The Chinnor & Princess Risborourgh Railway

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DarloRich

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I recently had my first trip on the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway and thought I would share my thoughts with you.

The railway is a GWR style country branch line and is run by group of keen and friendly volunteers who made a really good impression. The line runs for 3½ miles from Chinnor to Thame Junction along the foot of the Chiltern Hills, parallel to the historic Icknield Way which lends its name to the line. The surrounding area is attractive and home to a varied mix of wildlife including red kites and roe deer, both of which we saw on our trip. This was despite the weather doing its best to bury everything under a cloyingly damp grey blanket and blot out any view!

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Although only a short line the £11 ticket allowed unlimited travel so we shuttled back and forth a couple of times enjoying a relaxing day out in the Oxfordshire country side. Even the hound was made welcome but from his face I suspect he might be a diesel dog as he was unmoved by the steam haulage. As it was Easter weekend the railway were offering free hot cross buns and tea to the adults with the younger visitors getting some squash and a free chocolate egg. The tea went down well on a cold day! Perhaps the traditional bank holiday weather must have put people off as the trains were quiet or perhaps the line isn’t very well known.

Being in Chilterns you might think the railway was difficult to get to with no parking or facilities. We were presently surprised to pull up and find a large and spacious new car park (hopefully funded by Wimpey who are building on the old cement works) adjacent to the station. Chinnor is a couple of miles from Junction 6 on the M40 and close to Princes Risborough. The journey from MK was easy enough but I am not sure what the journey would be like without a car, which is the reason I haven’t made the trip before now although I am that told bus links are available.

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The current Chinnor & Princes Risboorugh Railway is what remains of an 8 mile route between Watlington & Princes Risborough. This line opened in 1872 as private branch line but was in financial difficulties almost from day one and was, in 1883, bought by the Great Western Railway for less than half what the line cost to build. The GWR promptly re-laid the line to a better quality and opened a couple of extra wayside halts although passenger numbers were still low. After the Second World War, passenger traffic died and the last passenger service ran in 1957.

However, goods trains continued along the whole route until December 1960, when the tracks were lifted beyond Chinnor. The section between Chinnor and Princes Risborough survived for inbound traffic to the Chinnor cement works which were adjacent to the station. This freight was mainly coal from Derbyshire to fire the furnaces and gypsum from East Leake in Nottinghamshire to be used as an anti-setting agent in the finished cement. Sadly, most of the finished product went out by road rather than rail. Freight traffic continued until the end of 1989 which allowed the line to be preserved. Once traffic to the cement works finished maintenance of the line was taken over by the Chinnor and Princess Risborough Railway Association who bought the freehold of the line in 1994 and rebuilt a short platform at Chinnor as to allow passenger trips to start. Since then the line has been gradually extended to Thame Junction which was reached in 1996.

Access from the Car park to the station is via a foot crossing adjacent to the signal box. The gates here are staff operated gates which are supervised from the signal box and interlocked with the signals. The signal box here is actually a double survivor! It was built in 1894 as "Mouldsworth Dwarf Frame" and controlled access to some sidings before it closed in 1967. It was saved from destruction by an enthusiast who rebuilt it in his garden. Sadly he passed away in 2006 and his family offered the box to the railway who rebuilt it here and restored it to its former glory.

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The railway is based around their only station at Chinnor where there is also a small yard crammed full of stock. The railway clearly desperately needs some covered accommodation for stock and I was happy to contribute a couple of quid to a shed fund which will help to deliver this. Sadly it isn’t possible to see much of the yard or to visit it so the only locos visible were our GWR pannier, what looked like an SR EMU and the trusty yard pilot. Despite being a small railway there was a fair bit of stock on hand but the resident class 31, the unique class 17, the two bubble cars and an alternative 08 were out of view.

The station at Chinnor is small and quite charming. I was surprised to hear that the buildings are in fact reconstructions of the originals demolished when passenger services were withdrawn from the line. Work on the reconstruction of a Victorian branch line style station at began in 1998 and was completed in 2002. It is really very good. The station building houses a shop and ticket office while a café is situated on the platform inside the body of a Cambrian Railway carriage dating from the late 1880s. It was donated by a local man who had kept it in his garden for many years and it offers a decent cup of tea and bacon butty.

