Celebrating the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway’s
reconnection to the National Rail network
Published by and copyright of Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway and Phil Marsh
The Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway
finally lives up to its name – after 25 years!
This souvenir Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway (C&PRR) booklet has been published
to celebrate the reconnection of the remains of the Watlington Branch to the National Rail
A pictorial history
As this marks a significant achievement in the C&PRR history, it also seems appropriate to
take a brief look at the line’s motive power history. The earliest image we could find was of
the 1876 built Sharp, Stewart and Co (Manchester) 2-4-0T locomotive ordered for the
Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway, as it was then known.
The engine had 4ft 6inch driving wheels, 14 inch diameter cylinders with an 18 inch stroke
and in total weighed just over 24 tons, and this is believed to be the first locomotive ordered
specifically for the line.
The Great Western Railway (GWR) took over the line in 1883 and numbered the engine No.
1384 (pictured) but it departed when it was ‘lent’ to the Lambourne Valley Railway in 1898.
Later rebuilt at Swindon to be used on the Wrington Vale Light Railway, followed by the
Culm Valley branch. Named HESPERUS it was sold to replace WALTON PARK on the
Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Railway and involved in a serious accident, when a small
bridge collapsed near the ‘wharf’ taking the engine with it!
The Watlington Branch remained open for regular passenger services until 1 July 1957
(pictured here) when competing road transport brought mounting losses to the branch line.
On 3 April 1960, the LCGB’s Six Counties Railtour brought one last steam-hauled passenger
service to Chinnor, seen here thanks to Ron White.
Regular coal trains served Chinnor cement works keeping the line open to half a mile west of
Chinnor station until 20 December 1989, when the last train ran with 35 wagons hauled by
Class 47 No. 47258.
The selection of images in this booklet is literally a series of snapshots of the line’s history.
They also illustrate just how little has changed in all aspects of 30 or so years of freight only
traffic. Crossing gates were, and are today operated manually, but those with an operational
interest will notice that Chinnor now has a signal box and associated semaphore signalling,
adding to the ambience of the recreated country branch line.
On the other hand, Princes Risborough has been modernised and still has locomotive hauled
100mph express trains running through it. Not perhaps as interesting as this 1938 Wembley
football excursion above, but when our steam services return there (hopefully in 2018) it will
recreate a former important GWR interchange point. Below is a view from a northbound
steam charter service at Princes Risborough in 2007.
Connected but not yet finished…
Jump to 12 noon on 21 February 2016 and the C&PRR finally achieved a 25 year aim in
permanently connecting its line to the National Rail network half a mile from Princes
Risborough station at Thame Junction, thus some say, at last living up to its name!
But the job is not yet quite finished as the connection has been made to the former Thame
Branch line, which runs parallel to the former Chinnor Branch line all the way into Princes
Risborough. The railway needs to fund the reinstatement of the parallel Chinnor Branch line
to operational use and this will cost a six-figure sum. This is why the 100% volunteer operated
railway requires more funds and many more willing helpers.
The extension of services to Princes Risborough will bring more passengers to Chinnor via
connecting main line services, but we will need more volunteers to enable our platform there
to be staffed on all operating days.
Third time lucky?
A small but dedicated team of skilled volunteers planned the connection’s installation with
Network Rail (NR). In simple terms, it merely required the removal of the NR buffer stop and
the 10 metre gap bridged with one made-to-measure track panel. The connection also required
the installation of a regulation boundary gate and associated signage. So in theory it was a
simple job and had been done twice before, in July 2010 and September 2013.
The first connection was in place for just 72 hours. This was to enable a Vintage Trains steam
service using a GWR Pannier Tank No. 9600 to travel from Banbury to Chinnor and back,
seen about to depart from Princes Risborough. Photographed from the track with permission
and supervision of Network Rail staff.
