By Phil Marsh

Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway becomes the nearest steam railway to London connected to the national network

Published: 27th February 2016

25 hours of work completes 25 years of ambition by volunteers

The Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway (C&PRR) is one of very few preserved railways to be 100% volunteer operated. The railway is also one of the youngest in the preservation world having operated its first train in 1994, four years after the line was closed by British Rail. It had remained open to serve a cement works at Chinnor but when operating regulations changed, the conveyance of coal ceased and the last train ran in December 1989.

The C&PRR Association was formed to buy and eventually operate trains on the line and started negotiations with British Rail 25 years ago to purchase the line between just west of Chinnor to Princes Risborough. The line was purchased but only as far as Thame Junction, half a mile from Princes Risborough because Railtrack still used the section from Risborough as a siding.

The long drawn-out negotiations to purchase the final half a mile into Princes Risborough carried on with Railtrack and then Network Rail (NR). As a result of a closer working relationship with NR spawned by a single train in July 2010 and then about 20 services in October 2013 between Chinnor and Princes Risborough the final piece in the infrastructure jigsaw has been put in place.

Closest to London

The negotiations were strongly supported at senior level by Chiltern Railways who operate the Marylebone-Princes Risborough-Birmingham-Oxford franchise. This is because they could see the opportunity to carry more passengers to Princes Risborough, just 36 miles and 40 minutes from London to the steam railway interchange.

A special Works Train was prepared on Saturday February 20th and taken to the former boundary of the preserved line at Thame Junction ready for work to commence the following day. A small team of volunteers used a road rail vehicle to remove the Network Rail buffer stop and to install a track panel in it place thus creating the physical connection.

The following day, the official boundary gates and associated safety signage was installed so that as from February 22nd, the line became fully operational for the first time in 25 years.

Dream come true!

This was the news that the thousand or so members of the C&PRR have been waiting for and 25 years of waiting was over at 12 noon on when the actual physical connection was installed when the track panel was lowered into position.

The shift had commenced at 0930am when Network Rail confirmed that the line from Princes Risborough to the Thame Junction buffer stops had been deemed to be a worksite and under possession. The volunteers had until 4pm to do the work at the line returned to service but the next day, another possession had been arranged to fit the regulation padlocked gate and associated signage.

It was no accident that the work was completed to agreed timescales as the installation workplan had been well prepared by Chinnor’s volunteers and executed precisely as expected. The 25 hours worked over three days were made possible by a volunteer purchasing a Road-Rail vehicle combined with more volunteers coming forward.

They said:

C&PRR Chairman said that “An extraordinary amount of hard work has been carried out to obtain the Consents and permissions required to install this 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 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 that are involved with this project. They demonstrate a sharing of our ambition, with a real drive to “get things done”.

What happens next?

The connection does not yet allow the volunteers to operate steam services to Princes Risborough just yet. These are expected to commence by the end of this year but the next job to complete is signing the Track Access Agreement with Network Rail. This is currently being negotiated and should be completed in the next month or so.

The volunteer traincrews, signalmen and other staff will need to familiarise themselves with the new track into Princes Risborough, be assessed and the revised operating instructions tested.

Connections now available

But from today, any main line train operator can bring a charter or test train to Chinnor using their Track Access Agreements and it is also now possible to bring visiting locomotives to the line as happened in October 2013 when The Class 20 Society brought Class 20 diesel No. 20227 from Ruislip to work at Chinnor for a few weeks.

The connection has been made to the former Thame Branch line which ran parallel to the Chinnor line from Princes Risborough to Thame Junction rather than the former Chinnor Branch line which is derelict. The next fund-raising challenge for the railway is to fund the purchase of the former Chinnor branch line and it’s return to service.

Once a platform has been built at Princes Risborough by the preserved railway, the station will become an interchange station with trains running to Oxford, Banbury, Marylebone, Birmingham and in a few years, Milton Keynes and Bedford. This will enable a leisurely day trip to be made to Princes Risborough where steam services will take over on the steeply graded line through the Chilterns to Chinnor. Last year. The railway recorded a 15% increase in passenger numbers creating a new record.

The Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway is well and truly back on the national network map!

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