“ Island Line is one of 26 train operating companies that form the UK's National Rail Network. Island Line operate the Eight and half miles of passenger railway on the Isle of Wight,serving the island towns of Ryde, Brading Sandown, Lake and Shanklin. „
I spent my 2012 summer holiday on the Isle of Wight, and although I normally used buses to travel around the island, I spent one day using the Island Line, the only electric railway line on the island, which runs from Ryde in the north to Shanklin in the east. Here are my thoughts.
***A Brief History***
The line from Ryde to Shanklin was opened in 1964, and was later extended south to Ventnor and north to Ryde Pier Head. The railways were nationalised in 1948 and the Shanklin-Ventnor section later closed. The line was electrified in 1967 and was later named the Island Line, a name it still retains even though it is now part of South West Trains.
Ordinary trains cannot be used on the line as the ceiling of Ryde Tunnel is too low. Instead, the trains are ex-London Underground carriages, originally built in 1938 and still refurbished. I found this rather exciting, as I am a bit of a geek when it comes to the Tube!
***My Experience of the Line***
I bought my ticket from a friendly and helpful assistant at Ryde Esplanade ticket office, and caught the train from the platform. Like all the platforms and stations on the Isle of Wight, the platform wasn't particularly modern or anything like that, but it was perfectly acceptable. Just like a small country station at home, really.
I made several journeys on the line, stopping off at various points to look around and explore. I really liked being on the train: it was like being on the Underground in the 1930s with wooden panelling and windows which could be opened! The trains were comfortable and clean, except where people had left litter, which wasn't very often - and this happens on all public transport!
The line doesn't stop at many stations, so I'll go through them one by one, so you can see what kind of places you can get to.
*Ryde Pier Head*
This station is right at the end of the pier, and is handy for those people wanting to catch the ferry to the mainland. On my journey back to Ryde I rode to the end of the pier: it was very strange to be travelling right over the sea! The track looked a little flimsy to me, supported by a wooden framework like the rest of the pier, but it's obviously perfectly safe.
This is an ideal starting point from which to catch the Island Line, as it is at the shore end of the pier, right on the seafront. The ticket office is here, too. If you are coming to Ryde for the day, it is an ideal stop at which to get off. Ryde is a pleasant Victorian seaside town with a nice beach and some shops, a nice place to spend some time.
*Ryde St John's Road*
This was where the original line started, but nowadays I suspect it is mainly used by Ryde residents, as it is further inland than the Esplanade.
This is the station at which to get off if you want to catch the steam train. I did just that, and had a lovely time. The Island Line part of the station is just a platform, but the steam train side has toilet and waiting room facilities.
Brading is a small historic town on the Isle of Wight. The station hosts a shop, café and small museum, but I didn't get off here so I can't comment on it.
Sandown is one of the island's seaside towns. I paid a visit to the town but I thought it seemed rather shabby and run-down. There were some seafront bars and apartments that I can imagine would be a lot of fun, except that there was hardly anyone in them. The beach looked reasonably nice, but again it was almost empty, although in fairness it wasn't the warmest of days.
Sandown is home to the Isle of Wight Zoo, which houses one of Britain's largest collections of tigers, as well as other animals including lemurs and monkeys. It also houses Dinosaur Isle, a purpose-built attraction which recreates the landscape of the dinosaurs, with life-size models of the creatures whose fossils have been found on the island. I didn't visit either of these attractions as I didn't have time, but I thought they both looked rather fun and I think children would love them.
Lake is a village; I didn't get off here, so I can't say any more than that. I couldn't find evidence of anything here that would be of interest to the tourist, so I didn't bother to visit (though I may have been wrong!).
Shanklin is where the Island Line terminates and as far as I'm concerned they saved the best 'til last. Shanklin was by far my favourite place on the Isle of Wight: a beautiful seaside town with a lovely Old Village full of stone cottages and tea rooms. I enjoyed looking around the charity shops and bric-a-brac shops where I picked up some clothing bargains, including a gorgeous black lace vintage dress for £6. I found an amazing ice cream parlour and had the most delicious sundae of my life, and afterwards I walked through Shanklin Chine, a gorge carved by a waterfall over hundreds of years, with a footpath allowing you to reach the beach from the top of the cliff.
