C is for Chiltern Railways

Saturday 11th February 2023

Chiltern Railways is how rail franchising was always meant to be. Commencing operations in July 1996 it was crucially awarded a lengthy 20 year franchise in 2000 enabling the late and much missed Adrian Shooter and his team to invest significantly in infrastructure improvements over that substantial timeline during which they knew they’d be running the trains.

An initiative called Evergreen (in three parts) saw sections of single track on the main line were doubled (seems unbelievable it was single track now), with phase 2 seeing increases in line speeds around Beaconsfield and two new platforms added at Marylebone while phase 3 saw further line speed improvements as well as the link south of Bicester to Oxford and a whole new market open up, not least to the revamped Bicester Village (ex Bicester Town) and Oxford Parkway.

Chiltern has been a subsidiary of Arriva since early 2011, prior to that it was owned by the John Laing Group and was originally founded as M40 Trains by Adrian and colleague ex British Rail managers who were backed by John Laing Group.

The company’s trains serve Marylebone station in London comprising services along the ‘M40 corridor’ catering for both intensive commuter services as well as longer distance journeys to Birmingham and the West Midlands. It runs an hourly all stations stopping service to Gerrards Cross, a half hourly limited stop service to Oxford, two trains an hour to Birmingham (Moor Street and sometimes hourly on to Snow Hill) with two journeys in the peaks extended to and from Kidderminster while Aylesbury is served by a half hourly service via Rickmansworth and Amersham (with one an hour continuing to Aylesbury Park Vale) and an hourly service via High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. Finally Leamington Spa has a two-hourly stopping service to Birmingham Snow Hill and a two-hourly service to Stratford-upon-Avon.

What characterises Chiltern’s timetable most of all is the varied stopping pattern of services on the main line. For example, departures from Marylebone between 09:00 and 10:00 see an Oxford leave at 01 and 35 with the former non-stop to Haddenham & Thame Parkway then all stations (Bicester Village, Islip and Oxford Parkway) while the latter stops at High Wycombe, Bicester Village and Oxford Parkway. In the next hour between 10:00 and 11:00 departures for Oxford are at 03 and 40 with the former the same as the 09:01 but adding a stop at Wembley Stadium and not stoping at Islip while the latter does the same as the 09:35 but also stops at Gerrards Cross and Princes Risborough. The next hour sees departures at 11:07 and 11:40 with the former mimicking the 09:01 but the latter stops at Beaconsfield but not Princes Risborough as the 10:40 had. A similar situation applies on some journeys on main line trains to Birmingham.

It’s no good looking for a pattern. There doesn’t seem to be one.

Most of Chiltern’s fleet are Class 165 and 168 trains in two, three and four car formations but the company also has eight Class 68 locomotives for journeys it runs with Mark 3 coaches. However, in recent times these have been cut right down and currently there are only two workings a day with loco hauled stock.

You pass all the spare stock resting in the extensive sidings and facilities south of Wembley. The company’s other base is at Aylesbury.

I always enjoy travelling with Chiltern and very seldom get let down. It certainly provides a good alternative to the West Coast Main Line when heading to Birmingham. It might take longer (some journeys do it in 1 hour 45 minutes compared to around 1 hour 21 minutes with Avanti) but the standard walk-up fare is much cheaper (Super off-peak return after 08:30 is £34.40 with Chiltern but an off-peak return not until after 09:26 with Avanti is almost double at £62.10, although London NorthWestern offer a bargain £33 after 08:45 but with a 2 hours 18 minute journey time).

Chiltern’s website is easy to navigate including a one click icon for timetables as well as the usual ‘Buy tickets’ Journey Planner tool.

The company’s Twitter feed refreshingly limits itself to relevant operational updates as well as some marketing announcements rather than involving itself in irrelevant drivel some other train companies seem to think is a fun thing to do to increase “engagement”. It doesn’t work for me; I much prefer Chiltern’s business like approach to communicating.

I took a ride up to Birmingham Moor Street and back last week to remind myself how relaxing the journey is. I specifically chose the 10:10 departure from Marylebone knowing it was one of the four a day which are loco hauled (also at 12:10, 16:46 and 17:46) as I wanted to treat myself to a seat in Chiltern’s Business Zone carriage.

This really is a splendid way to travel and far more comfortable and airy than a Pendolino’s First Class/Standard Premium coach.

It wasn’t clear what the upgrade price was – last time I travelled it was £10 off peak – but I was happy to pay a supplement just to try it even though the standard class seats in the other five coaches are also very comfortable (albeit 2+2 instead of 2+1 layout).

Both are much more roomy than the rather cramped Class 168 trains used on the other departures, although the moveable lip on the tables in those trains helps a bit.

