FOR nearly 100 years the Island was served by 70 miles of railway lines.

Today, apart from the Ryde to Shanklin service and Havenstreet, all that remains are some cycleways but hidden away, most of the old tunnels are still with us.

At Seven Sisters Road, St Lawrence, hidden in copseland, is one end of the Whitwell to St Lawrence tunnel, on the line from Merstone to Ventnor West.

The tunnel was blasted out by two teams of men in 1894 using high explosives.

They started simultaneously from either end and with customary Victorian precision met in the middle with just a few inches difference between them.

On February 9, 1895, the County Press reported: "The engineers were very true in their boring calculations, and when the two parties met on Saturday the deviation was seen to be trifling."

In 1906, the tunnel was in the news again, with the County Press reporting: 'Herbert Beard, a patient at the Consumption Hospital at St Lawrence, was taken in custody charged with maliciously wounding another.

"A startling sequel occurred while Beard was being taken to Newport.

"Sergeant Cass took him to the Ventnor Town station at Steephill, and entered the last carriage, which had several goods trucks behind it.

"The prisoner sat in one corner, the sergeant sitting opposite. After a few minutes the train entered the tunnel and in the darkness the prisoner noiselessly opened the door and silently sidled out without touching the sergeant's knees, which were within inches of him.

"The sergeant heard the click of the door, and thinking the prisoner was opening the window, he leapt forward to prevent him, but all he felt was empty space, for the bird had flown.

"The sergeant took measures to stop the train and it came to a standstill at the level crossing at Dean.

"He and two others made their way back to the tunnel and found the prisoner lying down, apparently dead, although all they could discover was a slight scalp wound.

"He was carried to Whitwell station but before reaching there the bearers had suspicions that he was shamming, and depositing him in one of the waiting-rooms, the party pretended to move away.

"The sergeant, entering the room quietly immediately after, discovered the prisoner sitting up, none the worse for his adventure.

"He was taken to Newport in a locked carriage and then to the police-station, where he was found to be uninjured.

"The prisoner's coat tail was torn, showing that he had narrowly escaped being run over by the trucks in his leap from the train."

In 1915, the tunnel at Ryde Esplanade featured in a desperately sad court case which illustrated the stern morals of the times.

A 23-year-old Yafford girl, a 'domestic servant', was charged with having killed her two-week-old son, Charles.

The County Press reported: "Mr Harris, prosecuting, said prisoner gave birth to a son at a Salvation Army institution in London on January 26, and left there to return to her home at Yafford on February 6.

"On arrival at Ryde Pier, PC Hodges noticed that she was carrying a baby. On arrival at Newport she was not carrying the baby.

"On the following morning a child's body was found in the tunnel. Counsel said the child was only slightly injured, and in the opinion of the doctor, death was due to shock and exposure.

"Accused said that her parents were very cross when they heard of her trouble. She went to London for the birth and before returning she wrote home asking her people to meet her at Portsmouth Harbour.

"They were not at Portsmouth or Ryde and she became very much upset and scarcely knew what she was doing. She fed the baby at Portsmouth and when going through the tunnel at Ryde dropped it out of the train, hoping that someone would find it and bring it up.

"She did not take it home because her parents did not like the idea. The jury found her guilty of manslaughter, and His Lordship passed sentence of 12 months."

On a happier note, Newport has a railway tunnel still in everyday use. Trains leaving Newport for Ryde crossed over the Medina on a bridge where today's Medina Way crosses over and then immediately entered a tunnel.

This tunnel now lives on as the underpass linking Riverside to the Victoria Road area.

Back at Cowes, a tunnel linked Mill Hill station and Cowes station, situated where today's Co-op now stands.

While not open to the general public, part of the the tunnel is in use today as the rifle range of the Cowes Rifle and Pistol Club.

One end of the tunnel can be seen at the junction of Newport and Bridge Road, and the other is in the mini-park at the junction of St Marys and Gordon Road.

Also still with us is the Wroxall to Ventnor tunnel on the old Ryde to Ventnor line.

At an impressive three-quarters of a mile long, it is now home to a plant belonging to Southern Water and is not open to the general public.

Because of the length of the tunnel, a huge ventilation shaft was built midway to allow the steam and smoke to clear.

The shaft surfaces on St Boniface Down, the large redbrick exit of the chimney still plainly visible for those who like a good walk.