in the Leamington Spa station area is controlled from the box at Leamington via a new Westcad workstation. More recently the Leamington to Birmingham section has been resignalled and is now controlled from the new West Midlands ICC at Saltley (taking over the old signalling centre at Saltley) with new 4-aspect LED signals throughout. However, the manual signal boxes at Banbury North and South remain for now, along with some GWR lower-quadrant signals controlling the bay platforms and sidings at the station, but it is proposed that the West Midlands ICC take over control as far south as Oxford (exclusive) in 2014.

Most of the old Great Western route from Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton is now used by the Midland Metro light-rail system, which diverges from Network Rail's Jewellery Line at The Hawthorns.

The route between Marylebone and Leamington/Bordesley was used by open access operator Wrexham & Shropshire's services from London to Wrexham via Tame Bridge, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury, which comprised three Mk3 coaches hauled by Class 67 diesel locomotives. Since these were neither Sprinters nor HSTs, they were restricted to lower line speeds, e.g. 60 mph between Princes Risborough and Bicester, and 70 mph between Leamington and Bordesley, although they were permitted to travel at 85 mph between Bicester and Aynho. Wrexham & Shropshire had negotiated with Network Rail to allow its trains to travel at higher speeds on these sections, which required it to show that they had sufficient brake force to stop from such speeds within the signal spacings.

Only the line from Northolt Junction to Paddington, currently little used, has not been improved.

In September 2006, Chiltern completed its "Evergreen 2" upgrade project, carried out by Carillion, which realigned the track through Beaconsfield to increase non-stop speeds from 40 mph to 75 mph, installed additional signals between High Wycombe and Bicester North (as well as between Princes Risborough and Aylesbury), and added two new platforms (Nos 5 and 6) at Marylebone. The new platforms are on the site of the old daytime carriage sidings, which were replaced with the new Wembley Light Maintenance Depot, just to the south and west of Wembley Stadium station. The new platforms and partial resignalling of the station throat now make it possible to run 20 trains per hour in and out of the station.

At weekends during 2008, when major engineering works were taking place on the WCML, the Chiltern Main Line was also used by Virgin Trains' London Euston - Birmingham International "Blockade Buster" service via Willesden, Acton Main Line, Ealing Broadway, Greenford, High Wycombe, Banbury and Coventry, using pairs of 5-car Class 220 sets.

Current Developments

Project Evergreen 3

The Department of Transport, Chiltern Railways and Network Rail agreed on 15 January 2010 to a £250 million upgrade of the Chiltern Mainline. A quarter-of-a-mile double track will be constructed joining the Oxford to Bicester Line at Bicester Town to the Chiltern Main Line allowing a new Oxford to London Marylebone service to operate. This will call at Bicester Town and High Wycombe. Part of the track between Wolvercote Tunnel (on the outskirts of Oxford) and Bicester Town will be doubled and a new station constructed at Water Eaton Park-and-Ride.[7] The scheme will include additional platforms at Bicester Town, Islip and Oxford. This part of the Evergreen project is subject to a Transport and Works Act application being approved by the Secretary of State and is expected to be completed by 2013.

The second part of the Evergreen 3 project will upgrade the Marylebone–Birmingham Chiltern Main Line to permit 100 mph running on 50 more miles of track. Junctions at Neasden, Northolt and Aynho will be rebuilt to permit higher speeds. The 'up' through track will be restored at Princes Risborough and signalled for bidirectional use with the existing 'up' line becoming a bidirectional platform loop, a new turnback siding provided at Gerrards Cross and a new 'down' through track built from Northolt Junction to Ruislip Gardens, running alongside the existing 'up' line to the east of the waste transfer station, the existing 'down' track will continue to serve South Ruislip station. The current speed restrictions through Bicester North will be removed to permit 100 mph running, with a new 'up' alignment and platform. Two of the original terminal platforms at Birmingham Moor Street were reopened for use by Chiltern Railways services in December 2010. Accelerated services were planned to start in May 2011 but this has now been postponed until later in the year due to concerns about whether the works would be completed in time.[8][9]

