Island Line, Isle of Wight

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Island Line
Class 483 "Island Line" train - - 1407091.jpg
A pair of Island Line Class 483s in London Underground livery entering the Ryde tunnel.
Type Community railway
Locale Isle of Wight
Termini Ryde Pier Head
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Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Island Line Trains
Depot(s) Ryde depot
Rolling stock British Rail Class 483
Line length 8 12 miles (13.7 km)
No. of tracks Mixture of single and double track
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification 630V DC third rail
Operating speed 45 mph (72.4 km/h)
Island Line, Isle of Wight
0m 00ch
Ryde Pier Head
for ferries to Portsmouth
Ryde Pier
0m 32ch
Ryde Esplanade
for hovercraft to Southsea
Tunnel under Ryde
396 yd 
362 m 
St. John's Road
1m 19ch Ryde St John's Road
Ryde depot
2m 15ch Smallbrook Junction
Isle of Wight Steam Railway
UK road A3055.PNG
branch to Bembridge
4m 55ch Brading
Sandown Road
UK road A3055.PNG
line to Newport and Cowes
Sandown sidings
6m 41ch Sandown
UK road A3055.PNG
7m 27ch Lake
UK road A3055.PNG
8m 28ch Shanklin
Wroxall(closed 1966)
Tunnel under St Boniface Down
Ventnor(closed 1966)
A Class 483 unit currently in service in London Transport livery at Ryde Esplanade
British Rail Class 485 485045 at Shanklin, in the late 1980s Network SouthEast livery with Ryde Rail branding

The Island Line is a railway line on the Isle of Wight, running some 8 12 miles (13.7 km) from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin down the eastern side of the island. The line was electrified (630 V DC third rail) in 1967.[1][2] Trains connect with passenger ferries to Portsmouth Harbour at Ryde Pier Head, and these ferries in turn connect with the rest of the National Rail network. The line also connects to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, a steam-operated heritage railway at Smallbrook Junction. For much of its length the line runs alongside the A3055, criss-crossing this road by means of the Ryde Tunnel and bridges at Rowborough, Morton Common, Lake Hill and Littlestairs.


The line from Ryde St John's Road to Shanklin was opened on 23 August 1864, having been built by the Isle of Wight Railway. In 1866 the line was extended through to Ventnor. The line was originally built as single track throughout, with passing loops provided at Brading, Sandown and Shanklin stations.

In 1880 the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) and London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) opened a jointly-owned line north from Ryde St John's Road. Under the direction of LBSCR Chief Engineer Frederick Banister,[3] the building of the extension included a new tunnel and a third Ryde Pier to enable the line to reach Ryde Pier Head, which provided a connection with the companies' ferry services. When the LBSC/LSWR joint line opened, it was as a double track section from Ryde St John's Road station through to Ryde Pier Head. There was a scissors crossover situated on Ryde Pier to allow trains to access all platforms. Sets of crossovers were installed at St John's Road to enable trains to change from the joint line's left-hand running to the single-track sections on the Isle of Wight Central Railway's Newport line and the Isle of Wight Railway's Shanklin line (now known as the Island Line).[4]

Southern Railway

Following the Railways Act 1921, the Island Line and the other railways on the Isle of Wight became part of the Southern Railway. In 1926, crossovers and a signalbox were installed at Smallbrook Junction to extend double track operation from St John's Road. However, the signalbox was used only in the summer when traffic levels were high. In winter, the two lines from Smallbrook to St. John's Road reverted to independent single track operation.[4]

In 1927,[4] the passing loops at Brading and Sandown were connected to form a second section of double track.

British Rail (1948–96)

In 1948, the Southern Railway was nationalised, as part of British Railways, later British Rail. The line from Shanklin to Ventnor closed in April 1966. Steam trains were withdrawn from Ryde Pier on 17 September, and the whole line on 31 December 1966. While the line was closed, the trackbed in Ryde Tunnel was raised to reduce flooding and decrease gradients,[5] the rebuilding of Ryde Pier Head station was completed and Ryde Esplanade station was also substantially modified. The line reopened in March 1967 following its electrification.[6] In the 1980s, British Rail was sectorised and the line became part of the Network SouthEast sector. Services on the line were branded as Ryde Rail.

