I have long felt an affinity for the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire freight lines although the area is currently something of a railway backwater compared to the period some 20 years ago when I first visited it. Then, the line from Bicester to Bletchley was open and in daily use by stone traffic from Watley Quarry to Wolverton, there was traffic to Aylesbury CCD and the weekly fertiliser train from Ince & Elton to the UKF depot at Akeman Street regularly ran, in the Autumn to Spring months at least. Today, it is very different. The only regular traffic in the area is containerised household waste from Bath & Bristol and various despatching terminals in the London area to the landfill site at Calvert. The site here was once owned by the London Brick Company and it is their old clay pits that now receive seemingly endless amounts of waste. This year, the landfill site at Forders Sidings, on the Bedford to Bletchley line was declared full and a train from Cricklewood has been diverted to Calvert, broadly running in the path of the old 6M35 from Kings Cross. Bicester COD military depot is also served by rail and receives regular traffic from Didcot, which serves as a hub for Kineton, Ludgershall, Marchwood and, sporadically, Ashchurch depots. Strictly speaking, Bicester COD is outside the ambit of the section as it is situated on a passenger line but the current and historical traffic is of sufficient interest to be included, as are some shots of other freight, including the defunct stone traffic to and from Wolverton and the Bicester coal.

I have never been overly lucky with the weather in this part of the world - there was a strong rumour that the relay box at the Claydon L & NE Junction signal panel contained a fog generator, so often was this a feature of my visits. This is not to excuse, but to explain the poor quality of some of the images. There will be more black & white images in this section for the same reason but even some of these were taken at the limit, or just beyond. I found the area so fascinating that I took photographs in the direst of conditions and looking back am glad that I did so as most of the traffic has gone for ever.

At the time of writing in mid-May 2005 this section is not complete. I decided to put what is currently prepared online now with the intention of completing the work over the next few weeks.


The first photograph, taken on 4 March 1989 shows 31247 standing in the Akeman Street depot while the cargowagons were unloaded. This was done using a forklift truck, the load being either carried on wooded pallets or in large "bags" with handles suitable for this mode of handling. Class 31 was the normal motive power at this time, although 47s did appear from time to time. The management of the site were always welcoming to enthusiasts provided that a request was made before entering the loading area so that the workers could be made aware that people were going to be present on site. The train did not run every Saturday and it was my practice to make a telephone call to the office on Friday afternoon to ascertain if there was a working the next day if a trip was planned.
This picture, taken a few minutes after the one above, shows 31247 about to move the train towards the headshunt before leaving the site and heading to Aylesbury to run round. As there was no loop provided at Akeman Street, the first part of the journey was achieved with the locomotive propelling the train to Grendon Underwood Junction from where it would head engine first to Aylesbury.
As I mentioned above, a class 47 did occasionally turn up at Akeman Street. I was told at the time that the train, which originated at Ince & Elton on a Friday, usually carried traffic for the Horsham depot of Kemira. If this was the case then the Akeman Street portion was dropped at Bletchley for one of the local class 31s to work the following day. If there was no Horsham traffic for any reason then the class 47 remained on the train and worked to Akeman Street itself. On 5 January 1991, this appeared to be the case and 47146 is seen in a welcome patch of sun waiting for the wagons to be unloaded.
Shortly after the picture shown above was taken there was a sudden shower. This gave the opportunity to take a black and white shot of 47146 and its train, which I always think works well with some reflections from the ground. The sliding roof of the third wagons is shown to advantage in this picture, as unloading progresses.
This picture shows 31420 re-marshalling the train which had been split to facilitate unloading. The first half is standing on the branch to Grendon Underwood Junction while the loco is bringing the remaining wagons out of the headshunt. On this occasion, 11 November 1989, the load was not palleted and the bags of fertiliser were individually lifted out by forklift truck.
The short section of line from Akeman Street to Grendon Underwood Junction was not especially photogenic. This view, taken from a road bridge towards the beginning of the branch was about the best available. 31247 is seen here propelling the train towards the junction, where it will reverse and head south to Aylesbury. The brake van at the front can just be discerned through the mist and light drizzle on 4 March 1989.
In somewhat better light to that seen in the photograph above, 47146 has just about arrived at Grendon Underwood Junction on 5 January 1991 while propelling its train of empty cargowagons from Akeman Street fertiliser depot. The bridge on which I was standing was situated on a bridlepath and subsequently collapsed to be replaced with a boarded crossing.
A few minutes later, the train has joined the Claydon Junction to Aylesbury main line and is heading south to Aylesbury in order to run-round before returning north. Worthy of note are the chimneys of the London Brick Company at Calvert. Bricks were still being manufactured here at the time and it was always a welcome sight to see the chimneys on the horizon as one approached the turn for Calvert from the Bicester to Aylesbury road. The smell of the clay being baked was equally memorable and it is debatable whether this smell was preferable to that coming from the landfill site. My plan was to photograph the return from Aylesbury from the bridge just about visible in the far background. The easiest access was to walk down the Akeman Street branch, which I did. Just as the train came into view a huge black cloud appeared along with torrential rain. The light completely disappeared and even the black & white negative was so thin as to be unprintable.
