THE lights on the country station platform are shining, the semaphore signals are at red and a handful of passengers alight in the drizzle.
It could be a scene from the 1960s, but despite appearances we are firmly in 2018 and just reaching journey’s end after an unusual sojourn through the Oxfordshire countryside.
The occasion is one of the periodic “fish and chip” quiz nights organised by the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway – but unlike a country train at a platform like this half a century ago, this one is actually packed with passengers, all of whom seem to be in remarkably good spirits.
It’s the culmination of a leisurely three-hour trundle through the local countryside where teams having been pitting their wits against each other for the sheer hell of it.
There are no big prizes on offer here – but for more than 100 enthusiastic diners, that really doesn’t matter. It’s the experience which counts.
What could be more English than a heritage railway, a pub quiz and a traditional meal of fish and chips? Put them together and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for success, and this train and others like it are sold out long in advance.
The story of the line’s revival has been covered in detail in a previous post on this site, but the return visit is a welcome opportunity to savour the atmosphere of an evening journey in convivial company.
A team of enthusiastic and welcoming volunteers provide a cheerful and efficient table service throughout the journey as our quiz train ambles towards Princes Risborough and back.
It’s a good time to visit too, because this is a week which sees the railway celebrating the opening of Platform 4 at Princes Risborough station – a long-awaited link up with the Chiltern Railways main line.
Tonight no one’s going anywhere very quickly after the Class 37 diesel-electric engine booked for the service subsides into silence and has to be replaced. But no one on board is too worried as the quiz picks up pace and another heritage engine clanks into place to take the strain.
This one is a beautifully restored visitor to Chinnor, a Class 20 diesel decked out in the distinctive green livery of British Railways which spent its working life in the Sheffield area after entering service in 1961. It was withdrawn in 1990, one of more than 200 “Choppers” designed to work light mixed freight traffic which earned their nickname from their distinctive engine beat, which resembles the sound of a helicopter.
D8059 proves a more than worthy replacement for the short journey to Thame Junction, but as dusk begins to fall over the surrounding fields, all eyes are on the quiz questions until our return to Chinnor is met with the excited hooting of a driver racing up with our fish and chips.
Serving dozens of people simultaneously with piping hot chip shop fish and chips is no easy task, but our grinning hosts are up to the challenge and the beer and wine is flowing freely between rounds as competitors vent their frustration at being caught out by tricky foreign capitals or elusive logos.
By the time the results have been compiled – and needless to say our four-strong team is no match for some of the expert contestants on board – it’s after 10.30pm and the lights are shining bright at Chinnor station.
As the passengers disperse into the night, there are sounds of cheerful farewells, train doors slamming and the smell of diesel on the night air. Surely railway journeys back in the 1960s were never this much fun?
Tickets for quiz night trains cost £19 but the next trip in October is already sold out. See the railway’s website for full timetable details and other special events.