British Rail opened two new stations on the line. Lake station opened in 1987. Smallbrook Junction station opened in 1991, in co-operation with the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.

The double track between Sandown and Brading, along with the Brading passing loop, were removed in 1988. In 1989 the passenger service was branded as Island Line for the first time, as the name and logo was included on the "new" Class 483 trains' livery. However, this rebranding did not officially occur until 1994.[7]

Island Line franchise (1996–2007)

Following the privatisation of British Rail, the rights to run services on the line were put out to tender as a franchise. Uniquely on the National Rail network, the franchise agreement also required the successful bidder to maintain the railway line in addition to the stations and trains. Stagecoach Group were announced as the winner of the franchise and from October 1996 they operated passenger services under the name Island Line.

In 2002 a form of Automatic Train Protection was installed on the line. This involved the refitting of tripcocks on trains and the associated train stop trackside equipment at signals. This system is almost identical to the one originally fitted to the trains when in service on the London Underground, although it is in use only at signals protecting single-track sections of the route.[8]

The Department for Transport designated the line as a community railway in March 2006, under reforms to help boost use of rural and branch lines in the UK rail network.[9]

South Western franchise (since 2007)

From February 2007 the Island Line franchise was merged with the South Western franchise on the mainland. Stagecoach were announced as the winner of the expanded franchise, and they now operate Island Line under their South West Trains subsidiary.[10] However, the Island Line name has been retained, styled as Island Line Trains, promoted as a separate division on the South West Trains website.

Island Line Trains have also repainted stations in a heritage scheme of cream and green, as part of a general station improvement package.[11]


Proposals 1990s

In the mid-1990s it was planned to reopen the line south of Shanklin, to the original terminus at Ventnor.[citation needed] However, this now seems unlikely to happen, due in part to the high costs involved.

Various other proposals have been put forward for the future of the railway line. These have included:

Proposals 2000s

It has previously been mentioned in the Isle of Wight Council's Local Transport Plan that any improvements to the railway should be made to ensure compatibility with the currently shelved South Hampshire Rapid Transit scheme. A more recent suggestion (early 2009) has been to reinstate the loop at Brading, thus allowing a 'Clock Face' timetable to encourage greater use. The outcome of this is still awaited.

The book Tube Trains on the Isle Of Wight listed several interesting earlier considerations to the future of the line being considered during its publication date of 2004. These included

  • Replacement of the current stock with discarded London Transport stock of later builds, such as the 1972 stock and 1967 stock.
  • De-electrification of the whole line and replacement of current stock with a new build of diesel units.
  • Rebuilding the line into a light rapid-transit system (i.e. trams), enabling an extension into Shanklin town centre.

Proposals 2010s

The Railway Magazine (RM) reports that a meeting took place on 11 February 2015 which covered a relaxation of public railway regulation and safety standards as well as transferring the line to a Social Enterprise Company. According to RM, people present at the meeting included Claire Perry (Rail Minister), Andrew Turner MP, Nick Finney (Andrew Turner's transport advisor) and local councillors. News of the meeting has given rise to local controversy. [14]

In February 2016, a report into the future of the line, by transport expert Christopher Garnett, who was brought in by the Isle of Wight Council to take a look at the options available, unveiled proposals to convert the Island Line into a tram line. Under these proposals the line would be singled, with passing places, in order to reduce costs, and the third rail replaced by overhead lines. It was reported that ten T-69 trams which were built in 1999, and had previously operated on the Midland Metro, could be purchased second hand and re-used for this scheme.[15]


In order from north to south:

Station Dist. Opened Closed Notes
Ryde Pier Head 0m 0ch 12 July 1880
Ryde Esplanade 0m 32ch 5 April 1880
Ryde St John's Road 1m 19ch 23 August 1864
Smallbrook Junction 2m 15ch 20 July 1991 served on steam operating days only
Brading 4m 55ch 23 August 1864
Sandown 6m 41ch 23 August 1864
Lake 7m 27ch 11 May 1987
Shanklin 8m 29ch 23 August 1864
Wroxall 15 September 1866 17 April 1966
Ventnor 15 September 1866 17 April 1966

