The Island Line – the rail route that links Ryde Pier Head with Shanklin on the Isle of Wight – is set to receive a new fleet of trains as part of a £26 million investment announced by Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris.
The island is home to the oldest fleet of trains on the UK network, consisting of former London Underground 1938 stock that has been working the Island line since 1990.
The Class 483 trains, as they were classified, replaced the even earlier Class 485 and 486 units that were bought by British Rail in 1967 to run the newly electrified line at the end of the steam era. They were London Underground ‘Standard’ stock, built originally for the London Electric Railway between 1923 and 1931.
Former London Underground trains were chosen for the route as, when the line was electrified with third rail 630V DC in 1967, the track bed through Ryde tunnel was raised to cut down problems with flooding. This severely restricted the headroom, hence the move to acquire ‘tube’ trains to run the service.
With this history in mind, it is only fitting that the Class 483 trains will be replaced by another fleet of former London Underground trains. In this case, South Western Railway has chosen Vivarail’s Class 484 trains which are totally refurbished former D78 stock that originally ran on the District line. The new trains will provide more capacity, better accessibility, passenger information systems and Wi-Fi. They are also larger, as the D78 stock were sub-surface line trains as opposed to the smaller, deep-tube 1938 stock. However, after having surveyed the line, Vivarail has established that the new trains will fit through Ryde tunnel.
Five two-car sets have been ordered. They will have connecting gangways, allowing guards to move freely throughout the whole train, collecting revenue and providing passenger assistance.
In addition to the new trains, Network Rail has announced a multimillion investment into improvements to renew Ryde Railway Pier, where trains connect with ferries to Portsmouth. These proposals were developed in partnership with key stakeholders on the island, including Isle of Wight Council and Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, which have agreed to jointly contribute £1 million to fund a new passing loop at Brading, helping to deliver a half-hourly service to the pier.
The trains will be leased from Lombard North Central PLC, part of the RBS Banking Group, which has funded similar fleets in the West Midlands. The first train is expected to arrive on test in early summer 2020, with track improvement works due to take place over the winter of that year.
Speaking at Brading station, the Rail Minister said of the old Class 483 trains: “These trains have diligently served passengers since 1938 – coinciding with the first ever edition of the Beano and the maiden voyage of the record-setting Mallard steam train – so this upgrade is a long overdue boost.
“This investment in the Island Line means more punctual, reliable trains and better connections to ferry services, supporting local residents, businesses and tourism. This underlines our determination to provide passengers across the country with the modern rail network they expect.”
South Western Railway managing director Andy Mellors added: “This is a great day for the Isle of Wight.
“I want to pay tribute to our team at Island Line who have kept the current 1938 stock going for so long and to all of the stakeholders who helped us develop our proposals.
“I look forward to our continuing partnership as we deliver the next exciting chapter in Island Line’s history.”
Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely summed up: “This represents the first significant upgrade to the route for over 50 years, and I look forward to liaising with SWR, Network Rail and the DfT to ensure that the benefits are delivered in a timely manner, with minimal disruption.
“Island Line serves residents, commuters, visitors and students on a daily basis – and I know how much these rail users will welcome this overdue announcement.”
There has been considerable interest in the fate of the existing 1938 trains, and South Western Railway will be working with stakeholders to ensure they find a good retirement home.