Thanks to the proposed speed increases on large parts of the line, journey times will be reduced significantly. From Marylebone, the fastest journey time to Birmingham Moor Street will be 92 minutes, instead of 117 minutes at present. The table below outlines the proposed peak timetable improvements. All figures are from Network Rail - [1]

Network Rail said the line is designed 'explicitly to take cars off the road'. A new station will be built at Water Eaton Parkway in north Oxford, an integrated transport hub linked to the A34, A40 and Oxford city centre.

Chiltern Railways chairman Adrian Shooter said, "This is the biggest passenger rail project for several generations not to call on the taxpayer for support. Working closely with Network Rail, we are going to create a new main line railway for the people of Oxfordshire and the Midlands. This deal demonstrates that real improvements to rail services can be paid for without public subsidy by attracting people out of their cars and on to trains."

Network Rail said its investment will be reimbursed by a 'facility charge' over the next 30 years—initially by Chiltern Railways, whose franchise expires in 2022, and then by the future franchisee. The infrastructure upgrade will be carried out by main contractor BAM Nuttall, in partnership with Jarvis and Atkins.

Fastest Peak Time from London (mins)
Current Evergreen 3
Gerrards Cross 21 18
High Wycombe 34 25
Princes Risborough 41 32
Bicester 56 44
Banbury 67 50
Leamington Spa 85 67
Solihull 107 84
Birmingham (Moor Street) 117 92

The £200 million project, promoted by Chiltern Railways, was originally to have involved doubling the entire route from Oxford to Bicester; however, structural problems were found in September 2009.[10] This may mean that the section from Bicester and Islip remains single track — which would not affect the Evergreen plans but would limit the frequence of services planned between Oxford and Milton Keynes as part of the proposed East West Rail Link.

Oxfordshire County Council supports the scheme but remains to be convinced of the benefits of a new station at Water Eaton, which would be in the Green Belt.[citation needed]

All signalling on the route (including the new platforms at Oxford) would be controlled by Marylebone Signalling Centre.

Passenger services

Weekday off-peak service pattern

As of May 2011:

Chiltern Railways[11][A]
Service Type Frequency Additional Information
London Marylebone - Birmingham Moor Street Fast 2 tph 1 tph extended to Birmingham Snow Hill
London Marylebone - Bicester North Semi-fast 1 tph 1 tph extended to Banbury/Stratford-upon-Avon every 2 hours
London Marylebone - Princes Risborough Semi-fast 1 tph
London Marylebone - High Wycombe local 2 tph
Leamington Spa - Birmingham Moor Street local 1 tp2h
London Midland[12][13][B]
Service Type Frequency Additional Information
Dorridge - Worcester Foregate St local 2 tph
Dorridge - Kidderminster local 2 tph
Whitlocks End - Kidderminster local 2 tph Occasionally extended to Worcester Foregate St/Shrub Hill
Stratford-upon-Avon - Stourbridge Junction local 1 tph
Cross Country[14][C]
Service Type Frequency Additional Information
Bournemouth - Manchester Piccadilly InterCity 1 tph includes calls at Banbury and Leamington Spa
Reading - Newcastle InterCity 1 tph includes calls at Banbury and Leamington Spa
First Great Western[15][D]
Service Type Frequency Additional Information
Oxford - Banbury local 1 per 2–3 h Some services extended to London Paddington


  • A ^ Chiltern Railways operate trains on the whole length of the route
  • B ^ London Midland operates services between Birmingham Snow Hill and Dorridge only, with some services extended as far as Leamington Spa
  • C ^ CrossCountry runs services over the line between Bordesley South Junction/Leamington Spa and Aynho Junction
  • D ^ First Great Western run services using the section of the route between Banbury and Aynho Junction.
  • † - tph = train(s) per hour

Rolling stock

Passenger trains are presently operated by:

