You only live twice

Sunday, 3 January 2021, marks the end of an era on our national railway network, when the last pre-WWII rolling stock to remain in use is finally pensioned off after eight decades of service, and the Isle of Wight’s Island Line closes for its long-awaited upgrade.

Like many others I had planned to pay my final respects to the Class 483s on Sunday, before COVID-19 travel restrictions put paid to my plans. So, to mark this historic and sad occasion, here is a photographic trip down the line featuring shots of the final five of the 1938-vintage units to remain in action.

The following photos cover a trip from Ryde to Shanklin spanning the years 2015-2020, and show the last four units in passenger service (483004/6/7/8) along with a fifth working unit, 483009, which has latterly been confined to use as a shunter within the St. Johns Road depot.  

When the line’s most two recent stalwarts were withdrawn from traffic in December 2020 after developing faults (006/008) it was fittingly left to newly-overhauled unit 007 to come to the rescue and operate the reduced hourly service for the final three weeks of Class 483 workings.

There were real fears last month that there would be no final day of service on 3 January, after the newly out-shopped unit had failed in mid-December, only days after returning to service, and all Island Line services were then halted for several days and stopped again between Christmas and New Year, before 006 was returned to traffic and sharing duties on the final day with 007.

007’s brief return to service came after it had been the subject of a lengthy C4 overhaul and was a unit I had not seen in service since a visit in December 2015, when it was working alongside unit 004. That unit was withdrawn from service in 2019 and is now parked at the end of the siding extending north beyond platform 3 at St. Johns Road station.

A year later (December 2016) services were in the hands of units 004/008, with the same duo in action for my next visit in September 2018. But another year on (August 2019), and again in August of last year (2020), the working units were 006/008, the latter of which was withdrawn in early December 2020, just a week before 007’s belated return.   

Our journey down the line towards Shanklin begins on Ryde Pier, where rail services would normally provide a connection with Wightlink’s Fastcat service to Portsmouth Harbour. But Fastcat services were suspended on Christmas Eve, the second such suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so making rail trips to the Pier Head rather pointless!   

A footbridge connecting the Ryde bus station and Ryde Esplanade station with the hoverport makes a great vantage point for photographing trains on the pier, arriving at Esplanade station and then making their way onto the double track as they descend towards the twin bores of Ryde Tunnel (top photo).    

The mile-long walk from central Ryde to St. Johns Road station takes you past a couple of interesting vantage points, with a view looking north from the Rink Road over-bridge back towards Ryde Tunnel (above), where the down fixed distant signal can be seen, then from the Park Road over-bridge looking south as the line curves right towards St. Johns Road station (below).

St Johns Road station itself is a pleasantly photogenic spot, with its three platforms, signal box and the depot alongside. In this view (above) units 004 and 007 pass on 5 December 2015, while on the same date (below) unit 009 stands in the depot, with long-withdrawn 002 behind.

Heading south from St. Johns Road station, the first good vantage point is a foot crossing of the line about half a mile to the south, from where the up fixed distant signal can be seen looking back towards the station (above), with a two-aspect colour light visible looking south from the crossing (below).

After crossing the line here and following a path called the Nunwell Trail for about 400 yards you will reach another good, though slightly hazardous, vantage point at the Smallbrook Lane over-bridge, where looking back towards Ryde you will see the down two-aspect signal again, while looking south you will see the end of the double track, just north of Smallbrook Junction.

Smallbrook Junction can only be reached by rail and is only open when services on the connecting Isle of Wight Steam Railway are operating. Looking north from the station platform there is a good view of Shanklin-bound trains as they pass the signal protecting the end of the double track section from Ryde Esplanade (photo above). 

Around ¾-mile south of Smallbrook Junction is one of the most attractive and remote spots on the line, Truckwell’s Bridge, on a quiet lane called Harding Shute, which leads west from the busy A3055 road towards Ryde Cricket Club. In this view from 5 August 2020 (above) 006 approaches with a Shanklin-bound service (above) then continues on towards Brading (below).

Brading station is the place that will change significantly during the three-month line closure, with a passing loop being restored here to allow even interval half-hourly services on the line once it re-opens to the new Class 484 units on 1 April. Seen above is 006 departing for Ryde Pier Head on 5 August 2020, while below 008 sets off for Shanklin on the same date.  

South of Brading, two attractive locations along the 1¾-mile section of route to Sandown are the view looking south from Yarbridge, as seen above on 31 August 2019 as 006 approaches with a service for Ryde, then the view from a footbridge about 400 yards north of Sandown station, from where 006 can be seen with a Shanklin-bound service (below).   

The current uneven-interval timetable, which has been in operation since the Brading-Sandown section was singled in 1988, has meant services will alternately pass around St. Johns Road and at Sandown, which 004 is seen approaching on 5 December 2015 (above) and then passing 007 in the station.

Along with Smallbrook Junction (21 September 1991), a second station to have opened during the BR era on the Isle of Wight was Lake, roughly mid-way between Sandown and Shanklin, which opened on 11 May 1987, and is seen above on 5 December 2015 as 007 departs with a Shanklin-bound service. 

Two final vantage points on the journey to Shanklin are from a foot crossing south of Lake near an over-bridge carrying the A3055 and close to the 7½ mile-post, as seen above as 006 approaches on 31 August 2019 with a Shanklin-bound service and then a footbridge at the end of Alresford Road in Shanklin, from where 008 can be seen approaching with a service for Ryde (below).

One historic feature that will apparently survive the three-month £26m upgrade programme and remain when the line reopens on 1 April will be the line’s trio of working semaphore signals, along with the two fixed distant signals, all of which are close to Ryde St. Johns Road station and depot.

While getting a decent shot of the up home signal, to the south of St. Johns Road station, is made near impossible by the scale of lineside vegetation (above), the two down signals are easy to capture, with one opposite the signal box (below) and the other standing close to Park Street over-bridge and featured earlier.

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