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ISLAND LINE CELEBRATES 155TH BIRTHDAY – BUT WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Photo: IslandLineUK/Twitter

Island Line – the 8.5 mile train line that runs between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin – is celebrating today (Friday) as the Isle of Wight’s railway turns the grand old age of 155!

The first services between Ryde St Johns and Shanklin, with intermediate stations at Brading and Sandown, ran on 23rd August 1864 when steam trains dominated the network and trains carried huge numbers of passengers.

Fierce opposition from local landowners and the need to cut a 1,312 yard tunnel through St Boniface Down delayed the opening of a 4-mile extension of the line to Wroxall and Ventnor – 11.5 miles from Ryde – until 15th September 1866. The Ryde to Ventnor Line, serving the developing seaside resorts along the Isle of Wight’s east coast, was an immediate success.

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It wasn’t until 5th April 1880 that trains continued from Ryde St John’s to Ryde Esplanade, with the extension to Ryde Pier Head opening 2 months later on 12th July. This route is still considered vital for Islanders wanting to connect with ferry services to the mainland.

Eventually, trains travelled across almost the entire Island with a staggering 53-miles of rail network and a total of 36 stations/halts. Steam trains chugged from Bembridge to Freshwater, Cowes to Ventnor and everywhere in between.

The line today… a 1938 former tube train heads towards Smallbrook from Ryde

During the 50s and 60s a number of stations were closed across the Isle of Wight and the network quickly diminished, however, the Ryde to Shanklin line survived through all of the Beeching cuts and to this day still operates a regular service. However, the steam trains were pulled up for good on 31st December 1966 – shortly after the closure of Wroxall and Ventnor stations – and were replaced by electrified trains from March 1967.

On 11th May 1987 a new station was opened on the electrified line at Lake, followed by Smallbrook Junction on 20th July 1991 – a station that connects with the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. In 1996 the railway became known as ‘Island Line’ as a result of the privatisation of British Rail. This was run by Stagecoach, before transferring to South West Trains in 2007 and then South Western Railway in 2017.

Now, as the railway moves towards its 160th birthday, the railway network is set to change again with plans for the Isle of Wight Steam Railway to once again take steam trains into Ryde St John’s as an extension the heritage railway line. It is understood that approval has been given to the plans, although it is unknown when the line will be extended.

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Major changes are also expected on South Western Railway’s service between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin with Class 483 trains dating from 1938 set to be replaced. An announcement was due in May 2019 but things have been delayed. An announcement is now expected around October.

007 heading towards Ryde on a frosty morning

The views/opinions expressed in these comments are solely those of the author and do not represent those of Island Echo. House rules on commenting must be followed at all times.

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David hillman
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David hillman

Don’t know why south western railway don’t turn the whole thing into a main line steam line like there is on a line up in Scotland they could franchise it out to the Isle of Wight steam railway to run he massive tourist attraction aswell as serving as a main line for commuters to use

Anthony Kitcat
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Anthony Kitcat

A good idea. Problem is steam trains are u able to get from St John’s to Ryde Pier Head due to the tunnel not being big enough.

Mark
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Mark

It was big enough for about 100 years – They only raised the track bed because the electrified third rail couldn’t cope with flooding in the tunnel.

The experts at IWSR will correct me if I’m wrong but, given the right locomotive/coach combination and the removal of some ballast, the tunnel doesn’t pose an obstacle to steam running all the way to Ryde pier head again. (Unlike the industrial unit and community centre built on top of the line at Wroxall and the water pipes running through the tunnel at Ventnor)

Health and safety, regulatory, signalling and staffing issues are more likely to put the brakes on steam on the “main line” to shanklin beyond a limited heritage tourist service during holiday periods – Though even these are not insurmountable problems if the commitment (and finance) is there.

Joe Bloggs
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Joe Bloggs

because Ryde Pier will no longer take the weight of a steam loco and also one will no longer fit through Ryde Esplanade tunnel.

Paul Quinton
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Paul Quinton

I traveled on the Steam service in the early’mid 60’s to Bembridge

Keith Roberts
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Keith Roberts

Sorry but that line closed in September 1953.

Adam Thompson
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Adam Thompson

Love them old tube trains… Went for a ride on them today!

Anthony Kitcat
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Anthony Kitcat

I remember the tube stock running on the London Underground in the 1950’s.

Rebecca
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Rebecca

Would it ever be possible to bring the train back to Ventnor?

Fred Nurke
Guest
Fred Nurke

I have always understood that a spring in Ventnor Tunnel was, or is, the main water source for the town.
That is supposedly the reason they never had toilets on the Island’s railways.

Also, that the pipe running through there is sewage, on it’s way for treatment at Sandown.
Hopefully, someone will know the true facts.

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