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The Railway & Radley

The following is a slightly edited and updated version of an article produced by David Heath at about the time of the Millennium and which itself is an updated version of the one that appears in the 1994 Radley Rail Gala souvenir programme.

The Railway & RADLEY
by David Heath

In June 1994, Radley played a key role in celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the opening of the GWR’s Didcot & Oxford Railway. The Gala Day was a huge success: a large number of visitors enjoyed a variety of attractions, spearheaded by the special steam-hauled trains. During these festivities it was easy to overlook one important point: although the railway came to Radley in 1844, it was in fact another 30 years before the village was blessed with an actual station.

In many ways, the history of Radley station is interwoven with that of the Abingdon Branch. This famous line opened in 1856, but the original junction station was actually located 3/4 mile south of Radley at Nuneham Bridge. This station closed in September 1873 when the Abingdon Branch was extended northwards to a brand new station at Radley. Though originally envisaged by the GWR to serve the village (and the college), Radley station would be known for almost a century as the ‘Junction for Abingdon’. Indeed, the branch generated most of the station’s traffic. Oxford-London expresses would make their only stop en route at Radley to pick up passengers brought from Abingdon. Even today, Radley boasts a superior service to that offered by the neighbouring stations at Culham and Appleford.

Radley had quite an interesting layout which remained virtually unchanged for nearly a century. In addition to the two main running lines, there were three loops and two sidings in the yard, one of which served the College. Goods facilities were introduced during the mid 1890s, and a cattle dock established in 1903. Access to the station was by means of a long drive from the Lower Radley side of the road bridge. By the early 1980s, this road bridge had begun to subside due to a continual pounding by the heavy lorries serving the gravel pits in Lower Radley. During one weekend in November 1983, the line between Oxford and Didcot was closed whilst the bridge was demolished and replaced by a new faceless concrete structure.

In September 1963, passenger services ceased on the Abingdon Branch. The rationalisation of the Beeching era saw Radley downgraded to an un-manned halt: the buildings were demolished and the superfluous track in the goods yard lifted to form a car park. By the 1970s, the station was only a shadow of its former self – weeds growing on the platforms which were devoid of all structures apart from a solitary brick shelter on the Up side. The Abingdon Branch continued as a freight only line until its eventual closure in June 1984. 

Radley has undergone several facelifts in the last thirty years. Following the launch of Network South East (NSE) in 1986, the station received the signature red lamp-posts, the old monochromatic name-boards were replaced by colourful new NSE signs and the blue/grey footbridge was repainted in an attractive chocolate and cream scheme. In 1998, the erstwhile Railtrack, in conjunction with former franchise operator Thames Trains, undertook a £340,000 refurbishment of the station. The platforms were resurfaced, new railings erected and a ramp installed at the entrance for disabled access. A further £1 million package of enhancements was completed in 2008. Funded by Oxfordshire County Council, Network Rail and First Great Western, the work included car park improvements, new waiting shelters and the provision of additional cycle racks. A new footbridge was also installed, replacing a temporary structure that had been in situ since 2006. The original footbridge was donated to the Great Western Society at Didcot.

Electric trains were originally scheduled to start calling at Radley in 2016/17, but won’t now do so until 2024 at the earliest. Sadly, electrification of the Oxford-Didcot line has been deferred – ostensibly to save money, although the decision is also tied in with the proposed redevelopment of Oxford station. Network Rail is understandably reluctant to install any Overhead Line Equipment, only to have to rip it out again in two or three years’ time when the station is rebuilt. Until then, Radley will mainly be served by a Turbo shuttle service between Oxford and Didcot. On a more positive note, the platforms were lengthened during 2018 ready to accommodate the longer electric trains.

Although passengers have yet to see the full benefits of rail privatisation, in fairness things are no worse than they were under British Rail. Radley continues to enjoy an excellent rail service, and long may it continue to do so.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.radleyvillage.org.uk/ourvillage/history/history-of-the-railway/the-railway-radley/