In view of the first of the Class 484s’ arrival on the Isle of Wight it was deemed a post would be in order to celebrate the Island Line in a nutshell from 1966 to 2020 using images from various sources – old railway magazines, the internet and some of my own photographs too. Its why I call it a jamboree although it may not necessarily be the right use of that word! By the time the classic tube trains end their service on the island it will have been 54 years of operation using both the 485/6s and the 483s. Once again its London Underground’s trains which come to the rescue – however for the first time in decades it’ll be full sized trains once again operational on the island.
The fantastic aspect of the Island Line was one could take a quantum leap and travel on trains that were no longer considered suitable for transportation but had to be used because of peculiar constraints on the island’s railways (which we all know these days isn’t even true becos they can get those damn District Line trains on it!) Some of these trains were positively ancient but totally loveable. These include the old fashioned lampshades, strap hangers, driving motors that were essentially part locomotive/part passenger salon, double sliding door sets that were in fact single door sets separated by a pillar in the middle of the vestibule and long departed railway manufacturing companies – not to mention those lovely clerestory roofs and the rest of it!
How it all looked before London’s old tube trains were brought in! No. W28 is seen at Smallbrook Junction on a Ventnor train in 1965. Picture from Steam Days 1993.
I never saw the line’s steam operations as the Wight wasn’t a holiday destination of my family’s – our preference was for Southend’s electric pier trains and the Kursaal – plus the fact a modern electric railway could take us from our local station all the way to the Essex coast. However I knew there were changes afoot on the Wight and those changes were confirmed with my copy of Railway World for May 1967 (see my Underground to Shanklin article) – no doubt I desired to visit the line sometime. Of course I didn’t discount the old steam network in any way or form – in fact I’ve spent hours exploring its remains and remember Wroxhall station as it stood trackless before it was finally demolished – I just wish it all hadn’t been given the boot but there you are that’s been done….
The new electric railway meant on my very first visit in 1974 I could be travelling on a train built in 1923/24 and by then half a century of antiquity. Well that actually wasn’t too bad seeing we’re still using ’72 stock on the Bakerloo – and those are due to eke out a motley existence until at least the 2030s! In fact the replacement of the earlier Class 485/86s with 483s (1938 tube stock) wasn’t too much of a leap because the much older trains were being replaced by ‘newer’ stock some fifteen years younger!! The newer stock were technically superior of course.
Going… going… and gone! W27 (with W28 at rear) on a Ryde Esplanade to Shanklin working just one day before steam ended in December 1966. The single track operation here, north of Ryde St. John’s, was to enable works to be undertaken to rationalise the trackwork and install the third rail for which the ‘pots’ are already in place. As is evident from the picture there’s loads of railway enthusiasts having a final fling on the Isle’s steam trains before it shut for good! Picture from Steam World 1991.
If one looks at those figures, the last of the old batch were withdrawn in 1992 meaning the 1923/24/27 stock had been in use for a total of thirty five years, whilst with the newer 38 stock, these will have been in use for thirty two years by the time the last turns a wheel on the line. Operationally the latter had an easier life as they had reached a product age of sixty nine years by the time the last one bowed out, whilst the latter (the 38s) will have reached a product age of eighty three years by the time the last one trundles through Ryde tunnel for the final time. The reason I use ‘product age’ here is because the actual age of the train sets and the individual cars is not known – not without some pretty intensive research being needed.
A rarity! Eight car VECTIS unit (with extra car added) at Ryde Pier! Source: Wikiwand
In terms of the above image I dont know why this unit was cobbled together in this way – certainly it involved work putting together at Ryde St Johns but as they had diesel shunters in those days maybe it wasn’t actually so hard. Its an odd combination as there’s a Tis unit at the rear and a Vec unit at the front with an additional driving trailer sandwiched behind the leading car. Normally the Vec units were at the Ryde end and the Tis units at the Shanklin end. Not only that it seems there’s three power cars in this formation – a VECTIS unit in fact had three power cars yet this one – a longer train – still has three power cars! Why would that be? It might have been an experiment to gain better traction up the gradient at Ryde Esplanade (which is why the leading power car is further away from the other two power cars (meaning the two rear power cars would push the train up the gradient thus the leading power car reached the more level track at Ryde Esplanade rather sooner and then have the necessary grip to help the rest of the train up the slope. Why would that be? Perhaps the trains struggled at times when they were packed full with passengers and the rails were somewhat greasy – and the photographer in fact unwittingly captured a rare experiment with reformation of the trains in those days?
Another interesting aspect to this image is the track layout from steam days is still in use. The scissors crossover and the signal box controlling this and the pier signals can also be seen. Besides the third platform track being removed (this was at far left) the other major change from steam days is the starting signal gantry has been removed and replaced by one of the single starting signal posts from the redundant platform. I don’t know why this was done – perhaps simplification of the mechanism and the interlocking equipment? The picture below shows the starting signals as they were in the electric line’s first year of operation.