Chiltern Railways
Class Image Type Top speed Cars per set Built
mph km/h
Class 165/0
Networker Turbo
165001 B London Marylebone.JPG diesel multiple unit 75 120 2/3 1990–1992
Class 168 Clubman 168003 London Marylebone.jpg diesel multiple unit 100 160 3-4 1998–2004
Class 172/1 Turbostar[16] Diesel Multiple Unit 100 160 2 2011
Class 67 Wrexham and Shropshire 67012 Marylebone TT1.jpg Diesel Locomotive 125 200 Hired from DB Schenker 1999–2000
Mark 3 Coach[17][18] N Mark IIIA TSO 12127.JPG Passenger Coach 125 200 Hired from DB Regio 1975–1984
Chiltern DVT Wrexham and Shropshire.JPG Driving Van Trailer 125 200 Hired from DB Regio 1988
London Midland
Class Image Type Top speed Cars per set Built
mph km/h
Class 150 Sprinter 150014 Birmingham MS 2007.jpg diesel multiple unit 75 121 3 1984–1987
Class 153 Super Sprinter 153365 Nuneaton.jpg diesel multiple unit 75 121 1 1987–1988
Converted 1991–1992
Class 172/2 Turbostar LondonMidlandClass172.JPG diesel multiple unit 100 161 2 or 3 2011
Class Image Type Top speed Cars per set Built
mph km/h
Class 220 Voyager CrossCountry Class 220.jpg Diesel-electric multiple unit 125 200 4 2001
Class 221 Super Voyager CrossCountry SuperVoyager.JPG Diesel-electric multiple unit 125 200 4 or 5 2001
First Great Western
Class Image Type Top speed Cars per set Built
mph km/h
Class 165/1 Network Turbo 165117 at Royal Oak 13-4-07.jpg diesel multiple unit 90 145 2 or 3 1992


Connections to services to numerous destinations in Britain occur in several stations on the line. These are:

In addition to the above connections, Birmingham New Street, which is Birmingham's main railway station, is a 5 minute walk from Birmingham Moor Street, and London Baker Street, where several London Underground lines call at, is a 5 minute walk from London Marylebone.

Route description and line speeds

Marylebone to Neasden

Marylebone station in London

After departing Marylebone, the speed limit rises to 50 mph for Sprinter-class multiple unit trains (of which the Class 165s and Class 168s are qualifying derivatives) and 30 mph for all other types of train. The line runs north in a tunnel from outside Marylebone, passing under Lord's Cricket Ground, before emerging to cross the West Coast Main Line, after which it enters another tunnel. It then turns to run west and climbs to run alongside London Underground's Metropolitan and Jubilee lines, joining them between Finchley Road and West Hampstead stations. Beyond Canfield Place, near Finchley Road, the line speed remains at 30/50 until a point near Willesden Green, where the line speed for Sprinter-class trains rises to 60 mph. The line speed remains 30/60 as far as Neasden Junction, where the Chiltern main line splits from the former Great Central Main Line London to Aylesbury Line to Aylesbury via Amersham.

Neasden to Northolt

This segment has a speed limit of 60 mph, except for a section of the down line on the approach to Northolt Junction where it is reduced to 50 mph; here the up and down lines diverge, with the former running at a higher level as the latter runs under the line from Paddington.

There is a central turnback siding immediately west of Wembley Stadium station, normally used only when there are major events being held at the Stadium and additional services are operated to/from Marylebone.

Northolt to High Wycombe

Beyond Northolt Junction, the line speed rises to 75 mph for Sprinter-class multiple unit trains and 60 mph for all other types of train. This speed is maintained throughout the entire section, with slacks in at least two places:

  • Between Gerrards Cross and a point between Denham Golf Club and Denham stations, where the speed for non-Sprinter trains drops to 35 mph on the up line (due to signal spacings)
  • Beaconsfield, where the speed for non-Sprinter trains drops to 55 mph on the up line (the speeds for Sprinters also remain at 75 mph).

