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November 17, 2011 / clayliesstill

Bats: more important than CO2 or humans

Chiltern Railways – the poster child for rail privatisation – hatched a plan a few years ago to run trains from London Marylebone to Oxford via Bicester. This would compete with First Great Western (FGW), which currently operates the Paddington – Didcot – Oxford route, a monopoly on rail travel between London and Oxford. Chiltern already run trains from London to Bicester North and from Bicester Town to Oxford, but it is a mile walk between the two stations and then only 11 trains a day for the second leg.

Chiltern were the company that opened up a competitive route to Birmingham, taking significantly longer than Virgin, but at a fraction of the price. Their Oxford plans (called ‘Evergreen3‘) would take around 10 minutes longer than the fastest FGW service.  Instead of changing at Bicester

In order to do this Chiltern needed to redouble the existing track and build a ‘chord’ (junction) at Bicester. Stations would be rebuilt and a new ‘Parkway’ station opened just to the north of Oxford.

Not only would the scheme help to reduce car commuting in and out of Oxford, it would mean cheaper tickets between London and Oxford, rail connections between Oxford and parts of Buckinghamshire, a start on the ‘East West Rail’ project to provide intra-regional travel without needing to go through London and… most importantly, the glorious confusion of tourists at Oxford stations watching trains for London leave going both north and south.

Unfortunately the Planning Inspector’s report into the project, published today, says that it should not go ahead. Why? Because in its current underused state, bats have taken up residence in the Wolvercote Tunnel. 22 trains a day (and the occasional military train) was didn’t scare the bats but higher line speeds and three times as many trains would cause problems. Chiltern had offered to light up the tunnel (thereby alerting the bats) as each train approached, but will now need to seek further mitigation measures.

So, a scheme that would greatly improve public transport in the area, reduce motor traffic, save CO2 and enhance a long term strategic objective has all been shelved (temporarily, one can only hope) by the presence of bats.

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