In the event there was no ticket check on the journey so I didn’t find out how much it was and so I tried again on the return journey and this time the Train Manager checked my standard class ticket but didn’t mention anything about a supplement and I overheard her tell another passenger, who queried it, that there wasn’t one.

I’m not sure how widely this is known, I suspect word will soon spread, but the journey up only saw half a dozen passengers in the coach but about three times that on the return.

I had a look at the webpage chilternrailways.co.uk/onboard-our-trains as advised in the poster (pictured above) to find out the “latest pricing” but it’s a rather bland page with no pricing details.

Clicking on the “View more” tab doesn’t reveal anything about pricing either.

One more click on the Chiltern Railways New Business Zone Account Application takes you to an Application form for a “Busines Travel Account”.

So it’s all very mysterious and not up to the usual Chiltern standaerds of clear communication.

Mind you when I travelled on one of the two early morning peak hour journeys from Kidderminster four years ago, the pricing wasn’t communicated in a very professional manner as shown below.

And the complimentary refreshments which came on board when we got to Moor Street weren’t exactly generous.

Back to my journey last week and we reached Moor Street on time at 11:56 having stopped at High Wycombe, Banbury, Leamington Spa, Warwick Parkway and Solihull. The return at 12:55 stopped at those same stations as well as Bicester North, Haddenham & Thame Parkway and Princes Risborough. Both journeys were fairly busy and both ran to time with the return arriving into Marylebone at 14:53 taking just two minutes short of two hours.

Chiltern have exclusive use of Marylebone.

It’s a lovely station with some throwbacks to the Network South East branding still visible.

The ticket office is nicely labelled, if now sadly overshadowed by a huge electronic billboard advert …

… and the departure boards are very clear to read and don’t need the rather bright new fangled LED screens which Newotk Rail are installing at other main line stations and which I find difficult to read compared to these older style ones.

The information office which Chiltern used to man itself and deal with enquiries as well as stock copies of paper timetables – sadly no longer produced – now seems to have been handed over to Bicester Village.

I often find platforms are announced quite close to departure time at Marylebone and if departing from platforms 4, 5 and 6 can mean quite a walk from the ticket gates although the company does use designated Waiting Areas to get passengers closer to the likely departure platform

One of the casualties of Covid at Marylebone was the wonderful shoe shinning man who has now sadly gone…

… but it’s nice to see the statue of Adrian Shooter in pride of place by platform 1 which was unveiled last year prior to his sad passing.

Another wonderful station is Birmingham’s Moor Street which has retained much of the original signage albeit now updated to today’s requirements …

… and it certainly makes for a stark contrast to New Street.

At the other extreme is Sudbury and Harrow Road which for a station within Greater London unusually receives one of the most minimal service provisions there is with just four trains calling in the morning peak towards Marylebone and the same number in the afternoon peak and early evening heading out of Marylebone.

The station is located very close to Sudbury Town on the Piccadilly line which explains the minimalist approach.

The next station north, Sudbury Hill Harrow is similarly close to Sudbury Town on the Piccadilly line but enjoys an hourly service.

Chiltern Railways has got a good reputation and deservedly so. My travel experiences almost always bear it out.

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Avanti West Coast, Blackpool Transport

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

39 thoughts on “C is for Chiltern Railways

Add yours

  1. Chiltern are excellent going from Rowley Regis to Marylebone on business next Wednesday for just £3.40 each way on an Advanced Return. Whatever the future holds for Arriva this is one part of the empire DB have never managed to ruin. Still cannot believe Roger you were on my railway this week & didn’t meet up! CHILTERN RAILWAYS also serve Stourbridge Junction, Rowley Regis, Galton Bridge, Hawthorns (after last night better move on swiftly) & Jewellery Quarter within the West Midlands County.

    Liked by 1 person

        Birmingham Snow Hill to London Marylebone
        1 Adult
        Birmingham Snow Hill
        Wed 15 Feb 13:12 – 15:11
        1h 59m | 0 Changes
        Promotional ADVANCE
        Birmingham Snow Hill to
        London Marylebone
        Chiltern Railways
        Additional information about this fare can be found at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/times_fares/ticket_types.aspx
        Break of journey: Outward: A break of journey is not allowed.
        Only valid on booked Chiltern Railways trains.
        Ticket restrictions available at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/CA
        Ticket is non-refundable.
        London Marylebone
        Wed 15 Feb 21:10- 23:15
        2h 4m | 0 Changes
        Promotional ADVANCE
        London Marylebone to
        Birmingham Snow Hill
        Chiltern Railways


  2. Absolutely agree about the Chiltern timetable . . . the Saturday version comes closer to a “specimen hour”, but that itself is different to the Monday-Friday version!
    I occasionally travel from Denham Golf Club, which was rebuilt upon route modernisation into the style of a GW halt, complete with corrugated “pergola” shelters . . . regrettably now rusting gently away. The information screens were stuck on the “12:04 to Gerrards Cross” for months, but have now been switched off altogether.
    My concern is that Chiltern will still roster 3-car units on Birmingham journeys . . . on two occasions I have been unable to board a Moor Street train at High Wycombe, as the train was utterly rammed. They may attempt to match train lengths to likely loadings, but a 3-car to Brum during the Commonwealth Games? The Oxfords, on the other hand, are always 4-car, and often 6-car!!

