After 25 years of planning, fund-raising, false starts, and lots of negotiations, it took a small team of Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway (C&PRR) volunteers just one day of hard work out on the track at Thame Junction to finally reconnect the heritage line to the National Rail network.
The connection installation had been well prepared by the volunteers and was executed precisely as planned on Sunday 21 February. It is one further vital step that the eight hundred members of the C&PRR have been waiting for and the heavy workload was made possible by a member purchasing a Road-Rail vehicle and more volunteers coming forward.
C&PRR Chairman, Danny Woodward said, ‘An extraordinary amount of dedicated hard work has been carried out to obtain the consents and permissions required to re-open the connection, and over the last 25 years we have been dealing with British Rail, Railtrack and Network Rail. Apart from several specials when the line was temporarily reconnected, the short gap in the track may as well have been 100 miles! In reaching this stage today, credit is greatly due to the small team at Network Rail who are involved with the project. They have demonstrated a real drive to ‘get things done’ and they share our ambition for the future.’
This does not mean that the preserved railway will be able to commence train operations to Princes Risborough just yet. The heritage line will have to wait until the Track Access Agreement, currently being negotiated, is signed and that crews are fully familiar with the revised operating instructions. It is hoped that the momentum will continue and we will see the preserved railway once again reach Princes Risborough later this year.
Meanwhile, it does open up the possibility of mainline operators bringing charter train services to Chinnor and also other locomotives visiting the railway. The line was temporarily connected for one train in 2010 when a steam hauled special from Banbury arrived at Chinnor and again in October 2013 when a series of services were operated by Chiltern Railways.
The new connection has been made to the former Thame Branch, which is still in use by Network Rail (NR) and Chiltern Railways as a siding. The next fund-raising challenge for the railway is to purchase a lease of NR land at Princes Risborough and the remaining section of the former Chinnor branch, then to replace the platform and track along the parallel formation.
The adjacent mainline railway is also expanding and Princes Risborough already has trains running to Oxford, Aylesbury, London Marylebone, Birmingham and, in a few more years, Milton Keynes and Bedford – the opportunities for interchange with the heritage line are growing! And given that Chinnor’s volunteers have just completed the first restoration phase of Princes Risborough North signalbox (for which an interim lease with NR is now in place), the heritage railway is suddenly becoming noticed and growing. The line experienced a double-digit percentage increase in passenger numbers in 2015 creating a new record.