***Limitations of the Island Line***
Sadly, the Island Line only covers the east coast of the Isle of Wight. This does cover important seaside towns such as Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin, and provides an easy way to access the steam railway, but it does not provide access to other interesting places on the island such as Cowes, Yarmouth, Ventnor, Freshwater and the central town of Newport. To reach these places via public transport, you'll need to take a bus.
You can access the most recent timetable via this link:
The trains aren't incredibly frequent, but I don't think you can expect the same frequency of service from a rural train service as you do from, say, the London Underground. I occasionally had to wait fifteen or twenty minutes, once half an hour, for a train but the trains did run to time. According to the timetable, they seem to run from early in the morning to late evening, but I only used it between the hours of ten and seven, so I can't comment on this in detail.
Fares for the Island Line are as follows: max. £4 for a single ticket, max. £5.40 for a return, and max. £17.80 for a weekly season ticket. These are maximum prices and you would probably pay less depending on where you are travelling from and to.
There is also a deal whereby you can buy a joint day ticket for both the Island Line and the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. I chose this option: an adult ticket costs £14.
The Island Line is a handy and comparatively quick way of getting around on the east coast of the Isle of Wight, particularly if you are coming to the island via the ferry to Ryde. It's also good value for money if you want a ride on the steam railway. However, don't rely on the line if you want to explore the island, as there are many important and worthwhile places to visit that it doesn't reach.
To find out more, visit http://www.southwesttrains.co.uk/island-line.aspx.
Aside from the tourist steam train, the Island Line is the only train service on the Isle of Wight.
Using former tube trains from the London Underground, the Island Line stretches from the end of Ryde Pier (very handy if you are arriving by ferry) down the east coast to Shanklin, passing through Brading and Sandown.
It previously used to extend down to Ventnor (south east of the Island) but apparently this was closed down due to lack of use. It's also worth noting that the train only covers the east of the Island. The central and western areas are completely neglected, with the only public transport being the Island's excellent bus services.
When on the train, you pay an onboard conductor. I believe the fare from Ryde to Brading was about £1.50 single, but this was a few years ago now.
The train provides a good way to get from Ryde to Sandown/Shanklin quickly, but it's only really handy if you are in a rush, as otherwise I think most people would get the bus, as it's not a huge distance.
The time we spent on the Isle of Wight travelling around the island itself was always made by car; the option of using the car meant we had a lot of freedom. We had enquired about the prices available but were advised that towns like Ryde offer an hour of free parking anyway, so we decided to take the car instead.
Whilst we were in Ryde, we decided to travel on the Island Railway, as an enthusiast this was a bit of a special trip as this railway uses 1938 London Underground trains making the rolling stock over 70 years old. There are a total of eight stations on the network as the line stops at Shanklin which is the furthest station from Ryde Pier; however the two further stations of Wroxall and Ventnor were closed in 1966 due to low passenger usage.
The Island Railway runs from Ryde Pier, where the foot ferries from Portsmouth arrive, to Shanklin which is just over eight and a half miles away. The line itself is full of history as the line is really the only working line on the Island and is just a fraction of what is left of the originals rail network the Island used to have, the rest having been closed for a number of years earlier due to the fact the car was a more popular means of transport or the infrastructure falling into disrepair with a high cost involved to make good again.
Unfortunately this is the main problem with the whole line itself. The station that we got on the train was Ryde Esplanade. I can understand that the Station is exposed to the elements from the Solent, but generally I thought the building itself is in a pretty bad state, as you walk through to the Platforms there is a lingering smell that one can only associate with the lavatory with the place looking shabby overall. Personally as this is a viable tourist attraction the look of the Station in my mind could be bettered as this is the first thing that passengers would see. It looks like this station as well as the other buildings have been stuck in a time-warp. The booking office, where you go to purchase tickets, is very presentable and the small sized retail unit's seem to have a job on their hands to attract people which I thought was a shame as they were quite empty for a lunchtime period. Again I could be wrong with this perception; unfortunately this is how it looked from a visitor's point of view.