    I get the feeling that Chiltern “was” Adrian Shooter, and since he stepped back 10 years ago, they’ve been marking time . . . still good, but not excellent any more.


  3. I wondered about “irrelevant dribble” with its image of old age – then thought of “drizzle” but realised that the word is “drivel”!

    As a former commuter between Northolt Park and Marylebone in the bad old BR days when trains only called at N/P at peak times (formerly known as the rush hour) I found this a really interesting piece – thank you Roger.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t get the message that the final poster picture is trying to tell us.

    Is there a range of Free travel tickets available?

    I don’t think so.

    A nice eye-catching image, but ruined by an incomprehensible message.


    1. It’s a little odd that whilst Moor Street isn’t Art Deco (being more an Grand Edwardian with elements of the arts and crafts movement), they have gone for an art deco cafe. It is a lovely place and much nicer than Snow Hill; I know the latter is due a redevelopment but silk purses etc…


      1. Snow Hill is a modern facility managed bu West Midlands Railways for Transport for West Midlands. It provides wide open access facilities for nearly three million passengers per year & is a category C1 facility. It was financed mainly by Centro the forerunner to TfWM. Plans are advanced to reinstate the former Metro platform. In many aspects its a far superior Interchange facility than Moor Street which from TfWM research seems loved by many who never use it and is considered poor with regard to disabled facilities. Personally I argued for it to be torn down and replaced with more suitable modern facilities linked with HS2 CURZON ST, METRO & SPRINT.


          1. It’s unfortunate that those with disabilities and are less able have to use the modern and easily accessible facilities at Snow Hill rather than the outdated facilitiesat Moor Street. If we ever get full control of the West Midlands Rail Network at TfWM I am sure Andy Street CBE from previous conversations we have had agrees that Moor Street should be replaced by a railway station that is accessible fully to all with easy Interchange to Metro Sprint & HS2 and not one applauded by those who love its so called rustic charm but quite simply never use it on a daily basis with disabilities as I do.


        1. Is Moor Street really that much worse for disabled access than Snow Hill? Not least Snow Hill is a long trek from Colmore Row across the bridge. Livery Street is not level access either and further from the city centre.
          Platform 1 has both lifts on the bridge from the main concourse and the ramp from the second Moor Street entrance.
          There is a disabled toilet. Subjective and secondary but if early Moor Street is more pleasant to wait.

          Going forward time will tell how it Moor Street is linked with ( the waste of money that is ) HS2 and the Curzon Street terminus.


  5. I suppose the varied pattern of the timetables is some sort of ‘demand harvesting’, and may be justified in terms of Chiltern’s profits, in a limited sense. I don’t know if any of the rail (or bus) operators have tried genuinely to ascertain the financial value of a simpler service for which you don’t need to consult the timetable every time you travel (which makes their decision to get rid of printed timetables a bit questionable).

    The random nature of the timetable would certainly make it more difficult to arrange connecting bus services at the intermediate stations – supposing any bus company wished to be that customer-friendly.

    I presume the poor service at Sudbury & Harrow Rd is to do with the difficulty of running fast and slow trains on the same pair of lines. As a child, I travelled on the slow trains out of Marylebone up to Beaconsfield, and I remember that at most stations there were separate bays for us stop, so that the Expresses to and from Paddington could overtake. But now most of those passing loops are gone.

    I’m surprised that West Ruislip is not served by more of the fast trains, as a pick-up point in north-west London – maybe even for the people around Sudbury and Harrow Road, if they had a service to W.Ruislip in the morning, and home in the evening!


  6. Rick puts his finger on the one downside of Chiltern. They have understandably concentrated on the more lucrative longer-distance journeys; with no requirement in the franchise other than not actually to reduce services at any station, the only improvement seen for smaller stations has been slightly reduced journey times as the local trains scurry along in front of the Birmingham/Oxford ones like Thomas trying to avoid being run down by Gordon. Sudbury & Harrow Road’s poor service can’t entirely be explained away by its proximity to the Piccadilly line, as that follows a much less direct route to central London and takes far longer. There is no incentive for them to improve Denham Golf Club’s service as the residents have pretty much given up on it and drive to Denham where Chiltern therefore get extra car park income. The varied stopping pattern also makes journeys between the quieter stations slow and inconsistent with long waits at interchanges; Sunday is often the best bet as there is less skipping.