On 4 March 1989, 31247 is seen approaching Quainton Road station with the Akeman Street train while en-route to Aylesbury where the loco will run-round the wagons before heading north to Calvert, Claydon L&NE and the Bletchley Flyover. Once again, the weather was very poor but this section of line had a 20mph speed limit so stopping the action was not too much of a problem.
A couple of miles to the south of Quainton Road are the remains of Waddesdon Manor station. This, being situated pretty much in uninhabited countryside was built largely for the use of the wealthy owners of the nearby eponymous country house. 31420 is seen passing the site of the up platform on yet another very dull day, 11 November 1989 while heading south towards Aylesbury.
Once the locomotive had run-round the wagons in Aylesbury station the train returned north. On 12 November 1988 it is seen in some most uncharacteristic sun, albeit rather weak and peeping through the remnants of some dense early morning fog while passing through Quainton Road station behind 47422. This scene has dramatically changed, unusually for the better, following the expansion of the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. This is well worth a visit, even on non-running days, and the staff there always make visiting enthusiasts very welcome.
The sun did occasionally appear during these outings, as witnessed by this shot of 31555 rounding the curve from Calvert at Claydon L&NE Junction on 29 June 1991. This train is ideal for this location, bearing in mind the very tight curvature of the track - the Avon Binliner is too long and the end of the train is lost out of the frame. Mick, the owner of the land upon which I was standing, was always amenable to me using the field as long as permission was sought in advance. Quite rightly, he did not like people traipsing over his property without so much as a "by your leave" and I saw (and heard) an enthusiast being given very short shrift on one occasion when he just parked his car in the farmyard and marched over the field as if he owned it.
To the north of Claydon Junction lay Verney Junction where the lines for Cambridge and Buckingham left the Bletchley line. Platform edging is the only sign that any railway infrastructure was ever present here. In this, another shot from the overcast 4 March 1989, 31247 is heading north on the former southbound tracks with the empties from Akeman Street. It was a feature of this line that the best parts of either line were used when the route was singled and there are several instances of track slewing to demonstrate how this was done.
This view of 31420 shows the empty fertiliser wagons from Akeman Street approaching the former station at Winslow on 11 November 1989. An example of the track slewing I mentioned above can be seen here. A view of the remains of Winslow station appears further on in this section of the website.
This photograph shows the current scene at Calvert as Freightliner Heavy Haul's 66546 is seen under the unloading gantry on 25 June 2004. This is not a trespass shot but was taken from the correct side of the fence near the gantry with a 300mm telephoto lens. Alongside the bins are the wagons of a short-term flow of contaminated soil, also operated by FLHH, from Baglan Bay in South Wales.
This is the first photograph I took in this area and the one which got me hooked! It shows an unidentified class 47 about to leave Calvert on 27 October 1987 with the "Avon Bins", a train which still runs today albeit with slightly more up-to-date motive power. This scene has not changed much in the intervening 18 years, although the island platform is now more overgrown. The refuse train from Northolt can be seen in the background awaiting its turn to be unloaded. The containers for this service were drawn through the gantry by cable as the locomotive "slip-worked" and took the empty train from the previous working back to the railhead in North London to be reloaded.
On 9 December 1994 37057+37012 were provided to work the bins in place of the single "heavyweight" class 37 then diagrammed. The duo are seen here exploding away from the unloading site towards Claydon loop. The train was running late and the sun was in completely the wrong place for even a half-decent shot and the exhaust so dramatically changed the light reading that my exposure was all over the place. These factors may halp to explain the dreadful quality of the photograph. Some slightly better lit shots of this train appear in the class 37 section of this site.
Given the rarity of a pair of 37s on this train, the going away shot as it moved towards Claydon loop was taken. The secondman can be seen operating the groundframe, which is released by the signaller in the panel round the corner on the line between Oxford and Bletchley. The clag had somewhat dimished by this point.....
A less spectacular departure than that shown above was made by 37705 on 18 April 1995. The tall chimneys of the London Brick Company were still extant at this time although they were not long for this world.
On 8 June 1994 the sun made a very welcome appearance as 37703 rounded the very tight curve on the approach to the loop at Claydon L&NE Junction. Over the course of a few visits I got to know one of the Didcot drivers on this turn quite well and on this occasion was offered a cab-ride to Bicester. Sadly, I had to decline as Pam, a non-driver at the time, was with me on this occasion and I didn't fancy asking her to walk back to Calvert with me to pick up the car! This view was taken with the agreement both of the farmer owning the access road to the signalbox and the signalman who kindly provided some liquid refreshment while I waited for the train to appear.