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Sat in the platform was a train of 3 mki’s coupled up to a green 08. The O/H seemed unhappy as the promised steam train was not to be seen! Things were looking bad. Very bad. A visit had only been authorised on the understanding that there would be a steam train along with associated tooting! That and the free tea and hot cross buns. Luckily I saw a tank engine being tended to in a siding and explained that I was sure the steamer would be along soon after it had been fed and watered. I began to look concerned as the 08 whistled and began to pull the train away from the platform. Quickly I worked out that because there was no run round loop in the station and the engine needed to face Princess Risborough the tank engine had to be uncoupled and run into the yard to be fettled while the 08 drew the train into another siding allowing the now happy kettle to run to the north end of the platform to be coupled up to the train propelled back into the station by the yard pilot. Phew!

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The resident shunt loco was none other than the erstwhile Wolverton works and Bletchley depot gronk 08011/D3018 “Haversham” which was built at Derby works in 1953. It came to Bletchley in 1971 and was named, in a longstanding Wolverton works tradition, after one of the local villages where the workers lived. At one time the oldest loco in use by BR it worked down the Chinnor line in BR service before being handed over to the railway in 1992 thus continuing a long association with the area.

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Fortified by tea and bacon roles we joined the train and more brownie points were earned by deciding upon a compartment coach rather than an open saloon. It was even better once the steam heat started to filter through!
Up top was L92, a GWR 57XX class 0-6-0 pannier tank engine, wearing the attractive maroon livery of London Transport. This class was built between 1929 and 1950 and numbered 863 all told. 5786 was built at Swindon in 1930 and was sold on to London Transport in 1958 being renumbered L.92. After use with London transport the loco went to the Worcester Locomotive Society in 1969 and since 1993 it has been on loan to the South Devon Railway who have sub loaned the loco onto the C&PRR for the 2016 running season.

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Within no time there was a clunk of doors being slammed, a shrill blast on the whistle and a bit of clanking and hissing we were off. The weather deteriorated and heavy shower passed over meaning the rain was coming down quite hard and little could be seen as we slowly inched away from Chinnor. The driver was taking it easy in the greasy conditions but still the locomotive had a few minor slips on the hill out of the station.

Soon we were out the country side where the shower had blown over, the sun came out and the weather cleared up enough for us to see several red kites wheeling in the sky above the train. 3 or 4 of these elegant birds where wheeling above the line on thermals perhaps looking for a spot of lunch driven out by train.

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Historically, the red kite was perhaps our most widespread bird of prey and to see the return of these birds after more than 400 years of being hunted as vermin is a real success story for conservation. So bad did things get that by the turn of the 20th century the species was extinct in England and Scotland and limited to a handful of breeding pairs in the Welsh valleys. It wasn’t until 1989 that a massive programme of reintroduction began with birds coming from Sweden, Germany and Spain. Young kites have been successfully brought back to the Chilterns, Northamptonshire, Gateshead, Yorkshire and central and north Scotland and today there are more than 1,000 breeding pairs - around 7 per cent of the world's red kite population!
Back to the trains!

Our little pannier was slowly chuntering its way through the countryside towards out fist stop, although not for passengers. The very basic halt at Wainhill Crossing opened in 1925 and even then must have served no one being in the middle of nowhere but somehow the station managed to stay open until 1957! The crossing is at the bottom of a 1:73 bank so the driver took it very slowly and came to a gentle stop before we deposited a crossing keeper who operated the level crossing gates and enthusiastically waved a green flag to allow our train to proceed. He at least had a hut to shelter him from the weather unlike those at the next crossing!

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Slowly chuffing onwards our train next passed the cricket ground at Beldow where rain, if not movement behind the bowlers arm, had called a halt to any chance of play today. On the other side of the line are the remains of commercial watercress nurseries which once provided the line with a decent source of outgoing freight traffic.

