Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Isle of Wight Steam Railway
The Isle of Wight Steam Railway is a heritage railway line on the Isle of Wight, an offshore island of England. The Isle of Wight Steam Railway passes through five and a half miles of unspoiled countryside from Smallbrook Junction station to Wootton station, passing through the small village of Havenstreet where the line has a station, headquaters and depot. At Smallbrook Junction the steam railway connects with the Island Line.
The railway is owned and operated by the Isle of Wight Railway Co. Ltd. and run largely by volunteers. Services are operated on most days from June to September, together with Sundays in April, May and October and public holidays. Over each August bank holiday weekend, the railway organises the Island Steam Show, which combines an intensive service on the railway with displays of various sorts of steam power including traction engines and steam fair equipment, together with other arttractions that vary year by year.
As the name suggests, services are hauled by steam locomotives, with most of the fleet having spent much of their working life on the island's railways. The principal locomotives in use are:
- Calbourne, 02 class 4-4-2 number W24, built in 1891 for the London and South Western Railway and transferred to the island in 1925.
- Freshwater, Terrier class number W8, built in 1876 for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and transferred to the island in 1913.
- Newport, Terrier class number W11, built in 1878 for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and transferred to the island in 1902.
These locomotives are supported by a handful of more recent steam and diesel locomotives.
The locomotives are complemented by two distinct fleets of carriages. One fleet consists of bogie carriages built between 1911 and 1924, representing the final generation of steam hauled stock used on the island. The other fleet consists of four-wheel carriages built between 1864 and 1898 representing the previous generation; most of these have been rebuilt from bodies previously sold off for use as holiday homes or storage sheds. The two fleets are not normally mixed in the same train.
The first railway on the Isle of Wight, opened in 1862, linked Newport and Cowes. It became the nucleus of the Isle of Wight Central Railway. The line from Ryde to Newport was opened in 1875 and by 1890 the island was served by an extensive network of lines. However most of these lines were relatively poorly trafficed, reflecting the isolation and poverty of the island in general.
This isolation and poverty meant that island's railways could rarely afford to acquire new locomotives or rolling stock and instead relied on using already elderly equipment transferred from the mainland. Much of the equipment currently used on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway falls into this category, representing usage on the island in the early twentieth century but also the mid to late nineteenth century on the mainland.
The first railway closures started in 1952 and in 1966 the Ryde to Newport line was closed. However local rail enthusiasts managed to preserve a small, mile long, piece of track between Wootton and Havenstreet and acquire equipment to run on it. From that early beginning, the railway has been gradually extended back from Havenstreet towards Ryde. This extension reached Smallbrook Junction (and the still operational Ryde to Shanklin railway) in 1994, and a brand new interchange station was built at that location to permit visitors to change to and from Island Line trains there.
There are plans to extend the railway the other way, from Wootton to Newport, but this faces some significant practical difficulties as the old site of the station has been bulldozed and several houses built on the old line.
- Historical information from BBC website, retrieved 24th August 2004
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