The UK's South Western Railway (SWR) is upgrading upgraded the Island railway line on the Isle of Wight. Credit: South Western Railway
The estimated investment in the Island Line upgrade project is £26m ($35.9m). Credit: South Western Railway
The upgraded Island rail line will features a new fleet of Class 484 trains. Credit: South Western Railway

The Island Line, on the Isle of Wight, has been upgraded and reopened in November 2021.

The Island Line and its associated infrastructure, on the Isle of Wight, in the UK, have been upgraded to offer a more frequent service and introduce more trains.

The rail line runs between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin, passing through Smallbrook Junction, Brading, Sandown, and Lake stations.

The upgraded project involved the launch of a refurbished fleet of Class 484 trains and improvements to rail infrastructure, including creating level access from the train to the station platform.

British train operating company South Western Railway (SWR) operates the island railway line through its subsidiary Island Line. It announced a £26m ($35.9m) major upgrade to Island Line in September 2019, in partnership with the UK Government’s Department for Transport, ensuring the line’s long-term future.

The arrival of the first of the completely refurbished, high-specification Class 484 trains, in November 2020, marked a significant milestone in the upgrade project. The trains underwent successful and extensive testing and trial runs, before entering commercial service.

In April 2021, SWR disclosed that the overhaul of the Isle of Wight railway line will not be completed until at least mid-2021, due to a delay in the delivery of the new fleet of trains caused by complex software issues. The software issues were resolved through further testing. The upgrade works have been completed, and the improved Island Line reopened to passenger service in November 2021.

Island Line upgrade details

The Island Line upgrade introduced a new and reliable fleet of Class 484 trains to the network. The Ryde St Johns depot, in Ryde, Isle of Wight, was renovated to accommodate the new trains through the provision of a new crane and high-tech software for the maintenance of the fleet.

As part of the upgrade, SWR elevated platforms or lowered tracks at five stations to improve accessibility and decrease the gap between train and platform. The upgraded tracks enable a smooth ride, and improved passenger experience.

The Island Line project also involved cutting, re-joining, and adjusting the rails on more than 10.46km of railway, along with the installation of new sleepers and rail at different locations on the Shanklin-Ryde St Johns section.

New electricity,signalling cables, and equipment were installed across the rail line to improve the line’s resilience and efficiency. The power supply to the line was also upgraded.

A new passing loop was developed at Brading station, to enable trains to pass each other and facilitate a regular service with a frequency of 30 minutes, which improve connections with Wightlink ferries.

The three upgraded stations at Shanklin, Sandown, and Ryde St Johns Road have new ticket vending machines while free Wi-Fi is available at all Island Line stations.

Rolling stock details for the Island Line

Five newly refurbished Class 484 trains replaced the 82-year-old Class 483 fleet, which was previously operational on the Island Line.

The Class 483 fleet, which was constructed for the London Underground in 1938, served the Island Line from the late 1980s, until they were retired in January 2021.

The modern fleet of underground two-car trains was refurbished by British rolling stock manufacturer Vivarail at its Long Marston plant in Warwickshire.

Class 484 trains were given a facelift with several upgrades, modern and spacious interiors, and modifications to enhance the passenger experience.

The two-carriage trains have connected gangways, which enable free movement of guards inside the train, to allow them to collect ticket revenues.

Each train offers increased comfort, greater capacity, improved connectivity, free onboard Wi-Fi, improved onboard passenger information screens, recharging sockets accessible from every seat, wheelchair spaces, and call for aid buttons.

Funding for the Island Line

The Island Line upgrade project was funded by the Department for Transport, which committed £25m ($33.1m), Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, and the Isle of Wight Council, which provided £700,000 ($929,115) and £300,000 ($398,192) respectively.

Contractors involved in Island Line upgrade

OSL Global, a UK-based rail engineering and signalling company, was selected to deliver the upgrade of the Island Line under a Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) design and build contract.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) worked with South Western Railway to upgrade the electricity network on the Isle of Wight railway line.