Ryde Pier Head station in the summer of 1967 showing the re-positioned starter signals (and the erstwhile pier tramway on the left.) This image is from the excellent Blood and Custard website where they’ve done a fantastic job covering the Ryde-Shanklin line in detail as well as the VECTIS units.
The original track layout on Ryde Pier was rationalised to the currently seen layout in 1974 consisting of two separate running lines – the westernmost being the main up/down track and the easternmost being the pier shuttle service (which although was used quite frequently hasn’t run for many years now.) The current layout will in turn be rationalised even further later this winter of 2020 when the redundant pier shuttle track is removed – leaving just one line along the length of the pier for when the new (ish) Class 484s begin work on the Island Line next year (2021.)
I reworked the original track plans for the Island Line (which could be found in rail publications during the late 1960s) specially for this post and it clearly shows the extent of the trackwork in 1967 (apart from a few extended non-electrified sidings) until the mid seventies and from this one can see the original layout at Ryde Pier.
Its interesting to think that both ends of the line were once double tracked termini (discounting the Shanklin headshunt of course) and in fact every station was double tracked – and the fact two of these are now single track (although Brading is due to receive an extra track for the introduction of the 484s) causes one to wonder whether anymore track rationalisation could take place. There is the possibility of the entire section between Esplanade and Smallbrook Junction being singled and although this has been discussed it hasn’t been implemented. The current level of service could easily manage with loops at St Johns, Brading and Sandown. I’m not advocating that more track should be ripped up. Its a possibility and in many ways it would be a shame as it would preclude any sort of intensive service beyond more than perhaps a twenty minute frequency. To get any better frequencies than that would certainly require the Ryde double track section to be kept as well as a new platform at Shanklin.
On the other hand its been said if this happens the other track along the Ryde section could be given over to the Isle of Wight steam railway who could then run steam services between Wooton and Ryde. Its a nice idea however its still swings and roundabouts because potential spare capacity on the Shanklin line is lost.
Talking of very long Island Line trains I have this picture which shows an even longer VECTIS unit! Actually its three redundant 485s and 486s coupled up together and stored in the spare platform line pending a trip to Sandown for breaking up – the first two units are visible. 12th August 1989.
In terms of the replacement stock (this being the 483s) I have written about those and the teething problems they caused upon their introduction to the Island Line during 1989 and the early 1990s as described in my Underground to Shanklin article. The one thing I liked very much about these was the reinterpretation of how the interior of 1938 tube stock should look for a late 20th Century setting, and the craftsmanship that went into the 483s interiors was exemplary as the pictures below show. Of course one of the surprises was they came with individual door operating buttons – something that had in fact been introduced when these trains were first built in the 1930s and 1940s but was removed pretty soon after.
The interior of brand new 483 003 as it waited on Ryde Pier to form the 10.03 to Shanklin. 24th November 1989.
Another view of the interior of brand new 483 003 as it waited on Ryde Pier to form the 10.03 to Shanklin. This looks towards the pier end. 24th November 1989.
One bright aspect in terms of the Island Line has been the introduction of two new stations. Lake was opened in the mid eighties, whilst Smallbrook Junction opened on 20 July 1991 with Unit 003 and W24 Calbourne officiating at the ceremony. Picture from Steam Railway 1991.
I do remember the 483s in their ‘dinosaur’ livery as I was making visits to the Island until 2003 but don’t know where my pictures of the trains in those particular years are. However I did keep back certain railway magazines over the years featuring the line and this below is from RAIL for April 2000 featuring the new but controversial livery.
The Island Line passengers are ‘Riding with Dinosaurs’ article from RAIL.
One very interesting aspect of this article is it shows unit 006 in the shuttle platform on Ryde Pier – by now very rarely in use. The dinosaur livery was in some respects cute, great for the kids, and of course a serious homage to the fact the Isle of Wight is home to some of the best examples of what can be found in terms of dinosaur remains. Some however remained rather unconvinced of its potentiality – the Guardian reported ‘for a time the trains were painted in undignified “dinosaur” patterns..‘ whilst one observer claimed it ‘Turned the line into a joke, an anachronism, as well as being completely hideous…’ Rail UK Forums.
In 2000 the remaining units were 002, 004, 006 – 009 but were looking decidedly scruffy so a new livery was introduced. All but 007 got a repaint in a crazy, and most definitely eye-catching “Dinosaur Livery” and a new nickname to match:
The one that escaped the jaws of a dinosaur! Unit 007 at Shanklin in about 2001 after its major makeover back into LT livery. Source: Internet Archive
At the time of writing Unit 007 is the only train still fully operational on the island with the other previously operational units 004 and 006 now stored out of service in the Ryde St.Johns Road spare siding. The fantastic picture below could indeed show unit 007 a few weeks ago on Ryde Pier for all we know!
Love this image. Its one of the most unusual images I’ve seen of the Island Line! Ryde pier as seen from Union Street with an unidentified 483 heading south. Source: Twitter
My other posts on the Island Line:
Runaway tube trains (see the section on the Island Line)