At South Ruislip the route joins the (now) single-track New North Main Line from Paddington via Greenford and turns to run west; 3 tracks remain through the station and trains from Paddington cannot call there as there is no longer a connection to the down platform line (now served only by the route from Marylebone). However, in the up direction, the platform was extended in width and built out across the alignment of the up relief line so that trains to Paddington can call. The Paddington line also provides a connection into the Waste Transfer station which lies between the up and down Marylebone lines to the east of Northolt Junction. The route then runs alongside London Underground's Central Line between Northolt Junction and West Ruislip; this section was once 4-track. At West Ruislip, the up platform is served by a loop, the former relief line alignment being retained through the station, while the down platform was built out across the relief line alignment (in the same manner as the up platform at South Ruislip) to reach the former main (now only) down line. A facing crossover was installed near Ruislip Gardens in late 2010 to allow trains from Marylebone to terminate in the up platform at West Ruislip.

Gerrards Cross station in 2004

Immediately before Gerrards Cross station the line runs through a cutting between two arched overbidges; here Tesco has built a store over the line by creating a tunnel. Pre-cast concrete arch sections were originally erected over the line in 2004–05 and subsequently backfilled. However on 30 June 2005, following heavy rainfall, the partially built tunnel sections collapsed, missing any trains, although one was in the up platform about to leave at the time while another, slowing to stop, was approaching on the down line and the driver managed to bring it to a halt in time. This resulted in the line being closed for several weeks while the debris was cleared and investigations were undertaken as to what caused the collapse. During this time, a shuttle service ran between Marylebone and Denham, and between Seer Green and Birmingham, with buses operating between Denham and Seer Green, and between Beaconsfield/High Wycombe and Amersham, while a through Marylebone-Birmingham service ran via Amersham, Aylesbury and Princes Risborough (reversing at each of the latter two stations).

There is a facing crossover and turnback siding immediately to the west of Gerrards Cross station; this is normally used only during weekday peak periods for services starting and terminating there, and was extended to accommodate trains delivering backfill material during construction of the Tesco tunnel. At Gerrards Cross the remaining up line has been realigned to run where the former down through line ran, with a new up platform built on the former up through line alignment, allowing the car park to be extended south across the alignment of the former up slow line. The remaining down line runs on the alignment of the down slow line through the station.

At High Wycombe, the heavily curved alignment on a viaduct through the town centre (a consequence of the line's origin as a branch from Maidenhead) requires a severe drop in speeds; the speed through the station and over the viaduct to the west is 50 mph for all types of train on the down line and 35/50 on the up line (increasing to 45/75 east of the station). At High Wycombe there is an east-facing bay platform on the south (down) side of the line (formerly used by Marlow/Maidenhead trains), and the down line is signalled for bi-directional working, with a trailing crossover to the east of the station and a facing crossover to the west.

High Wycombe to Princes Risborough

Saunderton Gap

At High Wycombe the line curves to run north and speeds remain low as the line curves on a viaduct above the town centre, increasing through the north-western suburbs and past the site of West Wycombe railway station. Beyond this point, the line straightens significantly (as a result of its upgrade by the GWR in the early 1900s); the speed limit increases to 75 mph for all types of train.

North of Saunderton, the speed limit drops to 60 mph on the down line, remaining 75 mph on the up line. The speed limit is difficult to reach on the up line due to a steep 1 in 88 rising gradient. Just to the south of Princes Risborough, the line speed drops to 40 mph for all types of train and remains this speed through the station limits; just north of the station, line speeds for Sprinters rise to 65 mph. At Princes Risborough there is a north-facing bay platform on the up side on the line which can be used only by trains to/from Aylesbury, and the up line is bi-directional, also being used by down through London–Aylesbury trains, with a facing crossover south of the station and a trailing one to the north. The down platform currently used is on the alignment of the former down platform loop (removed in the 1970s when the old down platform was taken out of use and the footbridge removed) and was brought into use following reinstatement of double track between Princes Risborough and Bicester North in 1998, requiring provision of a new footbridge.