The special is about to leave the Thame branch and run onto the C&PRR metals. The train
was part sponsored by Chiltern Railways and used to support a high profile announcement
concerning Chiltern’s 100mph Marylebone to Birmingham services.
In 2013 the connection was reinstalled for six weeks during late September and October when
Chiltern Railways operated about 20 services to Chinnor using their Bubble Cars and a Class
A special late evening gauging run was arranged to check clearances and operating procedures
with the train at Chinnor for just eight minutes. The successful operation was a genuine
example of collaboration between parts of the rail industry, Chiltern Railways, Network Rail
and C&PRR volunteers. Significantly, these trains used a temporary platform at Princes
Risborough, allowing passengers to interchange from main line services - a taste of the future
now tantalisingly close.
Importantly it also showed what was
possible with a connection in place, when the
Class 20 Society offered free use of No.
20227, seen here returning to its base at
Ruislip. The locomotive was brought to and
from Chinnor using professional crews
working as volunteers by West Coast
Railways, who also offered their services at
This is just how close the C&PRR was to the
national network for 20 years. Now the lines
are connected, these special operations will
be repeated on a regular basis. It took just
150 minutes of precision hard work by
volunteers to replace the buffer stop at
Thame Junction with the track panel.
Coal traffic keeps the line open just west of Chinnor
We are grateful to Harold Bennett for being able to reproduce these images taken in 1978 of
a coal train running to Chinnor cement works and also the wagon derailment (bottom right)
was captured on film by Neil Stuart,
We are not sure who took these images recording the line’s history, again from 1978 to the
last train in 1989, but what they do illustrate is the rural nature of the line which continues to
use gatekeepers today at Wainhill, where these pictures were taken
and the last British Rail trains
After the last train in December 1989 the preservationists moved in and purchased the line. It
took five years to start public train operations between Chinnor and Wainhill, with Thame
Junction reached in 1996.
Early 1990’s trains
There was one C&PRR visit to
Princes Risborough (recorded
by Richard Weston in 1992) for
those early volunteers. British
Rail held a rail display at
Princes Risborough when the
Chinnor based Clayton, a steam
Sentinel and a diesel shunter
moved onto the main line.
Chiltern Turbo reaches Chinnor
Chiltern Railways ran a Turbo train to Chinnor in the early days of rail privatisation as a
publicity building exercise. That was the last train from the National Rail network to reach
Chinnor for 15 years, but in this time the volunteers built a replica prizewinning Chinnor
Visitors to Thame Junction
The remaining section of the Thame branch
was used as a turnback siding for Chiltern
Railways and also visited by Railtrack, then
Network Rail’s inspection trains. The parallel
Chinnor line fell into disuse meanwhile with
the C&PRR tantalisingly close to these main
line visitors and of interest to main line
A glimpse of the future
This unique train movement took place on a
photo charter on 12 April 2006 when its
carriages used the loop for the only time.
The 2013 test run to Chinnor
The Turbo passenger information
system suggested that the train
would be calling at all stations to
The driver takes possession of the Chinnor branch token before venturing over the connection.
Time for a quick photo at Chinnor before returning to Thame Junction and the Network Rail
manager acting as signalman.
5 October 2013 – the first regular service off the main line to Chinnor
The first trains each weekend commenced at Aylesbury and Chinnor’s project manager points
to the train display ‘Chinnor Watlington Flyer’. Meanwhile at Princes Risborough, John
Bercow, Speaker of The House of Commons, joins in the flag waving and speeches. Chinnor’s
MP John Howell flagged the first departure from Chinnor station
Volunteers will operate trains to Princes Risborough once the various legalities of today’s rail
industry have been concluded and authorised by the Office of Rail and Road, planned for later
in 2016. Here the Chinnor Branch token is given to the signalman on the first train in 2013
along with the operating instructions for the driver.
Main line train operators can now bring charter services or locomotives to the C&PRR and
the railway is looking forward to expanding into these activities. The railway is now the
nearest main line connected preserved railway to London, so it looks forward to attracting
more passengers to enjoy the steeply graded near eight-mile round trip through the Chilterns.
