Transportation on the Isle of Wight

Transportation on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is located 5 miles off the coast of England, resulting in ship 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 of road.


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 "West" Cowes under the name of "Red Jet".

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) under the name "Fast Cat" (known as the 'Vomit Comet' by the locals due to its colour), so named because the ships used are catamarans.

Hovertravel carries passengers between Southsea 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 West Cowes and Lymington.


The Island is the home of the smallest train operating company in the United Kingdom's National Rail network, the Island Line. This runs some 8½ miles from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin, down the eastern side of the island via Brading and Sandown. These are electric trains, using 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.

Before the days of Richard Beeching in the 1950s and 1960s, 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:
# Ventnor, the terminus of the aforementioned Island Line from Ryde via Brading, Sandown and Shanklin.
# 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".cite web | year = 1995 | url = | title = House of Commons Hansard debates for 20th December 1995 (column 1457) | publisher = | accessdate = 2007-12-17] 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 of roadway and is one of the few counties in the UK not to have a motorway.


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 deck buses. However a review later found the island's roads were not suitable for this type of vehicle, meaning single deck buses had to be used instead. Double decks 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 1970 was 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.cite web | year = 2008 | url = | title = Southern Vectis - Who We Are | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-05-03]

The main bus company for the Isle of Wight is Southern Vectis. It provides a total of 18 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 four open top tour routes; The Medina Tour, 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 starting in the 1970s also operate buses on the island, mainly taking students to and from school; however they do also help Southern Vectis with some of its routes, as well as more recently having its own smaller network of routes serving the Island.cite web | year = 2008 | url = | title = Traveline - Wightbus timetable | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-05-03]

Bus stations

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


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.cite web | year = 2006 | url = | title = Newport bus station/retail development on Flickr | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-03-16]

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 July 1 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.cite web | year = 2008 | url = | title = Isle of Wight County Press - Police probe after red carpet proved not legal | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-01-25]


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, and it was recently announced by the Isle of Wight Council, that it would be delayed again. Benches and litter bins that had been removed for construction work to commence are now being reinstated and the temporary Esplanade bus stops are being removed. It is thought that now work could be delayed for as much as 18 months.cite web | year = 2008 | url = | title = Isle of Wight County Press - Interchange project put back by months | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-03-16]


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

The Island has an extensive network of byways, bridleways, footpaths and cycle tracks, including 520 miles 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). The island is also home to the Isle of Wight Walking Festival, which has taken place annually for ten years and now has over 200 different walks.cite web | year = 2008 | url = | title = Isle of Wight Walking Festival - About the festival | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-05-04]

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 on and off road leisure route called the Sunshine Trail. The Island holds an annual Walking Festival in May and Cycling Festival in July.


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.cite web | year = 2006 | url = | title = Isle of Wight County Press - New London flights grounded | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-01-12] However future plans could see the flight reinstated.cite web | year = 2007 | url = | title = Isle of Wight County Press - London air link to take off again | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-01-12]

Fixed Link

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. The primary argument against such a link is that would destroy the culture of the Island.

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.cite web | year = 2008 | url = | title = Isle of Wight County Press - Cross-Solent Tram Plan | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-04-24]

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.cite web | year = 2008 | url = | title = Isle of Wight County Press - Tram Link Idea Wins Poll Approval | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-04-24]


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