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Isle of Wight


map by Peter Richards

The Isle of Wight was one of those places in Britain that were by-passed by the age of "Railway Mania", despite the populous lobbying for a line. In 1852 a meeting was convened in Newport to press the cause for one to be built but powerful landowning interests, as so often on the mainland, managed to muster much support opposing the proposals. A Bill did reach Parliament but failed to gain the support necessary and died.



02 class W27 leaves Shanklin station and moves on to the single line to Sandown on a Ventnor - Ryde train in 1963. Trains invariably ran smokebox first on outward services from Ryde and bunker first on return.

photograph by Keith Harwood


Not to be deterred, further attempts were made and in 1862 the first line, the Cowes & Newport Railway, opened between those two towns. The Isle of Wight Railway opened from Ryde to Shanklin in 1864 and on to Ventnor in 1866, then opened a branch from Brading to Bembridge Harbour in 1882. The isolated C&NR was connected to the rest of the system when the Ryde & Newport Railway arrived in 1875, having left the IoWR at Smallbrook Junction (no station) and travelled west to Newport via Haven Street. These latter two companies merged to form the Isle of Wight Central Railway in 1877, which also included the virtually bankrupt Isle of Wight (Newport Junction) Railway that was promoted from Newport, via Merstone, to Sandown on the IWR. During 1888/9 the Freshwater, Yarmouth & Newport Railway opened and was worked until 1913 by the IWCR, after which date it worked the line itself. The FY&NR had grand schemes for a tunnel under the Solent to the mainland, but all it managed was a ferry connection at Yarmouth!



A typical Island train. O2 class Nº24 Calbourne with a train of old rolling stock long retired from mainland duties.

photograph by Mike Morant


The connection at Ryde (the main entry point) between the ferry from Portsmouth and the Railway station was either a long walk or an inadequate horse, later electric, petrol and finally diesel, tram ride the length of Ryde Pier, something that caused extreme annoyance to the LB&SCR and the LSWR, providers of the mainland trains to Portsmouth. The trams were two pairs of four wheel cars. In 1880 the LBSC and LSW took matters into their own hands and built a joint line, worked by the IWR and the IWCR, from Ryde Pierhead to an end-on connection with the IWR station. The tramway closed in 1969. Finally, in 1900 the IWCR opened a branch from Merstone to Ventnor West where the station's siting, being more convenient for the town than the IWR's station high above it, did not lead to capturing much traffic from the rival route. The island, just 24 miles by 14, now had some 56 miles of standard gauge railway operated by three independent companies, plus the two mainland companies along the pier.



On a clear winter's day in 1963, 02 class W28 climbs slowly towards Sandown on the double track section from Brading. This was one of only two double track sections on the IOW system (the other was from Ryde Pier Head to Smallbrook Junction, during the summer months).

photograph by Keith Harwood


W30 Nameplate

All the locos that worked on the Island during Southern and British Railways days continued the practice of most of the original railways and were named after places on the island. Here is the nameplate from W30 Shorwell photographed during BR days.

photograph: Mike Morant collection


1923 saw the Island's lines absorbed into the newly formed Southern Railway whereupon some upgrading of infrastructure took place and 30 locomotives were brought over from the mainland to replace those of the Island's railways, but little else changed with the Island rapidly becoming a timewarp in which lived outdated rolling stock that had been brought over by its railway companies after withdrawal from the mainland railways. Amongst these were the ex-LBSC E1s, A1x "Terriers" and ex-LSW O2s that were to serve the Island so well. Plans were also made to introduce ex-LBSC E4s but after a trial with one in 1947 it was decided they were unsuitable so the plan was abandoned.



Coach set 497 leaving Shanklin for Ryde behind an unidentified 02.

photograph by Keith Harwood


Nationalisation in 1948 saw little immediate change but the post-war move towards holidays abroad and the spread of car ownership had their effect on the Island's railways as much as elsewhere and in 1952 the line from Merstone to Ventnor was closed, leaving the original IWR route to Ventnor in sole occupation of the town. The following year some stations, the Bembridge branch and the FY&NR line closed, followed in 1956 by the Merstone-Sandown line. During the early 1960s it was decided to replace the remaining Island locos, by now all O2s, with modern locos, but - which ones would be suitable? A Standard 2MT 2-6-2 was modified but before it could be tried out on the Island the plan to close much of the remaining mileage, and end steam operation in favour of electric, put paid to the idea and in 1966 the Ryde to Cowes and Shanklin to Ventnor lines closed so that now just the stretch of line from Ryde to Shanklin survives, albeit with the importation of ex-LT Underground stock to work the now electrified line. Some 30 years after closure there were proposals to re-open the line from Shanklin to Wroxall and Ventnor, but these plans seem unlikely to come to fruition.



O2 Nº W14 Fishbourne between Ryde St John's Road and Smallbrook Junction.

photograph by Keith Harwood

This section of the line was operated as double track during the busy summer period and as two single lines (one for Sandown, one for Newport) for the remainder of the year. This is summer and the Fixed Distant arm on the right has been removed for the duration of double track working.


All the maintenance of the Island’s rolling stock was carried out on the Island. The main works were at Ryde, although there were also good facilities at Newport.


Ryde works

Here O2 NºW20 Shanklin is receiving attention outside Ryde works.

photograph by Keith Harwood


There were four tunnels in all, Mill Hill tunnel of 208 yards just to the north of Mill Hill station, Ryde Tunnel of 391 yards immediately to the south of Ryde Esplanade station, St Lawrence Tunnel of 619 yards mid-way between Whitwell and St Lawrence stations and Ventnor Tunnel, at 1,312 yards the biggest engineering project on the Island's railways, under St Boniface Down immediately north of Ventnor station.



02 NºW32 Bonchurch approaches Shanklin on a Ryde to Ventnor service in 1963. Bonchurch was the last of the Island's locos to carry a green livery - she was repainted black whilst in Ryde shops for overhaul during June 1953.

photograph by Keith Harwood


Train services were never speedy, the 12½ miles from Ryde to Ventnor took some 37-45 mins, and fares were high with third class tickets not introduced until 1914 and infrequent services in the early years. The Southern Railway improved the frequency of trains, but not the journey times!

This page was last updated 25 April 2005

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