  7. The slower, cheaper option from London to Birmingham was a success. The trains were a bit quieter than the West Coast main line and if you were in West London or south Birmingham then the total journey time would often be shorter.

    This option could be a victim of a unified fare system under GB Rail.

    The loco hauled option definitely looks like a step up on the 168s or Pendolinos.


  8. Chiltern scrapped the business zone during covid so the carriage and comfort remain but available to everyone on a standard ticket.

    It’s very much a cheeky secret so you normally find the coach quiet which adds to the comfort and ambience


  9. Must be one of the rare examples of NSE branding remaining.There is the NSE branding on the platforms on the Waterloo and City Line too.I hope that Sir Jacob Rees Smog doesn’t ever travel on Chiltern as he might be offended by the continental style 7 with the line through it written on the Buisness Carriage supplement poster.That loco hauled stock came from Wrexham and Shropshire I think but they used class 67’s rather than 68’s and at least one was in W and S livery but many EWS ones.As best I can tell 67’s are only to be found on the Welsh premium south north train although perhaps the Scottish sleeper might still use them? Occasionally on freight too but even then it’s uncommon.


  10. Hi Roger

    I am regular subscriber to you, and always find your posts most interesting.

    In particular, today’s on Chiltern Railways – as I am retired, live in Gerrards Cross and very pro-public transport, I travel a few times per week on Chiltern to Marylebone, and on several occasions a year to each of Oxford, Birmingham and Aylesbury. Even sometimes to Little Kimble, least used station in my county – Bucks (according to the video from you-know-who).

    All the information on Chiltern in your blog today was fascinating – although I believe that Chiltern no longer consider that carriage in their loco-hauled sets to be the Business Zone. I suspect the term was silently done away with, and it’s not worth repainting the outside of the carriages that say that it is such a Zone.

    This is confirmed in two places on Chiltern’s website:

    Firstly, with a search on Business Zone, you get the following response:


    And on the enthusiast-friendly page on Our Trains, that specific carriage in each set (nearest the loco) is shown as having space for bikes and for use by the disabled, but the words Business Zone are not mentioned.


    I think it simply awaits a carriage repaint for the wording to disappear. I haven’t been asked for a supplement to travel in that carriage for several months, and I always select it when I can.

    I hope the above is of interest. Feel free to publish any part of it, if you like.

    Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The irregular train pattern makes trying to connect up with bus services very difficult.

    You will recall your piece on service 250. It finished today, and will be replaced from Monday by new services 24 and 25, secured after considerable difficulty.

    Service 25, to Heyford Park, connects with trains to/from Oxford at Bicester Village and rail ticket holders travel for a flat £1 single fare.

    Dave Harrison
    Principal Public Transport Planner
    Oxfordshire County Council

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, via a different route to Kirtlington then as per the 250 to Oxford.

        Sufficiently different to count as new provision under the BSIP – as you know, we abandoned our DRT proposal here.


        Liked by 1 person

  12. Worlds fastest train called Transpod can travel at upto1000km per hour

    Apparently they have started to build the first one in Canada

    If it does get complete and works it will make HS2 seem slow
    London to Birmingham would be less than 15 minutes


  13. Liking the latest Roger/Geoff release – not quite Ant and Dec (thankfully) but with hints of Waldorf and Stadler. Could this be Tuesday’s post?


  14. I do Marylebone to Cradley Heath via Moor Street (or direct to Stourbridge Junction if I’m lucky) quite often, and I honestly feel like I’ve never had the same calling pattern more than twice!

    Chiltern have always been innovative, haven’t they. Even those proposals like the extension along the SVR to Bewdley and the extension to Rugby that never saw light of day.


  15. transport focus £2 fare survey

    I always take this surveys with a pinch of salt. It is not that compressive neither

    Survey size 1000

    53% aware of the £2 fare which is not impressive

    70% of Regular bus users aware of it not that impressive

    7% said they are using the bus more often


  16. greenline727 posted ” I get the feeling that Chiltern “was” Adrian Shooter, and since he stepped back 10 years ago, they’ve been marking time . . . still good, but not excellent any more ”

    Likewise. Certainly after Rob Brighouse Chiltern has been on a downhill slide. Covid of course did not help and now DfT micro-management but had Adrian or Rob still been at the helm March 2020 I think it would be better now than with all the pruning of the pure Arriva management.

    The 168’s now need an interior refurbishment. There are problems with the supply of essential parts for both 165’s and 168’s. I think Adrian would have looked ahead and sought solutions.


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