1938 tube stock

on the Isle of Wight

This page was last modified on 17 June 2008, with
selected alterations on 4 April 2010, 19 May 2017, 24 November 2019, 19 November 2020, and 14 September 2021.

[PHOTO: 1938 stock close-up at Shanklin: 54kB]

A 2-car train of 1938 tube stock at Shanklin station on the Isle of Wight; this is now the southern terminus of the Island Line. Shanklin retains its column-supported platform canopy. (18 September 1998)

1938 Tube Stock on London Underground

There is no 1938 stock in normal service on London Underground, the last such working being in 1989. However, the London Transport Museum owns a 4-car unit which was transferred to the Museum’s “depot” at Acton, in about year 2000. It has operated railtours over various parts of the London Underground network including the Northern and Jubilee Lines, and further outings on each are planned for Summer 2008.

There were also four Driving Motor cars which are used in the LU maintenance fleet, formed into the weed-killing and tunnel-cleaning trains, though the latter was scrapped at Ruislip depot in approximately 2011. One other trailer of the stock is marshalled between two 1960 tube stock DMs to form an ex-Central Line unit, now preserved and in the hands of Cravens Heritage Trains Limited].

This page focusses on the long second life which a few Driving Motor cars of 1938 tube stock have been enjoying on the Isle of Wight.

Introduction to the Island Line

The Island Line consists of one eight-mile route near the east coast of the Isle of Wight; it is almost the sole survivor amongst the Island’s former 55½ route-mile railway network. It runs from the very end of Ryde Pier — a mere step away from the catamarans to Portsmouth Harbour — through the stations of Ryde Esplanade, Ryde St Johns Road, Smallbrook Junction, Brading, Sandown, Lake, to what has become the terminus at Shanklin. The line used to continue a further four miles through difficult terrain through Wroxall to the terminus at Ventnor, but this was closed in April 1966. Ryde Esplanade Tunnel was very prone to flooding, and to alleviate this its road-bed was raised; this in turn reduced the tunnel’s headroom to 10 inches below that required for standard-sized trains, so the Isle’s railways have always had to be worked by smaller-profile rolling-stock.


Although all the railways on the Isle of Wight, apart from the 1.2-mile section from Ryde Pier Head to St Johns Road, were scheduled for closure under the Beeching report, it was hoped that the line from there to Ventnor could be saved far as Shanklin. Rolling stock to replace the steam trains was sought, and the idea of Tube trains from London Underground was a neat solution to the problems posed by the sub-standard tunnel at Ryde; consideration was given to converting the trains to Diesel-Electric Multiple Units (DEMUs) by mounting a diesel generator on board each Driving-Motor carriage to power the traction motors, or alternatively to install Gardner bus-engines and mechanical transmission.

A surprise recommendation came from the Minister of Transport in 1965 that the Ryde line be kept as far as Shanklin, and even modernised! The Southern decided in light of this that the line should be electrified and the tube stock operated accordingly, thus allowing further “imports” of tube stock to occur as required. The remaining (steam) service, Ryde Pier to St Johns Road, was suspended on the last day of 1966 to allow the final stages of third-rail electrification to take place; the new trains were formed from 43 redundant London Underground cars of so-called “Standard” stock(1), and were repainted, overhauled and adapted to the needs of BR’s Southern Region. They were brought across on the car-ferry, trains recommencing passenger service on 20 March 1967(2).

The “Standard” stock was expected to last only 10 years when it was instigated on the island but much of it lasted more than twice that long, until its condition had deteriorated beyond economic repair. Some of the last of London Underground’s hugely-successful, but by then withdrawn, 1938 tube stock was obtained, with 9 pairs of Driving Motor cars being converted, refurbished, painted up in Network SouthEast livery and proclaimed as “new” trains for the Island Line! In addition, a further two bodyshells were retained as spares. In 1999, three units (001, 003 and 005) were withdrawn and subsequently cannibalised, along with the spare bodyshells, leaving just six two-car units in traffic on the line (as at November 2006).

There was a suggestion around 1999-2000 that we might perhaps be seeing 1959/62 tube stock diverted from the scrapyard to the Island Line. It seems like a logical idea, and indeed some of the ’38-stock cabs got fitted with ex-59/62 stock desk-type master controllers (presumably the column-type ’38-stock ones had worn out). However, just about all the 1959 stock has not only left LUL metals but left MOD Shoeburyness and been scrapped, so this will definitely not be taking place.

Into the 21st Century

Part of the closed line to Newport has been preserved and operates a tourist service in summer, running from Wootton, through Haven Street and Ashey to a new station specially built at Smallbrook Junction; from there, passengers can cross to the platform for the Island Line and vice versa (there is no rail connection, but the steam-hauled trains are timed to connect with the Island Line services).

Since my visit of September 1998, most of the trains were painted in all-over sky blue with full-length “Jurassic” vinyls, complete with large dinosaur motifs. I kid you not. It actually looked quite good once you got over the shock! Subsequently, two trains were painted in an original LT livery; one of them suffered severe flood-damage at Ryde depot but was repaired and returned to service.

More recently, nearly all of the fleet of six 2-car units have become painted in an original London Transport livery of maroon with cream window-surrounds. As at mid-May 2008, just unit 006 was still to be completed. All have had their seats re-upholstered with moquette of similar design to that found on the then current Metropolitan Line’s A60/62 stock.

The end of the line

In September 2019, the Island Line’s franchise holder South Western Railway announced that the 1938 tube stock is set to be replaced—by some other redunant London Underground trains!

