by Phil Marsh

Isle of Wight Steam Railway million pound visitor centre nears completion

Published: 24th March 2014

Train Story to Open on April 6 with new 120 year old steam engine

The Isle of Wight Steam Railway (IOWSR) is about to open its Heritage Lottery funded £1.2million Rolling Stock Storage Building & Visitor Attraction at its Havenstreet HQ.

This is to be called ‘The Train Story Discovery Centre’ and will open to the public on April 6, 2014. This is a couple of weeks after the originally envisaged date, the delay being due to the rain this winter which prevented the access path from Havenstreet station being laid.

Vision becomes reality

The railway set out a Strategic Vision in 2009 defining their goals for the next 20 years detailing what they needed to achieve to survive and prosper. The railway is famous for only using vintage wooden carriages which are stored outside leaving them at the mercy of the winter damp and summer island heat.

Rectifying the lack of covered storage accommodation was one of the key elements of the strategic plan and following six years of work led by volunteers, the IOWSR now has its storage facility with four 75metre lines undercover and a 5th protected on all but one side. This was made possible by a £970,000 Heritage Lottery Grant combined with £150,000 partnership funding by the railway and its members.

On time and budget despite the weather!

The whole scheme has been impressively delivered within a few weeks of the plan and within 1% of the budget despite the worst two winters for a generation hampering construction.

‘Train Story’ is a huge warehouse designed to be used as a Rolling Stock Storage facility and as an educational display building accessible by the public. It enables the large collection of unique and historic Victorian and Edwardian locomotives, carriages and wagons up to 150 years old to be kept under cover when not in service.

Close up and educational

This means visitors can get close to the railway items and explore their history on touch-screen consoles which contain an impressive amount of detail about any given carriage, wagon or locomotive. was invited to an exclusive preview of the facility in mid March and even though, not quite complete, was very impressive. Visitors should really allow at least an hour, but probably two to explore the new attraction.

The building work began in September 2012 and there are two pairs of tracks inside with another outside with a centre dividing wall plus an exhibition hall.

It gives a great insight into railways in Victorian and Edwardian times using a £100,000 of interpretative displays to inform and enthral visitors. As you enter the building, there are various interactive displays, one is a mock-up of a carriage compartment with film being projected of Island railway scenes behind the widow to give the impression of being on a real train on long lost Island railways!

Wartime ladies on the railways

A goods train will be on display with access into a Guards Van allowed which has been stacked with vintage luggage and a display about wartime railway roles for ladies who took over men’s jobs as they were called up. The story of how May Joyce joined the railway as a guard in World War 11 and later married an engine driver is a fascinating insight to social and railway history.

The building is accessed via the Carriage and Wagon Works at Havenstreet and a long level path which runs alongside the loco yard and alongside the railway line offering great views of trains departing for Wootton up the steep gradient. It will house most of the railway's historic collection when not being used and be open daily from spring to late autumn.

The exhibition has four themes;

How IOWSR members managed to achieve one of the most complete collections of railway history in Great Britain.

How these items were restored by skilled volunteers and staff alike and also taking a look at what had to be done to get the historic trains operational again.

The railways up to the 1950s explaining why the railway provided virtually the whole Island’s transport needs from school travel, commuting and holiday traffic plus how farm produce was moved by rail from farms to factories and ports.

Clear strategic vision

And the final theme is how restoration has progressed over the last 40 years right up to the return to steam on March 18 of 120 year old ‘Terrier’ No. W11 Freshwater after being out of traffic for 12 years. Ivatt 2-6-2T No. 41298 could well be next this year giving the railway seven working steam engines this year. Both of these were in the strategic vision so more of this has been delivered.

Another part of the vision was the provision of a wheelchair carrying carriage and coach No. 2403 has entered service providing disabled access.

Each of the five lines in the new facility can accommodate four bogie coaches or their equivalent, with a total size of some 75 x 25 metres. This allows the next 10 years’ worth of restoration projects to be stored under cover under the Heritage Lottery Fund assisted Carriage & Wagon restoration programme.

Having the locomotives, carriages and wagons under cover should reduce by 50% the time taken to maintain the operational fleet giving more time to restore the next items for use on the railway. Visitors will be able to see pretty much the whole collection now as before, much of it was stored away from public view.

Ticket to Ryde next…….

This project was the IOWSR’s largest since the three mile long extension to Smallbrook Junction was opened in 1991. So what’s next…. Trains to Ryde St. Johns are being looked at.

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