The Icknield Line has aspirations to reintroduce heritage services to Princes Risborough on its preserved route from Chinnor (which formerly continued west to Watlington) using the disused western face of the platform. Chiltern Railways was proposing at one time to operate services on this line, using the newly re-built Chinnor station and building a new station at Aston Rowant, where a Park & Ride facility would be provided close to the M40 J7; however, this proposal was subsequently abandoned. A third branch line to Oxford via Thame and Wheatley also diverged from the main line; while Chiltern Railways did propose to reinstate the whole length of this at one time, this aspiration has now been abandoned in favour of a new chord at Bicester, and the route is now a cycling route called the Phoenix Trail, forming part of Sustrans national network.

Princes Risborough to Aynho Junction

Beyond Risborough the line runs across the Vale of Aylesbury, passing Haddenham before reaching the site of the defunct Ashendon Junction where the former Great Central Main Line to Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield diverged; here the up and down lines are split, as the layout of the former junction remains. North of Ashendon the line passes through a short tunnel at Brill, before continuing in a north-westerly direction to Bicester North. Beyond Bicester the line passes under the M40 motorway and a longer tunnel at Ardley before emerging on a viaduct running above the Didcot–Oxford–Banbury line; the down line crosses the latter on a girder bridge at the grade-separated Aynho Junction. Line speeds remain 60/100 north of Risborough in the appropriate directions (70/90 on the up line between Aynho and Bicester, and only 25 on the up line through Bicester North station); speed limits are lower when trains are running in the "wrong" direction on the down line, which is signalled for bi-directional working.

At Bicester there is a turnback siding on the down side of the line immediately north of the station, and a trailing crossover to the south of the station and a facing crossover to the north.

Leamington Spa station

At Aynho, train speeds are low on the down side, but higher on the up side, the speed through the turnout having been increased from 40 to 65 during the Project Evergreen works.

Aynho Junction to Leamington Spa

Beyond Aynho Junction, line speeds rise to 90 mph for all types of train and remain at this limit throughout this segment, apart from 75 mph slacks through Banbury and around the curve at Fenny Compton. Between Fenny Compton and Leamington HSTs are permitted to travel at 95; Chiltern's Class 168s have a derogation to observe these speeds.

Leamington to Birmingham

At Leamington Spa station there are two through lines plus platform loops, with two west-facing bay platforms at the Birmingham end. The single-track branch to Coventry diverges immediately to the west of the station, while the Birmingham line continues through Warwick and the new station at Warwick Parkway. Line speeds through Leamington are reduced to 40 (25 on the down platform loop, 30 on the up platform loop), increasing to 70/90 to the west of the station as far as Hatton.

The single-track branch to Stratford-upon-Avon diverges at Hatton, where there is a 70/85 restriction on the curve through the station. The main line continues to run north-west alongside the M40 motorway between Hatton and Lapworth. Between Lapworth and Tyseley, where line speeds are 70/100, there were once four tracks but the former relief lines (which were on the west side of the line) have been removed, except through Dorridge; here a bi-directional through loop has been retained which is used by London Midland services which normally start/terminate here.

The main concourse at Birmingham Moor St station

The relief line platforms remain in place at Solihull and Olton; at Acocks Green a car park has been constructed on the former relief line alignment and most of the relief line platforms demolished.

Beyond Tyseley, where the North Warwickshire line from Stratford via Shirley joins, the relief (now slow) lines have been retained, and Chiltern (and London Midland) trains cross to them west of the station to continue to Moor Street/Snow Hill, the main (now fast) lines diverging at Bordesley Junction and continuing north towards Derby with a connection to Birmingham New Street. New 60 mph crossovers were installed at Tyseley (on the down side of the station) in conjunction with resignalling in 2008, replacing the old 20 mph crossovers on the up side of the station. The speed limit is 60 from Tyseley until beyond Bordesley Junction where it drops to 30.

