Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced this afternoon (Saturday) that the Isle of Wight is to receive funding to conduct a feasibility study into extending the Island Line railway network to Newport and Ventnor.
During today’s Downing Street press conference, Mr Shapps revealed to the country that the Island – alongside 9 other applicants – will benefit from the ‘Restoring Your Railway’ ideas fund.
If the study is successful and the project goes ahead it would partially reverse some of the devastating Beeching cuts of the 1960s.
Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely says he is delighted that the Department for Transport has approved the development funding. He has also thanked the Isle of Wight Council for their work on this.
Earlier this year Mr Seely said he was pushing the Government to fund a feasibility study to look at the options for extending the railway from Shanklin to Ventnor, as well as extending the Island Line network from Smallbrook Junction to Newport via the Isle of Wight Steam Railway’s infrastructure.
Up until the 1960s, the railway ran from Shanklin to Ventnor via Wroxall, but some of the land has since been built on and Southern Water occupies the tunnel through St Boniface Down. It is proposed that a station/stop would be created at Wroxall, opening up another form of public transport for those living in the isolate village.
The line from Smallbrook to Wootton is used by the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, who raised concerns about the proposals back in March. However, Mr Seely has said that the Steam Railway do support a feasibility study.
Although the former track path to Newport remains fairly unchanged, the endpoint at Fairlee Road has been heavily built upon.
Council leader Dave Stewart has said that today’s announcement is great news for the Island.
“Once again – working in partnership with our MP – we have been able to convince the government to support us in taking forward plans to enable investment on the Island.
“The potential to have an extended railway service on the Island is very real, and could have a transformational impact on our public transport provision.
“We also welcome the opportunity to explore how a train route into Newport could play an integral role in our plans for the regeneration of Newport Harbour.
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“I would like to thank our officers for their tremendous work so far in support of this initiative, and we look forward to working with local stakeholders over the coming months to explore how these plans can be progressed.”
Bob Seely MP has added:
“When the rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris visited us on the Island last September, he saw first-hand how our Island community is passionate about not just upgrading our existing route but also seeking to re-open some of the previous routes in the longer-term.
“If we were able to see rail services restored to Newport and Ventnor, these towns (and the surrounding areas) would immediately benefit from improved connectivity. Working with the council and others, I will do all I can to see these aspirations become a reality.
“However, we must also be realistic about the logistical challenges we face in seeing these routes restored.
“My discussions with the steam railway last week confirmed that they will support feasibility studies, which will need to look at how – and if – the existing route between Smallbrook and Wootton could be utilised for public passenger services, alongside its existing use.
“Understandably, the steam railway’s first priority is to ensure the continued operation of their award-winning and popular heritage railway.
“I am very keen to explore how we can continue to progress their plans to return steam trains to Ryde St Johns and – in due course – see them running into Newport as well.
“In addition, there are also some substantial issues which would need to be resolved to enable the return of railway services to Ventnor, but these are not insurmountable.
“It is clear that our vision for the future of railway provision on the Island has convinced the government that these plans merit further consideration, including funding for a feasibility study. We must now rise to this challenge and take these aspirations forward with vigour.”
There is a long way to go before ex-London Underground trains roll up in Ventnor, but today’s announcement is a major step forward in the plan.