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A main line reborn

When Chiltern Railways took over the line from London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill in 1996, it had been in steady decline since the 1960s. With many sections reduced to just a single track and decades of underinvestment in stations and the trains, it was seen as a backwater of the national network. London Marylebone station had even been earmarked for closure.

Chiltern Railways had a very different vision, for a new mainline rival between London and Birmingham, and a totally transformed network with new and refurbished stations, new trains and even new rail lines built. From a low of 7.7million journeys each year in 1996, that rose to over 24.5million journeys in 2018.

As the railway needed such significant improvements to achieve today’s success, a very different model was used. Chiltern Railways funded over £600million investments in new tracks, refurbishing older stations and building three new parkway stations near Warwick, Oxford and Aylesbury. They supported this with a new 20‐year franchise agreement in 2002, around three times longer than most franchise contracts, to enable them to invest for the longer term.

The work on the track and stations, and investment in 47 new trains, allowed Chiltern to focus on making journey times shorter, saving over 25 minutes on the original London to Birmingham time, and increasing the number of services every weekday from 240 to 432. By redeveloping Birmingham Moor Street station next to the new Bullring shopping centre, and adding two new platforms at both Moor Street and London Marylebone, in twenty years the railway has become unrecognisable.

As passenger numbers have risen between London and the West Midlands on all lines, the investment in extra capacity on the Chiltern line has kept congestion down on both the West Coast railway and the motorway network.

The success of Chiltern Railways over the last two decades is testament to the wider commitment of train companies to maintain private sector investment, in order to bolster government spending. By knowing their customers and understanding how better services not only boost passenger satisfaction, but also drive local economic growth and reduce reliance on congested motorways, train companies have changed the way the country works and travels.

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