The conditions of the trains on the outside are very good and I know from other people that they are well looked after in the St Johns Road Depot considering the parts required to repair any issues are virtually non-existent, the interior didn't strike me as exceptionally dirty at all as this was no different really than what I'm used to anyway, but the ride itself down to Shanklin was not that good in parts. After all I'm used to riding on the Tube as I do it every day to get to work, but the continuous lateral movement started to make us feel seasick as the motion was bumpy rather than the an even ride which to me signalled track bedding issues. One thing I do have to say is that the feeling of travelling on a Tube train outside of London where you are effectively at the seaside was a little disorientating to say the least as I was continuously looking out the window to gauge where I actually was.
So far I was not impressed. One thing I did notice is that the trains were running almost empty as people who had arrived by foot Ferry had arranged to be picked up by car from the Terminal and therefore did not require to use the Railway at all. Even when we boarded at Ryde, there weren't many on the train at all. Our tickets were never checked either and whether this meant that there weren't any Inspectors I don't know as we never saw any at the times we travelled, which really annoyed me due to the fact that given I could have got away without buying a ticket told me that loss of revenue could be quite high.
The next thing was the timetable; most of the track is single line. This is where the problems really start as this means that two trains cannot pass each other until they either reach a certain Station with a passing loop or a second Platform. This meant a wait of over 40 minutes between trains. In hindsight this was so that the trains can get to a certain area and allow the other train to take the track that had just been made available. So compare this with a car journey from Ryde to Shanklin which we clocked at 20 minutes and the journey by train is the same, but can easily take double that straight off if you're not aware of the train times. The gaps between the trains are 18 and 42 minutes which I don't think is not really giving a good service at all, again this is due to the single track with an hourly service in the evenings.
Perhaps a good thing for the Isle of Wight Steam Railway is that the Island Railway meets up at a new station opened in 1991 called Smallbrook Junction, this means that an interchange is available. However this is only a one off and is only open when the Steam Trains are running. Okay you have the Bus Station at Ryde Esplanade as well as the Hovercraft to Southsea as well, but this is by no means an integrated system that allows access to other means of transport. So I found that the whole network is really cut off from other areas that could help increase passenger usage. Buses which are run by Southern Vectis serve the Esplanade very well but in some cases don't go any nearer than quarter of a mile from some stations.
The one competitive thing is the prices; the return price to Shanklin was £3.60 which I didn't think was bad considering the price on the bus would have been £2.80 each way unless we had a travel card for the period we were o the Island itself.
Not sure about the future of the Island Railway at all, the system has been diminishing over the last thirty years as a whole and seems to devolve further every couple of decades. All it needs is a strong investment to it and it could start to climb the hill to being something the local community relies upon again rather than being the quarter full attraction it seems to be at the moment. With a somewhat less than impressive Station portfolio to its name it seems like this would be the opportune time for South West Trains to make an investment in the system to entice car users off the road. After travelling the full length, it's not as if it doesn't go anywhere as it effectively runs parallel to the A3055. When I drove the A3055 it appeared to be main road linking all areas from the North-East to the Southern areas of the Island itself.
Overall I was pretty disappointed with this and can only summarise this up by saying that South West Trains are missing a trick with this railway. It seems to be totally underfunded and requires new life bought to it by means of modernisation and whether that's done by bringing in newer stock, laying more track and improving the environment around the buildings, then it is something that I'm really having problems seeing why this isn't being acted upon as this is a no brainer business solution that the Island Railway would strongly benefit from. Perhaps one solution is to just convert the whole thing to a Tramway and have done with it.
I'm having trouble with deciding whether I would recommend this, to be quite honest I don't think I would as it seems everything else is capitalising from the fact that the Railway doesn't give a positive portrayal to Island Tourism and doesn't do the Island image any favours neither.
'Island Line' is the company that runs the train service of the Isle of Wight. The Island has a limited stretch of rail-track which runs from the end of Ryde Pier in the North of the Island, to Sandown on the South-East coast. This actually represents quite a limited route, and doesn't even reach capital town Newport, which is in the centre of the Island.
Island Line won the franchise to operate the trains from 1996, and since that time have official become been "Britain's most reliable and punctual train company". This claim may seem impressive, but the shortness of the route (8.5 miles) is probably the reason for the efficiency!
