Transport on the Isle of Wight

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A map of the island from 1945
Public Transport Map, from September 2010

The Isle of Wight is located 5 miles (8.0 km) off the coast of the English mainland, resulting in a ferry being the easiest method of getting there. There is also a comprehensive bus network linking island towns and villages running along the Island's 489 miles (787 km) of road.


Wightlink ferries Portsmouth Harbour.

By far the main form of access is by ship from the mainland, with regular vehicle ferry services and passenger services being available through the ferry companies:

Red Funnel operates a car and passenger service between Southampton and East Cowes. High speed passenger-only services to Southampton operate from Cowes with Red Funnel's "Red Jet" catamarans.

Wightlink operates a car and passenger service between Portsmouth and Fishbourne (near Ryde), and between Lymington and Yarmouth. It also operates a passenger-only service between Portsmouth Harbour (train station) and Ryde Pier Head (train station), using catamarans new in 2009.

Hovertravel carries passengers between Southsea Hoverport and Ryde aboard a hovercraft.

There are regular proposals for further routes, and during Cowes Week additional services have been known to operate – notably a fast catamaran service between Cowes and Lymington.


An Island Line train, unit 483,001 in 1989.
Railways on the Isle of Wight
Ryde Pier Head
Ryde Pier
Ryde Esplanade
Ryde Pier Tramway
Ryde St John's Road
Mill Hill (Cowes)
Ryde depot
Medina Wharf Halt
Cement Mills Halt
St Helens
Smallbrook Junction
station opened 1991
Calbourne & Shalfleet
Ashey Racecourse
FYNR trains reverse
Ashey Quarry
Newport (FY&NR)
River Medina
Pan Lane
Lake(opened 1987)
St Lawrence
Ventnor West

There is one railway line on the island, the Island Line. The line runs some 8½ miles from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin, down the eastern side of the island via Brading and Sandown. It was opened by the Isle of Wight Railway in 1864, and between 1996 and 2007 was the home of the smallest train operating company on the United Kingdom's National Rail network. Services are now provided by Island Line Trains, using electric trains which are former London Underground rolling stock.

The Island also has a steam-operated heritage railway, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. The steam railway connects with the Island Line at Smallbrook Junction. This was part of the former Ryde to Newport line.

In the 1950s and 1960s, and before the Beeching Report, the Island boasted a comprehensive railway network based on a triangle of lines connecting Ryde, Newport, Sandown and Ventnor. Lines ran from Ryde to Cowes via Newport and from Ryde to Ventnor via Brading, Sandown and Shanklin. Branch lines led from Brading to Bembridge, Sandown to Newport and west from Newport to Yarmouth and Freshwater. There were 2 stations at Ventnor:

  1. Ventnor, the terminus of the aforementioned Island Line from Ryde via Brading, Sandown and Shanklin.
  2. Ventnor Town (renamed Ventnor West by the Southern Railway in 1923) – a branch of the Newport-Sandown line from Merstone, via Godshill.

The two lines terminated at different levels above the town.

Today much of the old rail network has been converted to cycle ways, including the Newport-Cowes, Newport-Sandown and Yarmouth-Freshwater sections. Other sections can still be traced on the ground, including the two tunnels where the Ventnor lines were taken through the downs.


A sign used to greet visitors to the Island disembarking from the car ferry at Fishbourne, stating Island Roads are Different, Please Drive Carefully.[1] It is a joke amongst local residents that the reason Island roads are different is due to a lack of maintenance by the Council. Nevertheless, the lighter traffic, quieter roads and slower speeds are noticeable to the visitor and are one of the reasons the Island has remained attractive to tourists from the busier mainland. The Island has 489 miles (787 km) of roadway and is one of the few counties[which?] in the UK not to have a motorway.


A Southern Vectis double decker bus.
A Wightbus vehicle in Newport.

