Island Line re-opens at last

SEVEN months late and one entire summer season lost, but passenger trains finally returned to the Isle of Wight on Monday, 1 November 2021, with the launch into service of a third generation of ex-London Underground trains to ply the 8½ miles between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin since its electrification in 1966.

After all the delays the re-launch service is just half of what it is supposed to be, with an hourly service for the next six weeks until the long-awaited two trains an hour is finally introduced with the next timetable change on Sunday, 12 December. Even the one an hour service was badly disrupted on re-opening day.

A flock of seagulls is disturbed as 484001/004 approach Ryde Esplanade

Regular interval half-hourly services have been made possible by the restoration of a passing loop at Brading, as part of the £26 million upgrade of the Island Line, with the fleet of former D78 Stock underground trains a mere 40 years old, just half the age of the 1938-vintage Class 483 units they have taken over from

484001/004 pass the Ryde St. John’s Road down home signal with a Shanklin service

Having been unable to travel to the island on 3 January 2021 to witness the final day of Class 483 operation, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, it was good to get over to the island on Monday to sample the new era on Island Line and photograph two of the five-strong two-car Class 484 fleet in action.

484004/001 emerge from Ryde Tunnel with a service for Ryde Pier Head

Signalling problems meant significant disruption to the first services of the new era, which were worked by units 484004/001. Arriving from Portsmouth at Ryde Pier Head in time for the 08.45 train to Shanklin, its late arrival meant that the fastcat was not held to connect and the train departure was then cancelled to ensure it could leave on time at 09.45.

484004/001 approach Sandown with a service for Ryde Pier Head

First impressions of the new order are that they feel a good deal more spacious than the former tube stock that they replaced, the D78 Stock having been built for the sub-surface District Line so built to a higher loading gauge, yet still able to pass through Ryde Tunnel, the reason for special island rolling stock. 

484001/004 arrive at Brading with a late-running service for Shanklin

Heading first to Brading, one of the quietest stations along the route, I had been hoping to see and photograph trains passing here for the first time since the 1¾-mile section of route from here southwards to Sandown was singled in 1989. Alas that photo will have to wait until my next visit to the island, with all trains currently still using platform 1. 

Brading station with its newly restored platform 2 on the right

But Brading station is well worth a visit, with historic replica lamp standards installed along the length of re-opened platform 2, with all the station buildings and original footbridge preserved, along with the signal box that is cared for by local community volunteers.

A bit of weed killing would be in order at Sandown

Next up was a visit to Sandown, where the loop in which alternate trains had crossed under the previous uneven-interval timetable has been sensibly retained, despite no services being scheduled to cross here now, so giving some operational flexibility in the event of any delays. A reminder of the old order was unit 483008 under tarpaulins in the siding, awaiting its move back to the mainland. 

484004/001 approach Lake with a service for Ryde Pier Head

From Sandown I decided to pay a short visit to Lake, one of the two stations along with Smallbrook Junction to have opened on Island Line during the years since electrification. Returning to Ryde, I then alighted at St. John’s Road station to photograph 484004/001 passing the down home signal from the bridge on Park Road, close to the bus museum.

484001/004 approach Ryde Tunnel with a service for Shanklin

For all the investment in new infrastructure that has taken place this year, one historic feature of Island Line that has thankfully survived is the three semaphore signals controlled by the signalling centre at Ryde St. John’s Road station. The two down line examples are easily photographed, but the up home is rather more tricky to see, owing to lineside vegetation south of the station. 

484001/004 depart Ryde Esplanade with another delayed service for Shanklin

Finally a few shots of the new order in service from the footbridge that links Ryde bus station with its hoverport and, on a clear day like Monday, 1 November, is a great place to photograph trains running along the pier and also entering and leaving the nearby Ryde Tunnel. 

While it is great to see passenger services resume on the island, the hard fact is that punctuality on day one of the new era was lamentable, with virtually every train missing its fastcat connection at the Pier Head, leaving passengers to wait almost an hour for the next service to the mainland, which I would call totally unacceptable.

484001/004 depart Ryde Pier Head for Shanklin