All Change for Island Line – Competition to win Ryde Rail by Richard Long

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.

Ryde rail: A History of Tube Trains on the Isle of Wight by Richard Long Published by Crecy Publishing

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?

Unit 009 enters Ryde tunnel at the rear of a 4-car southbound train on 31 August 2009.

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.

Unit 008 in platform 1 at Brading with a northbound service on 5 September 2013.  A passing loop is to be installed at this location.

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.)

A CGI image released by Vivarail last year of a new Class 484 unit.

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 ( and the bestselling Ryde Rail: A History of Tube Trains on the Isle of Wight (

51 thoughts on “All Change for Island Line – Competition to win Ryde Rail by Richard Long”

  1. A sad,but necessary day looms.As a veteran of 30 years spent holidaying on the Island a hi lite was always a trip from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin for no reason other than just experiencing rail nostalgia and the bumpy madness that was the stretch near Bembridge FCs ground.Would love to be able to take the journey again before the new stock arrives,sadly this won’t be possible.Pleased that a car will be retained at IOW steam railway.
    Good luck to all involved.

  2. The first time i went to the island by ferry i got a steam halled train from the pier head,going over water with a steam loco at the front was out of this world,i will never forget that first trip

  3. Ryde Pier head to Shanklin 8.5 miles , gloriously saved in 1965, but lamentably the other 4 miles on to Ventnor lost in 1966.

  4. Eight and a half miles long. The Island has £50000 to investigate extending the Island Railways to Ventnor and Newport… Personally can’t see either being viable.

  5. We took a trip in September and the bumpy rocking and rolling reminded us of a trip from Hsipaw to Pyinoolwin in Myanmar last year. This line also has hand me down rolling stock from Japan or S Korea.
    Walking along the old line from Wroxall to Shanklin reminded of the many trips me and my friends made on our runabout tickets with the 02 tanks hauling 6 coach trains up Apse bank. It was such a priviledge being born and brought up on the Island.

    1. This looks like a ‘must have’ book. The Island Line is approximately 8 1/2 miles long at the moment.

      I understand there are serious plans to reinstate the line beyond Shanklin to Ventnor 🙂

      1. Like to think this is possible, but it would need a lot of work. The embankment South of Shanklin has been breached, there is at least one building on the track bed at Wroxall . The Tunnel is another snag as a pipe now runs through it and Ventnor station site looked a bit of a dump when I visited a while ago . A rather run down looking industrial estate. Never say never if the will and money can be found. Some time ago Chris Green estimated a £1m price tag.

  6. The Island line is 8.5 miles long. Wouldn’t it be great if the line could be restored all the way to Ventnor. Well that’s probably not going to happen but we can dream!

  7. The route length is 8.5 miles, but if one fractalises the vertical meanderings of the lumps & bumps it could be nearer 9 miles!

  8. 8 miles 30 chains or 8.375 miles or 13.48 km

    Last National Rail Timetable listed it at 8 1/2 miles (presumably rounded up as distances only shown in 1/4 mile intervals)

  9. Well, as everyone else has said, it’s 8 1/2 miles long, but the real answer is “it’s not long enough” 😊

  10. The book is fantastic…. I’ve read it a few times through now! Get a copy and get over to the Island before the ’38 Stock retire 🙂 It’s 8 & 1/2 miles, but if I get picked, re-draw it! 😉

  11. It’s 8 1/2 miles long and cannot wait to take our children on it when we finally get to visit in February. Two tiny train fanatics in this family!

    1. Sadly Laura the island line will not be running in February due to the upgrade work needed for the new trains. Full details in the above article.

  12. I travelled the full 8.5 mile length of the line on 19th October 2020 to get my last experience of travelling on the class 483 units. Will be back when the class 484 units arrive.

  13. 8.5 miles long. Had great trip to IOW for the 483s on 26th Oct, including hovercraft from Southsea. Not sure which ride was the bumpiest!

  14. Island lines 8.5 mile track is in real need of updating. The new (reconditioned) trains and track updates to be installed during 2021 should be a great improvement and serve the IOW well for another 40 years or so.

  15. The Island Line is 8.5 miles long. I’m looking forward to seeing the new tube trains on the Island thanks to VivaRail.

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