The new rail timetables that start in Britain on 9 December 2012 bring much improved services on the East Suffolk Line from Lowestoft to Ipswich and a big expansion of the London Overground network.
Those are headline changes in the new schedules which will also see the Scottish town of Dumbarton get a direct overnight sleeper service to and from London. Faster journey times on the Highland Main Line will make for smoother travel from central Scotland to Inverness.
But we think the most significant innovation to long-distance services in Britain in the new schedules comes in the competitive London to West Midlands market — evidence, perhaps, that a little competition on the rails can be very good for the consumer. Not for the first time, it is Chiltern Railways who are making the running.
Creative operators devise new timetables to reflect evolving demand. In England, the 9 December schedule changes see a completely new pattern of services from London Marylebone to Birmingham via the Chiltern route. More premium Chiltern Silver services are being added, with the introduction of a new Kidderminster to London Chiltern Silver train — which will dash non-stop from Leamington Spa to London in just 66 minutes. Not bad timings for a route which twenty years ago had been relegated to the status of a minor secondary railway.
With this new service Chiltern Railways recall the heyday of the Blue Pullman which in the 1960s provided a non-stop link from Leamington to London (actually running to Paddington rather than Marylebone and taking 95 minutes for the journey — more a muted dash than a serious sprint).
We have long had a soft spot for Chiltern Railways. Their mainline route out of Marylebone is the prettiest route north from London, particularly as it cuts through the Chiltern Hills between Denham and Princes Risborough. Further north, there are stunning views of the Cherwell Valley and the company’s principal Birmingham station at Moor Street is a fabulous renovation.
Twice in the past month, we have sampled Chiltern Silver trains. The success of these services underlines that you do not need to have the most up-to-date rolling stock to provide a premium service. And from 9 December Chiltern Railways have scheduled additional weekday Chiltern Silver trains on their core route from Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street. The new schedules will also see the classic Chiltern Silver rolling stock deployed for the first time on selected weekend services.
We heard one satisfied Chiltern customer comment earlier this month, while riding an early afternoon Chiltern Silver service north from Marylebone: “This beats the Pendolino out of Euston any day. More space and better views.”
The recasting of Chiltern Railways’ London to Birmingham schedule has knock-on effects across the rest of the Chiltern network. The new timetable sees the introduction of many more through off-peak (Mon-Fri) services from London to Aylesbury via High Wycombe — always a shade slower than the direct route to Aylesbury via Amersham, but still a big boost for rail travellers in Buckinghamshire and eliminating the need for tiresome changes at Princes Risborough.
There are improvements to the service between London and Stratford-upon-Avon, but one casualty of the new timetable is the mid-morning train from Marylebone to Stratford. That 10.40 departure was very popular with foreign visitors to London, keen to make a day trip to Shakespeare’s birthplace. That train disappears from the schedules.
Celebrated Chiltern oddities remain in the new schedules. Fifty years ago, a lunchtime service used to run from Ruislip to Paddington (rather than to Marylebone which then, as now, was the London terminus for all other local services from Ruislip and beyond). And happily that legacy train still survives in the shape of the 11.02 from South Ruislip to Paddington. This train, and its balancing working from Paddington at 11.36 back to West Ruislip, are the only scheduled passenger trains to serve the old mainline route from Acton via Greenford to Northolt Junction.
In similar vein, Chiltern Railways will still run a sole daily late-night train from Stratford-upon-Avon to Oxford, the only direct service of the day between the two tourist hubs. The train has been a feature of the rail schedules dating back to long before the days of the present Chiltern Railways franchise.
The new Chiltern Railways timetable from London to Birmingham is shown in Table 128 of the December edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable. For UK readers, more familiar with the traditional British formats, it is Table 115 in the Network Rail timetables. Trains generally run every thirty minutes from London Marylebone to Birmingham. The fastest trains make the journey in under 100 minutes.
If you are keen to identify exactly which services are operated with Chiltern Silver stock, here is a list. These timings apply from Sunday 9 December:
|08.45 to Birmingham|
|10.15 to Birmingham||11.06 to Birmingham|
|13.15 to Birmingham|
|16.47 to Birmingham|
|17.15 to Kidderminster||17.06 to Birmingham|
|18.15 to Kidderminster||18.06 to Birmingham||18.33 to Birmingham|
|06.09 from Kidderminster|
|06.38 from Stourbridge||07.12 from Kidderminster|
|10.55 from Birmingham||09.10 from Kidderminster||10.13 from Birmingham|
|12.55 from Birmingham||13.55 from Birmingham|
|15.55 from Birmingham|