The end of steam across the Solent

Published Mon, 2016-11-28 17:07

For railway enthusiasts, 1966 was to end on as despondent a note as it had begun. After a year spent waving goodbye to revered lines such as the Somerset & Dorset and the Great Central, and witnessing the swansong of Gresley’s streamlined ‘Pacifics’ in Scotland, December was to herald the demise of BR’s last great timewarp – the Victorian haven that was the Isle of Wight.

This article is an excerpt from a feature that appears in Steam Railway magazine this month. For more on Dolgoch, pick up your copy of Steam Railway magazine today.


© Peter Zabek
Rather ironically, the Southern Railway’s forward-looking electrification policy had at the same time served to keep most of its branch lines and secondary routes preserved in aspic, with elderly locomotives surviving long past their sell-by dates because there were insufficient funds to replace them – but the Isle of Wight was the ultimate example of this ‘make do and mend’ outlook.
Stringent loading gauge and weight restrictions had always imposed a strict ceiling on the size of the locomotives and rolling stock that could run on the island, making it a veritable ‘Jurassic Park’ for veteran locomotives and stock that had been overtaken by the march of time on the mainland.
Until the recent preservation era, the largest engines to be shipped across the Solent were also those that became synonymous with Vectis – the LSWR Adams ‘O2’ 0-4-4Ts. With the last ‘Terriers’ and ‘E1s’ being shipped back to the mainland and withdrawn in 1949 and 1960 respectively – and with the proposal to allocate BR Standard ‘2MT’ 2-6-2Ts failing to materialise – it was the ‘O2s’ that monopolised the island in its Indian summer of steam.
December 31 was the fateful date, when the Ryde-Shanklin section of the line – the last remaining portion of what had once been a 55-mile network – saw its last steam-hauled trains, services to Cowes and Ventnor having already ceased on February 20 and April 17 respectively.
Luckily, Nos. W24 Calbourne and W31 Chale were retained afterwards for use on engineers’ trains as the line was converted to electric operation – resulting in the truly bizarre sight of ‘O2s’ hauling London Underground tube stock on clearance trials –and this stay of execution gave the Wight Locomotive Society the breathing space to save Calbourne from scrap. Now the flagship of today’s preserved Isle of Wight Steam Railway, it continues the association between the class and the island that has so far lasted over 90 years, and long may it remain in steam.


Steam Railway Magazine