The news indicates that former District Line D-stock cars, repurposed by Vivarail as fully refurbished trains running on 3rd-rail power, will replace the 1938 tube stock.

Not overtly explained is how the D Stock will fit through the undersized Ryde Esplanade Tunnel; however, one imagines that a plan has been made. Certainly, with the flood-damaged fleet of 1938 tube stock reportedly down to just two 2-car trains now, and the availability of spares utterly non-existent, replacing the trains that are over 80 years old with ones that are merely half that age does seem like a sensible idea.

November 2020

On Thursday 19 November 2020, the first carriage of Vivarail D-stock arrived on the Isle of Wight. The line has planned 3-month closure of the Island Line up to April 2021 for instrastructure upgrades; this indicates that the final day of operation for the 1938 tube stock will be on 4 January 2021.

September 2021

Apparently, the works are falling rather behind their programme because of software problems. A train of Vivarail D-stock was spotted on Ryde Pier in mid-September under test, but actual revenue service is still not expected just yet.

Visit, September 1998

Because of the unique situation on the Island Line, and the then-perceived possibility that the IoW 1938 tube stock would be withdrawn out of necessity before very much longer, I arranged to visit the Isle of Wight in September 1998. All pictures were taken on the afternoon of the 18th of that month.

[PHOTO: 1938 stock on Ryde Pier: 67kB]

Above: Train number 006 of class 483 Island Line stock, formerly LT 1938 tube stock, rattles and rumbles along Ryde Pier under severe speed restriction, towards the station at 16:40.

[PHOTO: 1938 stock at Ryde Pier Head: 45kB]

Above: A few moments later the train pulls in; the driver changes ends and it becomes the next half-hourly (summer service) train to Shanklin; the original 5-lamp route-indicator has had two lamps blanked off and the central one fitted with a high-intensity headlight.

[PHOTO: 1938 stock (Ventnor end) at Shanklin: 42kB]

On arrival at Shanklin, I got a chance to see the Shanklin (‘D’) end of this two-car unit; it looks as if rust is gradually winning over paintwork. The triangular ventilator in the cab roof is an unmistakable feature unique to the 1938 stock. (approx. 17:10)

[PHOTO: 1938 stock (telephoto) at Shanklin: 59kB]

Above: A further view of the unit at Shanklin station.

From further down the platform, this telephoto view shows the ‘up’ platform, disused since 1978, and a low red-brick wall plus advertising sign behind the train: the wall marks the point at which the formation was severed and the road underbridge removed, in October 1979. Beyond the missing bridge over the road, the formation continues for a couple of miles without interruption to a point just short of Wroxall station where industrial units have been built in the cutting.

I tried to ride my bike (which can be taken on the trains without charge) along this section but it was overgrown in one place and muddy through drainage-failure in all the cuttings — I missed my footing whilst carrying the bike past a particularly gloppy-looking bit, and got one foot and ankle covered in mud: worse than it might have been as I was wearing sandals! Beyond Wroxall the old line ran through a 1,312-yard tunnel to arrive at Ventnor station, perched half way up the cliff; I failed on this brief visit to locate either the tunnel or the station. Note that the driver has just opened up the Ryde-end cab ready to set off to Ryde Pier Head once again (dep 17:17).

[PHOTO: 1938 stock at Shanklin in the dark: 33kB]

After enjoying an excitingly fast night-time cycle-ride down the hill into Shanklin (where I overtook a motorcyclist!), I found the station and was in good time for the penultimate train (dep Shanklin 20:18). Unit 006 once again appeared, complete with the same Guard; comparison between the one shown (with SPORTIS ticket-machine) here, and the previous-but-one photo confirms this. For some reason the train was brought to a stand clear of the station buildings; I didn’t see any terminal protection fitted, but an over-run at Shanklin would be very serious (as it would at Ryde Pier Head, come to think of it!).

[PHOTO: 1938 stock interior (night): 55kB]

Above: Interior of 1938 tube stock as modified for the Island Line.

A new floor-covering has been fitted, passenger door-control buttons now uglify inside and out. Modern seat moquettes replace the LT ones, and plastic cladding has been installed together with fluorescent lighting. A pair of bare-bulb lamps still shines in the single-door bay of either car: these are on the emergency battery and, like on 1959 stock, illuminate the guard’s area. The ride in this unit was soft but comfortable, and the compressor cheerfully noisy; of note was the loudness of the PCM camshaft, or Rotary Pneumatic Accelerator (RPA, which makes the sequence of “ticks” upon acceleration, and shutting-off from Series). The shadowy figure of the Guard can be seen at the communication-door window: we’ve just arrived at Ryde Pier Head (approx. 20:37) and he’s looking to see why his only passenger hasn’t got off yet. Surprisingly, it appeared to be part of the Guard’s task to check tickets in both cars between each stop, necessitating his use of the Emergency exit only to next car; Do not use whilst train in motion doors whilst on the move.

(1) – The “Standard” stock was anything but, being of several different types and manufacturers:

Further Reading: “Underground” Number 11, Metropolitan and Underground Rolling Stock for the Isle of Wight, published 1983 by The London Underground Railway Society. I have drawn on some of the material in that book in compiling the History section of this page, for which I am grateful to the contributors of said publication.

Thanks to Peter Skuce for providing an update of recent changes to liveries.

(2) – Chris Hebbron advises that prior to the pre-1938 stock being conveyed to the IoW, some vehicles were used for training purposes out of Portsmouth & Southsea Station on a daily basis to train the IoW steam engine drivers; the extent of these forays is not noted.