Isle of Wight railways

Railways on England's biggest island
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    Written by Roger Young

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    Updated 7th March 2023


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    Location Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

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    First line opened 1862

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    Last major update 1996

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    Open lines 2

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    Open stations 11

The Isle of Wight (IOW) is the largest island in England and the 2nd most populated. The first railways to open on the IOW were the Cowes & Newport line which opened on 16th June 1862 and the Ryde St. Johns Road to Shanklin line which opened on 23rd August 1864. The network then developed over the following 36 years linking the IOW's various towns and villages.

Isle of Wight Central Railway

  • Line colour Red

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    Opened 1862

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    Transferred to Southern Railway 1923

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    Stations 22

The Cowes & Newport line opened on 16th June 1862 linking the seaside town of Cowes with the capital, Newport.

On 1st February 1875 the Newport Junction line opened via Merstone, linking Newport with the seaside town of Sandown, which was already served by the Isle of Wight Railway (IWR). Initially trains stopped just outside Newport at Pan Lane, it was not until 1st June 1879 that the line reached Newport to connect with the other IWCR owned lines.

On 20th December 1875 the Ryde & Newport line opened via Haven Street, linking Newport with another seaside town, Ryde, which was also already served by the IWR.

On 12th July 1880 the Ryde & Newport line was extended from Ryde (renamed Ryde St. Jonh's Road) to Ryde Pierhead, jointly run by the IWR. This allowed connections with ferries on the pier.

The Isle of Wight Central Railway (IWCR) was formed in 1887 with the merging of the former Cowes & Newport and Ryde & Newport lines. The company then gained running rights over the Newport Junction line.

The Newport, Godshill and St. Lawrence Railway Company constructed a branch from Merstone to St. Lawrence on the southern coast of the Island, opening on 20th July 1897. three years later on 1st June 1900 the line was extended from St. Lawrence to Ventnor Town, which was also served by the IWR, although the stations were a long way apart. Trains on this line were run by the IWCR.


Isle of Wight Railway

  • Line colour Dark blue

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    Opened 1864

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    Transferred to Southern Railway 1923

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    Stations 10

The Isle of Wight Railway (IWR) opened it's first line between the seaside towns of Ryde and Shanklin on 23rd August 1864. This was quickly extended from Shanklin to the seaside town of Ventnor on 15th September 1866.

On 12th July 1880 the line was again extended, this time from Ryde (renamed Ryde St. Jonh's Road) to Ryde Pierhead, jointly run by the IWCR. This allowed connections with ferries on the pier.

A branch from Brading to Bembridge was built by the Brading Harbour and Railway Company and opened to passengers on 27th May 1882. The IWR operated the trains and eventually took over the company in 1898.


Freshwater, Yarmouth & Newport Railway

  • Line colour Pink

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    Opened 1889

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    Transferred to Southern Railway 1923

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    Stations 7

The Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway (FYNR) opened on 10th September 1888 for goods traffic and 19th July 1889 for passengers. This linked Newport with 2 key towns on the west of the Island, although they were still quite small in the 19th century.

Initially the trains ran into the station in Newport shared with IWCR but disputes between the companies led to the FYNR constructing their own separate terminus in 1913.


Southern Railway

  • Line colour Green

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    Takeover 1923

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    Transferred to British Rail 1948

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    Stations 35

At the beginning of the 20th century it became harder for the lines on the IOW to make a profit. This was further hampered by the outbreak of the First World War, which affected all train companies and lines across the UK. After the war the government put in place compulsory amalgamation for the numerous railway companies in the UK, which resulted in all the Island lines being grouped under the Southern Railway company in 1923. However, even with this change things did not improve much for the Island's railways.

British Rail

  • Line colour Black

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    Takeover 1948

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    Transferred to Island Line 1996

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    Stations 35

Things did not improve locally or nationally regarding the railways, so on 1st January 1948 British Railway was created. This took ownership of all railway companies in the UK. In order to try and get the railways making some money, many loss making lines were closed, including all but 1 line on the IOW.

On 15th September 1952 the Merstone to Ventnor West line was closed. This was followed by the Newport to Freshwater and Brading to Bembridge lines a year later on 21st September 1953. The Newport to Sandown line was closed on 6th February 1956. The Cowes to Ryde St. John's Road line was closed 10 years later on 21st February 1966. This just left 1 line. Part of this line, between Ventnor and Shanklin, was closed on 18th April 1966.

This left just the Shanklin to Ryde Pierhead line in operation. This was also temporarily closed on 1st January 1967, but this was to allow for electrification. The line reopened on 20th March 1967 using class 483 1938 tube stock from the London Underground.


At the time of nationalisation there were 3 classes of tank engines present on the Island. These were class 02 0-4-4Ts named after towns on the Island, class A1X “Terrier” 0-6-0Ts and class E1 0-6-0Ts for freight traffic. They were all withdrawn once the last line was converted to electric, although a handful survive on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.

Isle of Wight Steam Railway

  • Line colour Mint

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    Opened 1986

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    Stations 4

The line from Havenstreet to Wootton was acquired by the Wight Locomotive Society (later the Isle of Wight Railway Company) on 27th January 1971. This was run as a heritage line, with services running between Wootton and Havenstreet by August 1986.

On 20th July 1991 the line was extended to a new station at Smallbrook Junction which connected with the Island Line just outside Ryde.

There are a number of conversation projects under way at the moment, which include the following:

  • LCDR Carriage project restoring London, Chatham and Dover Railway bogie carriages. These are of the type transferred to the Island in the early 1930s by the Southern Railway.
  • Recreating an 1864 train. The Oldbury Carriage Project recreating the coaches as used for the opening of the Ryde to Shanklin line in 1864.
  • Wootton Edwardian Station. Recreating an Isle of Wight Central Railway station as it might have appeared in the Edwardian era.


Island Line

  • Line colour Light blue

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    Takeover 1996

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    Stations 8

In 1996 British Rail was privatised. The right to run trains and maintain the line between Shanklin and Ryde Pierhead were passed to the Stagecoach Group. They rebranded the line as the Island Line which still runs trains on the same route till this day. The main franchise group that runs the Island Line is now South Western Railway.

The Island Line has been upgraded in recent years as part of the South Western Railway’s project "Journey to Better". The upgrade has seen the old trains consisting of 1938 class 483 units replaced with the new class 484 fleet. These trains, former London Underground District Line stock, have been transformed with upgraded interiors, plug sockets, wheelchair spaces and free WiFi.

To facilitate these new trains the tunnel between Ryde St. John's Road and Ryde Esplanade was made deeper, and an extra passing loop added outside Brading station to allow more trains to run on the line (for the most part the Island Line is single track). In addition, the general infrastructure has been improved with upgraded tracks for a smoother ride and raised platforms to improve accessibility.



There are a number of schemes being discussed to improve the railways on the IOW.

Rebuilding Ryde Pier

As of 2023 Ryde Pier is being substantially rebuilt due to the current pier rotting away. Ryde Pierhead station was temporarily closed at the start of 2023 to allow for these works to be completed. These should be completed by the end of Spring 2023. There is also a plan to rebuild Ryde Esplanade station, which has been given the go ahead and will likely be started in 2023.

Extension back to Newport

This is currently being actively looked into by the council and would likely take the old route between Sandown and Newport via Merstone. Most of the track bed is still intact, with the main issue where to put a new station in Newport, as the area for the old station and the route through the town to it has been heavily redeveloped.

Extension back to Ventnor

Another extension being looked into is connecting Shankin with Ventnor again. As with the route to Newport, the track bed is intact, the main issue here is that the tunnel at Ventnor is now being used for other businesses.

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