It was inevitable that class 66 would eventually appear on the Avon Bins and so it did. However, with effect from 1 May 2000 EWS lost the contract to Freightliner Heavy Haul meaning that the final EWS-hauled train ran on 30 April 2000. Slightly to my surprise, I was the only photographer to be seen at Calvert for this working, hauled by 66040. Once the train has been unloaded it runs around the tight curve to Claydon Loop where the locomotive is detached and runs-round ready for the run south to Bicester, Oxford and Bristol. On some occasions, the train will run right up to the signal before the loco comes off but on others the driver stops it half-way along the line, making photography difficult. No such problem on this day, as during the unloading procedure I asked the driver if he would mind running up to the signal, which he was good enough to do.
This is the current scene in the same location as the picture above, albeit in poorer light. The locomotive is 66546 and the photograph was taken on 25 June 2004.
Instead of accepting the cab ride mentioned above because of the logistical difficulty involved in getting from Bicester to Claydon without my car, I opted to photograph 37703 from the 2nd bridge to the south of Claydon Junction. The ever-friendly driver asked if I'd like him to stop at the appropriate spot for a posed photo. Would I?! In retrospect, I wish I'd chosen a more photogenic location.
Moving further towards Bicester, here is 37715 with the Avon Bins approaching the road crossing at Launton on 11 April 1996. I recall that the train was running a bit later than normal and that the crew were keen to reach Bicester London Road in time to get their path on the single track to Oxford, shared by a passenger service. This accounts for the nice amount of clag coming from the loco. The train may just have been travelling slightly in excess of the speed limit for the line at the time! There was a convenient pile of ballast at this location which enabled one to get a little height above the nominal ground level.
Some 22 months later, on 23 February 1998 green-liveried 47004 was provided to work the bins and was photographed in the same place as the shot of 37715 seen above. 645
On the other side of the road from the picture of 37715 shown above lay the station at Launton. By the time I took this shot of 56041 on the Avon Bins on 14 March 1994 the station had long disappeared but the remains of the platform edge could be discerned through the undergrowth.
Class 60 took over the operation of the Avon Bins in mid-1993 but for some reason did not last for long. This accounts for the very few pictures I have of the class in this area. On this day, 8 July 1993 the train ran exceptionally early, having left Calvert by the time I arrived at 09.30. I hastened to the road bridge between Launton and Bicester where the train was in sight as I parked. The locomotive is 60043.
37705 is seen here just to the north of Bicester London Road station about to leave the freight-only line. The barriers protecting the road crossing are operated by the train crew once permission has been given by Oxford Panel. The booked path at this time was 12.22 but an earlier path was quite often used if the onloading procedure at Calvert was completed before time. In my experience during the early 1990s, this was quite often the case and an early departure from Bicester was the norm. It was not always possible to get to the crossing in time if an intermediate shot between Calvert and Bicester was taken, given the rural nature of the roads in the area and, on occasions, the volume of traffic on the approaches to Bicester itself. No such problem on this occasion as I went straight from the bridge at Calvert to the crossing at Bicester to make sure of the shot, given the perfect lighting conditions on this day.
Another shot in the same location shows 56055 standing at the signal awaiting its path south through Bicester London Road station and thence to Oxford and beyond. A passenger service had only just left Bicester for Oxford so a delay of some 25 minutes could be expected. The date of this view, given away to some extent by the blossom on the bushes to left and right, is 6 May 1993.
By 14 March 1996, class 58 was the allocated motive power for the binliner. Here, in a 3rd photograph in this location, 58022 is about to cross the London Road at Bicester having been given the road by Oxford Panel. While not having the charisma of the 37s it was good to add another class to my list of locomotives photographed on this train. There is evidence of recent barrier replacement at this location.
At the risk of becoming repetitive, the final shot at this location was taken on 13 February 1998 and shows 47004 making a spectacular (and requested!) move away from the signal at Bicester London Road.645
This picture is the first in this section not on a freight-only line. It shows 56055 screaming away from Bicester with the Avon Bins on 6 May 1993. The picture was taken from a convenient bridge on the relatively new Bicester bypass road - one of the very few elevated locations on the line. The former up line in the right foreground is now an extended headshunt used by trains entering and leaving Bicester COD. The buffer stops on this are situated right up towards the station in the background.
Staying on the Bicester to Oxford section, here is a picture of 58041 with the bins on 4 April 1996. The location is near Islip and is on strictly private property to I was given access by the landowner.