The trains used are ex-London Underground vehicles which have been refurbished internally and externally. These are somewhat dated in appearance, but generally reliable. In terms of the ride, the trains are fairly smooth, although some of the track near the Sandown end of the line can be quite bumpy - especially when the trains reach their top speed of just over 40 mph.
Island Line runs a regular service which starts fairly early in the morning, but unfortunately, the trains don't operate much past 10 at night - so if you're relying on a train to get you back from a late night gig, you may well be disappointed.
Having access to a car, I don't generally use the train service on the Isle of Wight. However, when I have, the experience has always been punctual and pleasant. That said, the route is so limited that it's really only a viable option for tourists visiting the resorts on the south east coast.
If I was rating this review on efficiency alone, I would give Island Line full marks - however, I have to consider both the limited operating hours and the general coverage. As such, it 3/5 for me.
For more information, see www.island-line.co.uk.
The Island Line is the only Isle of Wight Railway line and you can bet that the trains are pretty much always on time.
The line runs from the top of Ryde pier head all the way along into the town of Shanklin. The stops are as follows.
Ryde Pier Head
Ryde St Johns
If you were to take the train from the pier head at Ryde all the way into Shanklin the entire trip would take you a little over half an hour but cost you around £5. The trains themselves that operate on the Isle of Wight are in fact old London underground trains from back in the day and when riding them you can feel how old and rickety they are!.
The train route only takes you along the East coast of the Isle of Wight which is a shame as back in the 20's there used to be another steam train that ran a much longer route but this was closed down in the 1950's.
The train can be fairly handy to get to Ryde Pier Head which is where you would go if you were to visit the mainland as a foot passenger. The train links up with the hovercraft that also operates from the end of the pier.
The train begins to run in the fairly early hours of the morning but unfortunately doesn't run to that late at night with the last full train run being around 10.30pm. Because of both the limited train times and the limited number of destinations that the train actually gets to I am not a frequent user of the trains. I do know however that they are never running more than a minute or so late and they do get exceptionally busy in the summer months.
I have used the trains on and off for over 15 years now and I can honestly say even though they may not be the newest or smartest looking trains they do serve their purpose and are always well maintained. The staff are always friendly and helpful (although some of the conductors do look a little strange!!!).
I cant help but give the Island Line Train System on the Isle of Wight a glowing 5 star award and RECOMMEND the service HIGHLY. (well I have no other choice of trains so I'll stick with this one thanks!!)
Island line really doesn't deserve to be classed in the same category as other mainland operators.
The Isle of Wight depends on trade from tourism and visits from people around the world make up for a lot of business here. Unfortunately, if you are coming to the Isle of Wight from Portsmouth and you arrive at the end of Ryde Pier, the first thing that you encounter is the worst excuse for a train that there ever was. It's actually worse than the 'Dotto Train', an imitation train that runs on the road - and thats orange!
Island Line operates a service that runs from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin and is in fact the only 'proper' trainline left on the Island.
The state of the carriages that make up the trains are a joke - old underground trains that even Bosnia would sniff at. The Isle of Wight Steam Railway trains, where trains from Victorian times are better kept - and they turn up on time! Frequently the train misses its vital connection with the Wightlink catamaran service - terrible.
The stations aren't much better - delapitaded old waiting rooms soaked in urine and other such disgustingness.
People who want more trains and stations on the Island really need to look at how badly they run this service before asking for more!
I know there is a certain nostalgia for trains - especially amongst anoraks - but Islandline need to get their act together and make the first thing the majority of visitors from the mainland see as something impressive - rather than a rusty excuse for public transport - Islandline.
The Isle of Wight Island line is definately in a class of its own. The line only stretches from Ryde pier head (where you get off the ferry) to as far as Shanklin which is only about 7 miles away. The train stations have seen better days and the trains themselves are old tube trains from London. One of which is painted with dinosaurs all over it to distract you from the ageing of the carriage. The ride you experience on the trains on the Isle of Wight are definately one not to miss, bumpy is not the word!! The only good thing about the trains on the Island is the fact that the fares are much cheaper than the buses. For example a single bus ticket from Shanklin to Sandown (2 train stops away) costs £2, but a ticket on the train for the same journey will cost you £1.70 for a return!! So there is no comparison on that score. All in all the trains on the Island are definately worth trying out, but just dont expect too much.