April 1905 saw the start of bus services on the island, with the Isle of Wight Express Syndicate operating a circular service running Newport, Shanklin, Sandown, Ryde, then back to Newport. Later in 1922, the Vectis bus company was formed. At first the company used only double decker buses. However a review later found the island's roads were not suitable for this type of vehicle, meaning single decker buses had to be used instead. Double deckers were first re-introduced in 1936. In 1929, the Vectis Bus Company was bought out by Southern Railway, forming Southern Vectis. From then it was always owned by large national concerns and after 1968 became part of the state-owned National Bus Company. In 1986 with privatisation the bus company was bought by its management team and has stayed independent until 2005, when it was bought by the Go-Ahead Group.[2]

Southern Vectis have had a near monopoly on bus transport on the Isle of Wight for much of the 20th and early 21st Century, only challenged briefly after deregulation in 1986. Southern Vectis ruthlessly guarded its dominant position (with much controversy), and in under 4 years the company's monopoly was yet again restored. The company now provides a total of 15 different bus routes for the island with the most regular services run between the larger towns such as Ryde and Cowes. From April 2006, the company changed its livery on all buses (excluding open top buses) to two shades of green and also operated buses on a newly designed, simplified network. This is based on most routes radiating from Newport, which is convenient for shoppers with Newport being the central shopping area of the Isle of Wight. The bus station in Newport has recently been redeveloped, with the previous location being developed into shops, with the bus station behind.

This new network did not allocate certain routes with different livery, as had been done previously. During the summer, Southern Vectis also operates some open top tourist routes; The Sandown Bay Tour, The Downs Tour and The Needles Tour. These are popular for many tourists visiting the island during the summer months.

Wightbus, first started in the 1970s as the Isle of Wight County Council's 'County Bus' and was built up and branded 'Wightbus' in 1997. They operate a smaller network of bus services that are not viable for a commercial operator to run, but which attract a government subsidy. They took around 1000 island students to and from school, until Southern Vectis took over all school services from September 2010.[3]

Cowes park and ride is currently the only park and ride site on the island, however there has been regular talk of building one for Newport in the future.[4]

Bus stations[edit]

There are three bus stations on the Isle of Wight, most services from them are run by Southern Vectis.


Newport Bus Interchange

Newport bus station is located in the town centre of Newport, the island's capital, on Orchard Street. The old bus station was demolished in late 2005 to make way for a new development of five major clothing retailers. The new bus station is located just behind. Work was completed late in July 2006. During the stages of redevelopment, a temporary set of bus stands was put in place in Church Litten, with buses running along a new bus lane, with the road converted to one way. Its redevelopment is pictured.[5]

The new bus station features a new, indoor and heated waiting area and information desk. New seats and lighting have also been installed and from 1 July the entire bus station became a no smoking area. Bus stands clearly label where routes stop to simplify waiting for buses.

Bus lanes feature in Newport town centre, leading to the bus station to allow buses to arrive on time, known as the 'Red Carpet'. However one section of the bus lane in South Street, close to the bus station, which was originally put down on a temporary basis while the new bus station was being built has been proved 'not legal', effectively meaning any other vehicle can use the bus lane as well.[6]


Ryde bus station is slightly smaller than Newport bus station and is located on the esplanade with the Hovertravel passenger hovercraft service and Island line railway station, while the Wightlink Fastcat service sails from the end of the adjoining pier. There are plans to re-develop it into a new interchange to act as a gateway to the island.

However, these plans have been subject to continual delay. Benches and litter bins that had been removed for construction work to commence were reinstated and the temporary Esplanade bus stops removed. It was thought that work could be delayed for as much as 18 months.[7] It was finally decided in October 2009 that the project would be abandoned.[8]


Yarmouth Bus Station

Yarmouth bus station is located to the West of the island and serves Southern Vectis route 7 in both directions as well as The Needles tour during the summer timetable. It lies next to the Wightlink ferry terminal. As well as the three stands for buses, the area features a number of other parking paces for visiting coaches to park in, this is often full in the summer. There is a large bus shelter for waiting passengers, this doubles as a passenger information kiosk in the summer months. There are also large signs promoting the services in addition to the usual bus stop flags.