To complete this overview of the Avon Binliner, this shot and the next are views of the train diverted from its normal route. This photograph, taken on 4 September 2003, shows 66551 rounding the curve on the approach to Quainton Road station. There was a 2 week possession between Bicester and Oxford necessitating this move, which meant that the bins were diverted via Aylesbury, the Chiltern line, the Greenford Loop to Hanwell and then the GWR main line to Didcot where its normal route was re-joined. I waited until until the 2nd week of the possession in the hope of a fine day and was, for once, not disappointed. The Didcot to Bicester COD train was also routed via Quainton and was top and tailed by class 66s to speed up the reversal process at Claydon.
The 2nd diversion was much more unusual and happened only twice, both occasions being during rare Saturday workings of 4V60. The main line between Didcot and Swindon was closed for major engineering work and as no safety case exists for 66/6s on the Berks & Hants line, there was little alternative but to run the train to Oxford, run the loco round and then head north to Birmingham via Hatton, where this shot of 66609 was taken on 21 January 2005, and then south to Gloucester, Standish Junction, Stroud and on to Swindon. The weather on the 1st Saturday was terrible and the train ran exactly one hour late meaning that I needed to use ISO 1600 plus a lot of post processing to get a shot ( 1st week ), but the 2nd week was much better and a little weak sun appeared at the crucial moment.
Another branch that received regular freight traffic in the 1980s was the line from Princes Risborough to the cement works at Chinnor. The coal originated from either Toton or South Wales but this traffic came to an end in December 1989 when it was adjudged uneconomic either to refurbish the elderly hoppers used on this flow or to provide new facilities at the almost life-expired terminal. The final loaded train ran from Alexandra Dock Junction, Newport on 20 December and was in the hands of 47258. It is seen here arriving out of the mid-day sun at Princes Risborough where the shunter, leaning on the buffer-stop, will be picked for the run down the branch.
Whilst at Princes Risborough an intensely irritating headboard was attached by members of the local Railway Society to the locomotive before it joined the branch. It is pictured here approaching the crossing at Bledlow in rapidly deteriorating light.
This was the only colour shot I attempted of the train - while it was standing still prior to entering the yard at Chinnor.
The shunter had to leave the warm and dry cab of 47258 to perform his duties and is clinging to the door-rail before dismounting to do his stuff with the wagons. The lack of a hard hat would give today's Health & Safety monkeys an a fit!
The train is seen here shunting the coal hoppers into one of the remaining sidings prior to the rake of hoppers being split prior to unloading.
In this view, the first half of the train can be discerned in the siding alongside the cement works whilst the remaining hoppers are shunted out, ready to be propelled into an adjacent siding. Two of the elder statesmen of British railway photography are visible in the picture. Brian Morrison is on the left and John Vaughan on the right - what illustrious company!
A decent view of the train, run-round loop, cement works and the assembled throng of enthusiasts was available from the bridge adjacent to the works. The train is seen here being shunted prior to being split ready for unloading. The conditions were dreadful but at least the headboard was on the other end of the locomotive.
Once the loaded hoppers had been shunted in the appropriate sidings, the empty rake from the previous train was taken away. In the very last glimmer of light, 47258 is seen approaching the crossing gates at Bledlow en route to Rrinces Risborough and thence Newport ADJ. A cab-ride video was produced of this working and one of my very few claims to fame is that I appear on this tape on the return of the slip-worked empties at Bledlow, agreeing to close the crossing gates after the train to save the second man a long walk back to the locomotive.
In this, the final picture of this sequence, 47258 is heading over the crosssing at Bledlow, the second man having climbed back into the cab. So ended a most enjoyable afternoon's photography, tinged with sadness that yet another branchline closed to freight traffic.
Stone traffic was one of the principal revenue-earners on the line from Oxford to Bletchley. There were daily trains from Whatley Quarry in Somerset to Wolverton on the WCML which was reached by means of the flyover at Bletchley. These trains all were in the hands of class 56 by the time I started to visit the area, although pairs of 37s had been used in earlier times. Here, on a typically wet day, 56040 heads south into Claydon loop with 6V11 from Wolverton. The line is currently out-of-use beyond this point; the binliners goimg only as far as the signal just visible whilst running-round their train in the loop.
This is a Saturday morning shot of the 6M24 Whatley to Wolverton loaded stone train passing the site of Swanbourne station on 29 June 1991. This section of line was on a rising gradient for loaded trains and the sound of the 56 was audible for several minutes before the train came into view. I remember this shot well, as I was in considerable pain from my back, which had "gone" as I lifted my tripod from the car boot. Still, the shot, as always, came first!
The next couple of shots show the 2 morning stone trains crossing the River Reay near Islip. This photograph is of 56038 on the 6V11 empties from Wolverton to Whatley onn a cold, frosty and bright 17 January 1989.
Not longer after 6V11, shown above, had cleared Oxford North Junction, the loaded train from Whatley, 6M49, appeared behind 56049. It can clearly be seen that this line was formerly double track, which at this time had not long been singled. The remaining track was slewed from side to side at various points along the route to take advantage of the sections in the better condition.