Class 484 at Vivarail

UK: The reopening of the Isle of Wight’s Island Line following modernisation work is to be delayed, as a result of ‘complex software issues’ with the Vivarail Class 484 electric multiple-units, South Western Railway has confirmed.

The first of the five Class 484 EMUs being produced from former London Underground D78 vehicles was delivered to the Isle of Wight in November 2020. The rest of the fleet had been due to arrive before Easter, but on April 27 SWR said the trains were still at Eastleigh for main line testing. As a result, it had been unable to begin operational testing, safety assurance and training on the island.

Island Line modernisation

Services on the 13·7 km line linking Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin were suspended from January 4 to facilitate a comprehensive modernisation of the infrastructure as well as the introduction of the new trains. Reopening had originally been scheduled for the end of March, but was subsequently put back to May 17.

SWR said reopening was now planned for later this summer, but ‘given the complexity of the challenges we face’ it was too early to provide a firm date. It is conducting a full review with Vivarail, and will provide further updates in due course. In the meantime, SWR is to double the capacity of the rail replacement bus service from May 17, to match the enhanced capacity of the planned rail timetable.

Unforeseen difficulties

The first of the five Class 484 EMUs being produced from former London Underground D78 vehicles was delivered to the Isle of Wight in November 2020.

‘We have unforeseen difficulties with the software’, explained Vivarail CEO Adrian Shooter.

‘Although in essence it is no different to the version we have used previously, it needed some changes to enable the train to run on the third rail. Planning and analysis began over 18 months ago and did not bring any problems to light, but the live tests have uncovered some serious issues. Our priority is to deliver safe and reliable trains, so I have instructed my team to undertake a thorough review rather than try to patch the software.’

Shooter said the delay was ‘an announcement I hoped I wouldn’t have to make’.

He said ‘we know that this is the second delay to the introduction of the new service, and acknowledge that SWR is on schedule with its infrastructure upgrades. As a company we take full responsibility and offer our apologies to the passengers and staff of the Island Line. It would be easy to hide behind Covid and point the finger at the pandemic, but we had in fact managed to claw back a lot of that lost time and brought the build back on schedule and all trains have now left our factory.’

Infrastructure on track

‘Our infrastructure works are largely on track, but there is a delay to the delivery of the trains and we apologise for the impact that will have on our customers’, said Alex Foulds, Major Projects Director at SWR. ‘We continue to work incredibly hard in partnership with our train supplier Vivarail to reopen a safe, reliable and fully upgraded Island Line as soon as possible.’

Island Line depot modernisation

The infrastructure works include track renewals, power supply upgrading, the installation of new electrical and signalling cables and the construction of a passing loop at Brading to enable a more balanced service pattern. New ticket machines have been installed at three stations and wi-fi at all seven, while accessibility works have been undertaken to reduce the step between the platforms and the new trains. Modernisation work at Ryde St Johns depot included the provision of a new crane.