Oxford to London coach route

The Oxford to London coach route is an express coach route between Oxford and London along the M40 motorway. The Oxford Tube, which is operated by Stagecoach in Oxfordshire, runs up to five coaches an hour via Lewknor, Hillingdon and Shepherd's Bush terminates on Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria. The X90, which is operated by the Oxford Bus Company, runs up to two coaches an hour via Baker Street and terminates on Buckingham Palace Road.

Oxford Tube Van Hool Astromega TX27 in July 2014
OperatorStagecoach in Oxfordshire
VehicleVan Hool Astromega T927/TX27
StartGloucester Green, Oxford
EndBuckingham Palace Road, London
Frequencyup to every 12 minutes
OperatorOxford Bus Company
StatusService to end 4 January 2020 (2020-01-04)
StartGloucester Green, Oxford
EndVictoria Coach Station, London
Frequencyevery 30 minutes

With a total of 150 journeys a day in each direction[1] it is the highest-frequency long-distance coach route currently operating in the United Kingdom.[2] By way of comparison, there are 15 coach journeys a day from Cambridge to London.[3]

Oxford Tube

The Oxford Tube launched by Thames Transit in 1987,[4][5] operates a fleet of 31 Van Hool Astromega T927/TX27 double-decker coaches. Rather than turnover its fleet on a regular basis, Oxford Tube renews its entire fleet in one go every five years.

Tickets are also sold via the Megabus network. As of September 2017, it was the highest frequency long-distance coach service in the United Kingdom.[5]

Oxford Bus Company X90

The Oxford Bus Company operates the X90 service every 15 minutes at peak times, using eight Plaxton Elite bodied Volvo B11Rs.[6] From October 2018, the service was reduced to every 30 minutes [7], and will be withdrawn from 4 January 2020, due to a 35% fall in passenger numbers since 2015 causing the route to be unprofitable.[8][9]


Early history

In 1919 William Beesley of Oxford formed a company called South Midland and by 1924 offered excursions to London by charabanc. This became a daily service, and by 1928 it had become a regular coach service picking up and setting down passengers en route.[10]

South Midland had competitors. By 1930, 18 companies were running a total of 58 coach services between Oxford and London every day. After the Road Traffic Act 1930, the competitors quickly reduced to two: South Midland and Varsity Express. Varsity Express used the A40 via High Wycombe and Uxbridge, South Midland ran via Henley-on-Thames, Maidenhead and Slough.

In 1933 the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company acquired Varsity Express (which also ran a service between London and Eastern Counties' base at Cambridge). In 1934, the Tilling Group (Eastern Counties' parent) moved the Oxford service of Varsity Express to a closer group company, United Counties Omnibus.[10]

In 1934, South Midland was running seven journeys a day, and Varsity Express ran eight journeys a day. The day return fare was 6/- (30p).[10]


In 1942 the Government compelled coach operators to suspend operations. In 1945 South Midland was sold to Red & White Services. Operations resumed in 1946, but by 1950 both Red & White and United Counties had been nationalised and were controlled by the British Transport Commission (BTC). The BTC transferred control of South Midland to Thames Valley Traction, and in 1952 transferred the United Counties service to South Midland. During the 1950s and 1960s, South Midland ran coaches between Oxford and London about every hour, alternating between the High Wycombe and Henley routes.[10]

Non-stop coaches started in 1963, reducing the journey time to 2 hours 15 minutes. In 1968 the Oxford Bus Company became state-owned when British Electric Traction sold its UK bus interests to the government. At the beginning of 1971 the state-owned Transport Holding Company merged South Midland with the Oxford Bus Company, which adopted the trading name Oxford South Midland. The two routes were combined with Oxford Bus Company's bus routes from Oxford to High Wycombe and Henley, and given numbers: route 30 (Oxford-Henley-London) and route 70 (Oxford-High Wycombe-London), changed to 390 and 290 in 1975.

The M40 motorway between London and Oxford was opened in stages from 1967 to 1974. Occasional non-stop services used the motorway, but in 1977 a regular non-stop service was started as route 190, later renumbered X90. In the 1980s a non-stop service, the X70, was also started between Oxford and Heathrow Airport.