Within two years passengers will be able to connect with regular steam services at Princes
Risborough from main line trains serving Oxford, Aylesbury, Marylebone, Birmingham and
in maybe five years, Milton Keynes and Bedford. This view is of the largely volunteer
constructed Princes Risborough temporary platform used in October 2013.
And given that Chinnor’s volunteers have
just completed the first phase of the Princes
Risborough North signalbox restoration,
and the Railway Education Centre at
Chinnor is taking shape, it is clear to
understand why the C&PRR needs more
volunteers and funding.
Sir William McAlpine officially marked
the completion of the first stage of the
restoration in November 2015.
The Chinnor & Princes Risborough
Railway needs YOU!
The railway welcomes every volunteer
irrespective of skillsets, ability (or perceived
social standing!). We are a friendly bunch
and, as this booklet shows, work hard on a
wide ranging set of tasks.
As with all volunteer organisations, there are
vacancies in every department and just one
day a month can and will make a difference
to you and the railway. To join please contact
the railway, see details on the final page.
Some of the volunteers who constructed the
temporary platform are seen here enjoying
the special atmosphere they created.
Volunteers (below right) at Thame Junction enjoy tea and fresh air between trackwork. It is a
great way to get fit and to learn new skills.
If you can help out on the myriad of tasks that have to be carried out, please contact the
volunteer co-ordinator at [email protected]
The October 2013 shuttle trains ran past the Princes Risborough North Signal Box – a glimpse
of the future! Volunteers will be operating C&PRR trains on this line from 2016 – it could be
How does a preserved railway connect with the National Rail network?
Not easily is the answer! The reconnection was the culmination of a 25 year long planning
and negotiation process completed by sheer hard work and persistence by many volunteers.
Why did it go so well? Because the operation had been perfectly planned and then delivered
by C&PRR volunteers. Network Rail played their part and took a possession of their line from
Princes Risborough between 0930 and 1600 on February 21 and 22 2016.
During these times, the best part of a quarter of a century of false hopes, starts and railway
politics were overcome to deliver a simple but crucial part of the preserved railway’s
The small team dismantled the buffer stop, dug out the sleepers and then reballasted the gap
before lowering the track panel into position using a volunteer-owned Road Rail machine.
It took three hours to complete the final
track alignment to allow trains to operate
over it. The standard padlocked boundary
gate and associated signage was installed
the following day.
This was a momentous moment in the
preserved railway’s history, but there was
little emotion shown by the volunteers
who carried out the work without any
hitches. This is the pictorial version of a
piece of C&PRR history.
The Network Rail buffer stop is dismantled and removed using old fashioned manual
engineering skills and the road rail machine.
The last section of the buffer is removed leaving the 10 metre gap to be prepared for the
permanent track panel to be installed. This was lowered into position and then the critical
alignment takes place to ensure a safe rail operation to take place in the future.
The track panel is carefully swung into pace and guided into position by hand before the
lifting chains are removed.
Then the hard physical work begins to ballast, pack and jack the track and to ensure the top
and alignment is correct to join up with the national network.
A few words;
C&PRR Chairman Danny Woodward said, ‘An
extraordinary amount of hard work has been
carried out to obtain the Consents and permissions
required to install the connection. This goal has
been pursued for the last 25 years by the railway,
dealing with British Rail, Railtrack and Network
Rail. The last British Rail revenue earning freight
service to Chinnor was in December 1989 and a
Turbo made a PR run there a few years later, and
apart from the specials operated in 2010 and 2013,
the 10 yard gap may as well have been 10 miles!
In reaching this stage today, credit is also due to
the small team at Network Rail who are involved
with this project. They demonstrate a sharing of
our ambition, with a real drive to get things done’.
