In the 1860s the Wallingford and Watlington Railway had been planned to link the Great Western Main Line at Cholsey and the Wycombe Railway at Princes Risborough, serving the towns of Wallingford and Watlington en route. The W&WR had opened between Cholsey and Wallingford in 1866, but had then failed to raise enough capital to complete the remainder of its intended route.
In 1869 the Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway Company was founded independently of the W&WR. It opened between Thame Junction on the Wycombe Railway and Watlington on 15 August 1872. The line was not commercially successful as an independent company, and the Great Western Railway took it over on 1 July 1883.
The Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway was a railway branch line between Watlington and Princes Risborough which remained operational for over 88 years between 1872 and 1961. The branch line, which was less than 9 miles long, started at Princes Risborough. It was opened on 15th August 1872 by the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway Company. It soon ran into financial difficulties, and the directors found that they were running the line at their own expense. After lengthy negotiations the Great Western Railway finally acquired the branch for a fraction of the construction costs on 1st July 1883.
The line was lightly constructed following the contours of the land with a ruling gradient of 1 in 60. It was a single line, worked by train staff and one engine in steam, or two coupled together, and had a speed restriction of 30mph. Under GWR ownership there was little improvement, although there were
additional rail halts opened between 1906 and 1925. In 1927 several sidings were added south of Chinnor railway station to serve Chinnor cement works.
Passenger services were curtailed on 1st July 1957, the line remaining open for goods traffic until 2nd January 1961. The section between Princes Risborough and Chinnor remained open until 1989, serving the local cement works.
As on many other rural branches traffic was relatively modest, but not entirely without interest for the modeller. As an example, 1925 saw 6 passenger trips each daily, and two goods workings. The main goods traffic on the line was farm produce of various kinds, especially milk, while Lime and cement also featured prominently in goods traffic. Livestock traffic was, compared to many other rural branches, more limited.
Under the nationalisation of Britain's railways in 1948 the Watlington and Princes Risborough line became part of the Western Region of British Railways.
On 29 June 1957 British Railways closed the line to passenger traffic. Thereafter the section between Chinnor and Princes Risborough remained open for freight traffic from the cement works until 1989.
Loco allocation was quintessentially Great Western. The mainstay of services was made of a single 0-6-0T allocated to Watlington shed, usually of the 2021
class, with especially 57xx/8750 panniers taking over in later years. Passenger stock followed similar well-known lines, although the early 1920s saw an interesting combination of a 60' trailer and a 6-wheeled van 3rd in passenger services. In the 1950s, autotrains on the Watlington branch were run with 8750s not fitted for push-pull working, thus requriring a loco run-round at the terminus.
Fortunately part of the line survives in preservation. The Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway Association was formed in 1990 and began operating a heritage railway passenger service between Wainhill Halt and Chinnor in 1994 and since, operated the section from Chinnor to the junction with the Thame branch near Princes Risborough. The C&PRR extended its service to Horsenden Lane in 1995 and Thame Junction in 1996.
You can read more about the history of the line at the CPRRA website.