Railcam is delighted to bring you another competition. This time, respected railway author, Richard Long has offered a copy of his book, Ryde Rail, to one lucky winner.
To enter, simply comment on the post on any of the Railcam, Facebook or Twitter posts by answering the following question:
How long is the Island line?
The winner will be drawn at random on Sunday 22 November 2020.
Richard has kindly written the following piece for us to give an insight to the tube trains in use on the Island line. We would like to thank Richard for his time and generosity.
In January 1967 the Ryde-Shanklin line closed down completely before reopening three months later with a ‘new’ fleet of refurbished ex-London Underground trains. 54 years later, at the start of 2021, the same thing is to happen again. The full story of those 54 years can be found in my book Ryde Rail: A History of Tube Trains on the Isle of Wight. But why did the Isle of Wight end up with second-hand tube trains in the first place?
By the end of 1966 the Island’s former 55-mile network of railway lines had been whittled down to just eight-and-a-half miles of track between Ryde and Shanklin – which local campaigners had forced BR to retain. Faced with a life-expired fleet of pre-Grouping steam engines and carriages BR concluded that modernisation was the only answer. New-build rolling stock was out of the question on cost grounds so a decision was taken to electrify the line and employ a fleet of ex-London Underground ‘Standard Stock’ tube cars (to become BR classes 485 & 486). These were ideal as they were more than suited to the Island’s notoriously restrictive loading gauge and, crucially, were readily available at scrap value. Around 40 years-old in 1967, the Standard Stock were expected to last about 10 years on the Island but eventually lumbered on until replacements arrived in the form of the current 1938 Stock tube trains in 1989-92.
Already 50 years-old at the time of their arrival, the 1938 Stock (BR class 483) were probably even then the oldest (non-heritage) trains on the national network but, after 30 years on the Island, have now clocked-up eight decades of service. Nine two-car units were originally delivered to Ryde but today only six sets survive; of which only two are currently operational – and that’s on a good day. Two working units are required to maintain the two-trains-an-hour timetable meaning that, if one set fails (as has happened frequently in the past 12 months), the service drops to one-train-an-hour.
SWR’s replacements for the 80-year-old trains will be the class 484 – a third rail electric version of Vivarail’s Class 230. Re-engineered from former District Line ‘D Stock’ units these are once-again ex-London Underground trains but, crucially, they are LU ‘sub-surface’ stock (in other words, normal-sized UK trains) and not tube trains – disproving once-and-for-all the myth that only tube trains would fit on the Isle of Wight. Five two-car units have been ordered; to be painted in SWR livery with ‘Island Line’ branding. With fully-modernised interiors, disabled access and on-train wifi these will arguably be the closest thing to actual new trains the Island’s railways have experienced in well over a century. Reportedly the first three units will arrive on the Island by Christmas although none are expected to enter traffic until the line reopens in April 2021.
Unsurprisingly some infrastructure modifications will be required for the new units to operate – including adjusting platform heights for step-free access and lowering the track under some overbridges. Whether the track in Ryde Tunnel will be lowered remains to be seen – it hasn’t been mentioned and, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the lowest structure on the line. The worst sections of track are to be re-laid as well (the famously bouncy ride quality of the current stock probably owes as much to the condition of the track as to that of the trains.) Perhaps the most significant improvement will be the laying of a passing loop at Brading; allowing a two-train service to run at a regular half-hourly interval, rather than the current 20/40-minute service. (The present track layout, with no passing point at Brading, is the result of a rationalisation carried out by Network SouthEast in the 1980s, when three-trains-an-hour were operated.)
The 1938 Stock are expected to operate their final services on 3 January 2021, after which the line will close until 1 April, but will any survive into preservation? One unit seems likely to remain on the Island as a static exhibit at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway while another group, the London Transport Traction Group, has been formed with the aim of operating a set under battery power on the Epping-Ongar Railway. Whether any further units will find new homes remains to be seen.
Whatever happens, the next few months will see exciting changes for the Ryde-Shanklin line; which enthusiasts should be able to witness first hand on Railcam’s new camera at Ryde.
Richard Long is the author of Isle of Wight Railways: A New History (www.crecy.co.uk/isle-of-wight-railways-a-new-history) and the bestselling Ryde Rail: A History of Tube Trains on the Isle of Wight (www.crecy.co.uk/ryde-rail).