The first train
After the track was connected to the satisfaction of the infrastructure team, the C&PRR works
train was propelled over the new connection becoming the first train to traverse it.
This was to enable a rail mounted auger to drill holes in the cess so that the statutory boundary
gate and associated signage could be installed.
The redundant C&PRR signage was removed and loaded onto the works train,
Well almost. Now the physical connection is in place, the real work has to begin. Volunteers
have to be trained and assessed to operate trains on Network Rail’s infrastructure. New
operating methods have been agreed and documented with Network Rail. But to repeat the
message, more volunteers and cash are required to finish the job of running into our platform
at Princes Risborough.
The gates that now controls the boundary between the C&PRR and Network Rail.
Want to know more about the line?
The Watlington Branch of the Great
Western Railway is available from
the Chinnor & Princes Risborough
Railway shop at Chinnor Station.
It has 32 pages of monochrome text
and photographs in an A4 format
containing unique sketches, drawings
and photographs of the buildings and
track layouts at the stations and halts
on the branch (great for modellers).
All profits from the sale of the book
go to the Association to help in the
maintenance and running of the
The book, written by professional
author and C&PRR volunteer Brian
Dickson, is available priced at £5.00
from the shop at Chinnor Station,
which is open during normal
operating hours. It can also be
purchased on ebay.
Above: The ‘Bubble Car’ running round the curve into Princes Risborough
Below: View from the cab as it arrives at the volunteer constructed temporary platform at
Help the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway get beyond the new gate on a regular
Legacies are a vital source of income for heritage lines like ours... every gift in a Will makes
a huge difference to the development of the C&PRR.
Income from ticket sales, souvenir and catering activities, membership fees etc, covers a
proportion of the day-to-day running costs and often enough, our stalwart volunteers not only
give their time and dedication, but they also dig deep in pockets and purses to keep the dream
alive. Both now and long into the future, we want to ensure we continue to put smiles on the
faces of future generations of children, families and enthusiasts.
The C&PRR Association needs to raise money to help fund the continued development of the
Railway, including purchasing our own independent running line into Princes Risborough
and an extension to Aston Rowant.
We are asking those who love our Railway to consider leaving a gift (legacy) in their Will to
help us further achieve this. There are numerous ways in which you can leave a gift in your
Will, and your solicitor will be able to advise which form of gift is most suitable for you. We
recommend you use a solicitor to draw up your Will who will ensure that its execution is
simple for your beneficiaries after you are gone.
For more information please see our website at chinnorrailway.co.uk, or contact us at
[email protected] for further details.
Other ways you can support the Railway
There are many other ways you can support the Railway such as setting up a regular gift,
joining our 200 Club of regular supporters, giving a one off cash donation, or making a
donation in memory of a loved one.
Many families also choose to make a donation in lieu of flowers at a funeral. It can be a great
comfort to remember a loved one in this meaningful way. All of these different types of
donations will make a real difference in helping to preserve the Railway for future
This booklet has illustrated a little of what the C&PRR and its volunteers have achieved in 25
years. With your donation and/or legacy, it will be possible to recreate the back cover image.
It will also enable the railway to continue to expand westwards to Aston Rowant once the
new platform at Princes Risborough is complete.
That is a story for the next decade and now the C&PRR is connected to the national rail
network, volunteers and funds are needed to complete the line’s reinstatement. Over to you
and in advance, thanks for any help you can give.
Above: GWR pannier tank No. 5786 in London Transport livery L92 on the C&PRR side
of the track boundary in April 2016.
Below: A painting (copyright: J.R. Markland – courtesy: Wycombe District Council) of a
scene once the C&PRR runs into platform 4 at Princes Risborough station in the future.
Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway, Station Road, Chinnor OX39 4ER
Talking Timetable 01844 353535
General Enquiries (Daytime 09.00-17.00) 07979 055366
C&PRRA is a Registered Charity number 1016237
Published by and copyright of Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway and Phil Marsh