Following quickly is the halt at Bedlow Bridge which is another tiny station serving nowhere in particular. It opened in 1906 and seems to have been an odd choice seeing as the village of Bedlow already had another ( rather ingeniously called Bedlow) about a mile away! The halt lasted until 1957 when it succumbed to BR cuts. Although reconstructed by the C&PR it is not open to passengers due to the tiny low platform and the fact that access to the station is via a flight of stairs from a busy road to the top of an embankment. With a playful toot on the whistle we steamed through the station and on with our journey


The guide book told me I should be able to see something called Whiteleaf Cross, a chalk hillside carving, in the distance. Sadly the showers had returned and we could only see the inside of a gray sock, although we were nice and warm on the train as the steam heating pulsed into our compartment.

Soon we were coming to a halt at Horsenden Lane Crossing where we dropped off a crossing keeper who would control the gates and send us safely on our way towards Thame Junction. It was still raining and the chaps would be getting wet as there didn’t seem to be any shelter for them. Luckily the railway had given them a nice thick waterproof hih viz to keep them dry!

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Bearing right we steamed on to the current terminus of the line at Thame Junction where out little London transport pannier tank ran round to haul us back down the line. There is no passenger access to the current terminus but that might change soon as the line towards the natural terminus at Princes Risborough has recently been reinstated. This is a really big step forward for the C&PR but trains can’t run to Princess Risborough station just yet as a Track Access Agreement needs to be agreed, crews trained , more funds raised and work done at to accommodate the heritage operation alongside mainline trains. It does perhaps allow inward working of special trains and means different locomotives can visit the line which will raise the profile of the railway.

Thame Junction by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Thame Junction itself is a bit of an oddity: a junction that isn’t actually a junction! Two lines ran out of Princes Risborough, one to Thame, the other to Watlington with no connection between the two. The Watlington Line has survived as the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway while the line to Thame has been lifted after the end of passenger services in 1963, although it did survive until 1991 to serve a BP oil terminal.

Thame Junction by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

As L92 ran round we were served a very welcome and complimentary tea and hot cross bun and settled in for the run back to Chinnor which was slow but steady as the rain closed in. On arrival it was throwing down so we decided to and have another return journey to Thame Junction this time in the open carriage. Fortified with another free tea and hot cross bun we enjoyed sat back and enjoyed the ride with the very smart L.92 doing the honours once again.

Chinnor by DarloRich2009, on Flickr
 
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Bald Rick

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Good report. It doesn't seem to have changed much since my visit 9 years ago.

As an aside, it is a great example of the economics of a semi-rural railway. £11 for a 3.5 mile return trip, on a line at 25mph with one station, minimal signalling. And almost everyone working there doing it for free!
 

Kristofferson

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Sounds lovely, that! My heritage railway itch is growing...


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Techniquest

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An informative read there, and it's certainly unusual to hear much about this little preserved line. It's been on the agenda to do for years, but the difficulty in getting to it (what with not being able to drive) has put me off trying. As the line is now coming back to Princes Risborough I'll be rectifiying that gap in the atlas in the near enough future!

Kris: I think you can get a prescription for such an itch! ;)
 

Kite159

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An informative read there, and it's certainly unusual to hear much about this little preserved line. It's been on the agenda to do for years, but the difficulty in getting to it (what with not being able to drive) has put me off trying. As the line is now coming back to Princes Risborough I'll be rectifiying that gap in the atlas in the near enough future!

Kris: I think you can get a prescription for such an itch! ;)

I suspect either Pathfinders or UK railtours will probably do a tour at some point featuring the run from the main line to the end of the line
 

168lover

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Glad you enjoyed your visit. We are a very small railway but what we don't have in size we try and make up in friendliness towards costumers. To answer your question in the report about where the other locos and dmus were, they were further down in the sidings at Chinnor. Infact the sidings extend out for about half a mile and at the end of them is our new Restoration and Education Center where we are starting to store locos that are having work done to them(we've got our trusty ruston shunter in there as I speak) the track inside the shed isn't currently long enough to house a whole mark 1 but we hope soon that it will be. I'm glad that you had a good time and hope that you come soon, maybe once we get into Risborough!
 
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