South Western Railway (SWR) have submitted a plan of action for the future of Island Line to the Department for Transport, but the contents of that plan has remained a fairly tight-lipped secret. However, an article in the October edition of Modern Railway magazine states that the introduction of trains known as Class 230s is the preferred option for FirstGroup, who are a majority stakeholder of SWR.
The Class 230 is a diesel or battery electric multiple unit (EMU) built by rolling stock manufacturer, Vivarail. The units are converted from 1980 London Underground D78 Stock by re-using the D78’s aluminium bodyshells with refurbished interiors, the traction motors and bogie. The conversion replaces the third-rail traction-current system with diesel-generator or battery-packs.
According to the article by Modern Railway, Adrian Shooter of Vivarail has confirmed that the Class 230s will fit through the tunnel at Ryde, which was previously raised to alleviate flooding issues. Class 230s are said to have 45mm of packing to lift the trains but, should an order be made for Island Line, this packing would not be added.
The Class 230s are just 0.25m wider than the current Island Line trains, but 0.74m taller.
Previously, South Western Railway indicated that a battery or flywheel powered system would be preferred to save on the cost of replacing the third rail system and avoiding the storage and air pollution concerns associated with a diesel powered train.
So, could a battery EMU from Vivarail be the future for trains on the Isle of Wight? It would certainly make it easier to extend the railway line to Newport or Ventnor, as Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely has suggested in the past.
The current Island Line trains – the Class 483s – are now 80-years-old and are the oldest trains running on the British Rail network.
A decision is expected before the end of the year.