Beyond Bordesley Junction the slow lines continue through the new through platforms at Moor Street, though the three original terminus platforms are about to be reconnected and will be used by Chiltern Railways from December 2010. The through lines continue into a tunnel (20 mph limit) to reach the new Snow Hill station, where three platforms (15 mph limit) are available for national rail, the fourth now being used by Midland Metro. Beyond Snow Hill the Jewellery Line continues to Worcester via Stourbridge Junction and Kidderminster.


Geographical route of the Chiltern Main Line



No section of the Chiltern Main Line is currently electrified. However the chairman of Chiltern Railways, Adrian Shooter, has indicated that electrification of the whole line is being considered, though not in the immediate future. He added: "We could do some very interesting things with high-acceleration EMUs [electrical multiple unit] and possibly some further infrastructure work".[1]

Other plans

There are several plans for this route:

  • The restoration of the quadruple track between South Ruislip and West Ruislip, allowing trains to call at both stations without blocking the line. Triple track currently exists at West Ruislip, with the up platform loop still in situ, and at South Ruislip, with the Down Main through line also in situ. This would involve the reconstruction of the down platform at West Ruislip, the reconstruction of the up platform at South Ruislip, and the demolition of West Ruislip signal box.
  • Building of the West Hampstead Interchange to allow easy interchange with the London Overground (North London Line), London Underground (Jubilee Line) and First Capital Connect (Thameslink) line and Chiltern Railways with new Metropolitan Line platforms possible.[19]


  1. ^ a b Broadbent, Steve (5 May 2010). "Happy Ever After". RAIL (Peterborough): p. 16. 
  2. ^ MacDermot, E.T. (1927). History of the Great Western Railway, volume I 1833-1863. London: Great Western Railway; Reprinted 1982, Ian Allan. pp. 327, 336. ISBN 0-7110-0411-0. 
  3. ^ Dow, George (1962). Great Central, Volume Two: Dominion of Watkin, 1864-1899. Shepperton: Ian Allan. pp. 302, 306. ISBN 0 7110 1469 8. 
  4. ^ Dow, George (1965). Great Central, Volume Three: Fay Sets the Pace, 1900-1922. Shepperton: Ian Allan. p. 107. ISBN 0 7110 0263 0. 
  5. ^ "The winter timetables of British Railways: Western Region". Trains Illustrated (Hampton Court: Ian Allan): p. 584. December 1959. 
  6. ^ a b c Collins, Paul (1990). Rail Centres: Wolverhampton. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 9780711018921. 
  7. ^ Chiltern Railways: Chiltern Mainline Accessed 23 January 2010[dead link]
  8. ^ "Chiltern Railways plan to make Bicester well connected". RailNews. 29 August 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2008. 
  9. ^ "Project Evergreen 3". Chiltern Railways. 2010. 
  10. ^ "Rail link plan runs into problems". Oxford Mail. 15 September 2009. 
  11. ^ "Chiltern Railways May 2011 timetable". 22 May 2011. 
  12. ^ "London Midland Stratford-Birmingham May 2011 timetable". 22 May 2011. 
  13. ^ "London Midland Worcester-Birmingham May 2011 timetable". 22 May 2011. 
  14. ^ "CrossCountry South Coast - Manchester/North East May 2011 timetable". 22 May 2011. 
  15. ^ "First Great Western Banbury - Oxford May 2011 timetable". 22 May 2011. 
  16. ^ "Angel Trains orders 'green trains' for the UK rail market" (Press release). Angel Trains. 31 January 2008. 
  17. ^ "Passenger Board Annual Report 08/09". Chiltern Railways. 24 June 2009. 
  18. ^ "Coaching Stock Design Contract for Chiltern Railways". Railway Technology. 21 July 2009. 
  19. ^ "Planning Framework for West Hampstead Interchange Area Appendix 2". London Borough of Camden. 19 April 2005. p. 25. Retrieved 29 July 2008. 

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