Rolling stock

Due to the isolated and rural nature of the Isle of Wight's railways, rolling stock has tended to be made up from displaced older vehicles, rebuilt or modified as required. Following the work undertaken during the line's closure during the winter of 1966–67, the ceiling of Ryde Tunnel is 10 inches too low for standard National Rail vehicle types to clear.[5]

Since the reopening of the line in 1967, former London Underground Tube stock has been used. The initial trains were formed of so-called Standard Stock, made up into four and three-coach sets (with one spare vehicle, normally kept at Ryde depot), designated "4-VEC" and "3-TIS" in the British Rail Southern Region electric multiple unit classification system. (The classification letters were a pun on the Roman name for the island - Vectis, also reflected in the name of the island's nationalised bus company, Southern Vectis, which was once partially railway-owned.) Under the British Railways TOPS rolling stock classification system (introduced in 1968 for locomotives and later extended to multiple unit vehicles), these units eventually became Class 485 and Class 486. The cars transferred to the island were built at various dates between 1923 and 1934, and thus maintained a somewhat unwelcome tradition of providing the island's railways with among the oldest rolling stock running anywhere on the British railway system. By 1992[16] these units had been replaced by newly refurbished London Underground 1938 Stock, designated Class 483 by British Rail. The stock is maintained at Ryde St John's Road depot.

Annual season tickets

Because the Isle of Wight is within the Network Southeast area, annual season tickets issued to and from its stations are issued as Gold Cards. A ticket from Ryde Pier Head to Ryde Esplanade was for many years the cheapest annual ticket in the area, and even though many holders of such tickets never use them for the intended journey, the discount obtained over the year may amply repay the cost of the ticket.[dubious ] Since the Gold Card area was extended to include the West Midlands in January 2015,[17] the Ryde ticket has been undercut by a similar short-distance ticket between Lichfield City and Lichfield Trent Valley.[dubious ]

Passenger numbers

File:IslandLine 1998–2015.png
Bar chart of ORR annual passenger estimates from 1997–98 to 2014–15

After privatisation, passenger numbers rose steadily from an estimated 1.21 million in 1997–98 to an estimated 1.61 million in 2006–07.[18]

After the merger of the Island Line and South West Trains franchises in 2007, Island Line passenger numbers fell slightly from an estimated 1.61 million in 2006–07 to an estimated 1.53 million in 2009–10. They peaked again at an estimated record 1.67 million in 2011–12, but since then have fallen rapidly to an estimated 1.31 million in 2014–15. This is the lowest annual estimate since 1998–99, and suggests passenger numbers have fallen by 22% in the last four years.[18]

The figures below are the number of passengers on the line from the year beginning April 2002 to the year beginning April 2013.

Smallbrook Junction has no road or footpath access and is normally open only on days when the connecting Isle of Wight Steam Railway is operating.

See also


  1. Southern Electric Group Historical Features Index "Southern Electric Fleet Review Summer 2004" Check |url= value (help). Southern Electric Group.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Southern Electric History and Infrastructure (Part 4)". Southern Electric Group.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Federick Dale Banister". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 10 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Hardy 2003, p. 9.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "1938 tube stock on the Isle of Wight". Retrieved 2007-08-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Hardy 2003, pp. 19–20, 23.
  7. Hardy 2003, p. 75.
  8. Hardy 2003, p. 79.
  9. "Island's new community rail route". BBC News. 24 March 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Stagecoach wins railway franchise". BBC News. 22 September 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Spruce up for Island Line stations". South West Trains. Retrieved 2007-09-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Buses on Rail Lines No Easy Answer". Isle of Wight County Press. 22 April 2005. Retrieved 2008-07-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Tram Link Idea Wins Poll Approval". Isle of Wight County Press. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Marsh, Phil (November 2015). "Controversy raging over proposals for Island Line". The Railway Magazine. 161 (1376): 8. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "IS THE FUTURE TRAMS AND STEAM TRAINS INTO RYDE?". Island Echo. Retrieved 18 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Hardy 2003, p. 46.
  17. "Gold Card Benefits extended". Modern Railways. Retrieved 30 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 Office of Rail and Road data: see bar chart


  • Hardy, Brian (2003). Tube Trains on the Isle of Wight. Harrow Weald, Middlesex: Capital Transport. ISBN 1-85414-276-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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