In the 1980s the 290 stopping service was combined with Green Line’s London to High Wycombe route.

Privatisation and competition

The UK express coach sector was deregulated by the Transport Act 1980 and the UK bus market by the Transport Act 1985.

In 1983, Oxford South Midland was split into two in preparation for deregulation.[11] The London services went to the Oxford Bus Company, which was sold in a management buyout in January 1987.[12]

Competition appeared in 1987 when Thames Transit, commenced operating in Oxford and started its own express service to London, branded the Oxford Tube.[4] The Oxford Bus Company branded its service Oxford Citylink. Since then competition on the non-stop routes has been fierce. Both companies have been taken over: Oxford Bus Company by Go-Ahead Group in 1994 and Thames Transit by Stagecoach in 1997. Both companies have continued to innovate, with better coaches, more frequent services, Wifi on board, and all-night services. The Oxford Tube brand has endured, whereas the Oxford Bus Company's London route was rebranded the Oxford Express in 2000, espress in 2004, and X90 Oxford-London in 2012. The Heathrow service was rebranded the Airline in 2001.

In 2003, Stagecoach introduced Megabus to the route, using different termini in both Oxford and London. However, in November 2004 the Megabus service was replaced by dedicated seats on the Oxford Tube.

The stopping services to London declined. The High Wycombe service (290), which had become a joint operation with Green Line, passed entirely by the 1990s to Green Line, who operated the route only between High Wycombe and London and ceased it altogether by 2003. The Henley service (390) originally went all the way from Witney to central London via Henley and Heathrow. It was eventually curtailed at Heathrow Airport, but even then Thames Transit could not make it pay and in 1996 replaced coaches with minibuses and renumbered it X39. Stagecoach in Oxfordshire later cut the route at Henley, and in 1999 it was taken over by Thames Travel.


On 30 August 2010, a drunk 21 year old Thomas Roby grabbed hold of the steering wheel of an Oxford Tube and caused it to overturn on an embankment on the M40.[13]

On 11 December 2010 at 23:00, an Oxford Tube coach overturned on leaving the M40. Seventeen passengers and the driver were taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital with five people needing surgery for broken bones.[14] The driver was convicted of driving without due care and attention having been charged but acquitted of dangerous driving.[15]


  1. Oxford Bus Company X90 and Oxford Tube websites
  2. Compare: Edinburgh - Glasgow, 80 journeys per day (Timetable), London - Birmingham, 32 journeys per day(Timetable)
  3. "National Express Coaches // Coach Rail & Bus Travel Throughout The UK". www.nationalexpress.com.
  4. Oxford route gets hot Commercial Motor 10 March 1988 page 22
  5. "Obituaries – Harry Blundred: Trailblazer ran several bus companies and founded the Oxford Tube". Oxford Times. 14 September 2017. p. 76.
  6. Oxford Bus Company introduces New Coaches on X90 Route Volvo Bus United Kingdom & Ireland 27 March 2015
  7. "X90 Timetable - Valid from 28th October" (PDF). X90 - Oxford to London. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  8. "Oxford Bus Company to withdraw X90 service in new year". Oxford Bus Company. 2 October 2019. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  9. Ffrench, Andrew. "Oxford Bus Company X90 service is being scrapped". The Oxford Times. Archived from the original on 2 October 2019. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  10. History of Oxford Express
  11. NBC names its Oxford six Commercial Motor 6 August 1983 page 12
  12. Buyout at Oxford Commercial Motor 24 January 1987 page 18
  13. Oxford Tube crash drunk jailed for year Oxford Mail 3 February 2011
  14. "Oxford Tube coach overturns on M40 injuring many". BBC News. 12 December 2010.
  15. "M40 Oxford Tube coach driver not guilty of dangerous driving". BBC News. 7 November 2011.

Further reading

  • Flitton, D. (2004), 50 Years of South Midland. Paul Lacey. ISBN 0-9510739-8-2.
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