Walking and cycling[edit]

The Island has an extensive network of byways, bridleways, footpaths and cycle tracks, including 520 miles (840 km) of public rights of way. Several long distance paths are highlighted on Ordnance Survey maps and local signs, including a route around the whole island (the Isle of Wight Coastal Path), and smaller trails such as the Tennyson Trail and Worsley Trail. The island is also home to the Isle of Wight Walking Festival, which has taken place annually in May for ten years and now has over 200 different walks.[9]

Sustrans National Cycle Network routes 22 and 23 have sections through the Isle of Wight, including off road sections of route 23 between Cowes and Newport and Newport and Sandown along disused railway lines. There is a signed "round-the-island" cycle route primarily on road, as well as a 12-mile (19 km) on and off road leisure route called the Sunshine Trail. The Island holds an annual Cycling Festival in July and the Isle of Wight Randonnee takes place on the May Bank holiday, a cycling race going over minor roads right around the island.


There are two small airfields for general aviation: Isle of Wight Airport at Sandown and Bembridge Airport. These are busy with day-trippers in summer, travelling by light aircraft. Flights going from the Island to London have also been trialled, however these proved unpopular and so were discontinued.[10] However future plans could see the flight reinstated.[11]

Fixed Link[edit]

Currently the only ways to get to the island are by boat, ship and air. A fixed link by tunnels or bridges has been discussed; however, such a scheme is met with huge resistance by many Island residents and tourists to the Island. Arguments for a fixed link include improving the economy, and bringing in more jobs. Arguments against include, but are not limited to the negative impact on the environment; particularly the potential impact on the indigenous and rare red squirrel population, unacceptable levels of traffic for the small Island road network, increase in crime levels and upward pressure on housing prices. Additionally, there is a general feeling amongst those opposed to a fixed link that there would be a detrimental effect on the character and pace of life on the Isle of Wight if, as a largely rural community, it were connected directly to the Portsmouth/Southampton conurbation. A further point against a fixed link is that it is likely the existing ferries would no longer be viable commercially. That offers the probability that any fixed link would be the only connection with the Island. If it were to be compromised in any way, that would leave the Island effectively cut off.

However the idea was revisited again in March 2008, with the proposal of a new tramway linking Ryde to Gosport, linking existing rail networks on both sides. As well as the tramway, the plans would also include a new harbour at Ryde, stretching out to the length of the current pier, with berthing facilities for four car ferries, four passenger ferries, two container ships and replacement facilities for the existing Ryde Harbour.[12]

Unlike previous fixed link proposals, this one was met with more support from island residents, as it would not involve large increased volumes of traffic on island roads.[13] To date (2016) little more has been heard of this proposal.

See also[edit]

A 1914 Railway Clearing House map of lines on the Island, note the different owners and duplication.


  1. ^ "House of Commons Hansard debates for 20th December 1995 (column 1457)". 1995. Retrieved 17 December 2007. 
  2. ^ "Southern Vectis – Who We Are". 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2008. 
  3. ^ "Traveline – Wightbus timetable". 2008. Archived from the original on 3 February 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2008. 
  4. ^ "Newport park and ride 'inevitable'". Isle of Wight County Press. Retrieved 13 May 2009. 
  5. ^ "Newport bus station/retail development on Flickr". 2006. Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  6. ^ "Isle of Wight County Press – Interchange project put back by months". 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  7. ^ "Cabinet closes Gateway". Isle of Wight County Press. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
  8. ^ "Isle of Wight Walking Festival – About the festival". 2008. Archived from the original on 11 November 2007. Retrieved 4 May 2008. 
  9. ^ "Isle of Wight County Press – New London flights grounded". 2006. Retrieved 12 January 2008.