The Department for Transport have today (Friday) set out initial proposals to secure services on Island Line, which will expect a new franchisee to transform the line into a separate and self-sustaining business.
The government is currently drawing up detailed plans for the next franchise from 2017, which covers the route between London, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset. However, it is releasing preliminary proposals for the Island Line ahead of a formal consultation later this year.
The plans are designed to deliver the services that local people need, while putting the line on a more sustainable footing for the future.
Under the proposals, the government expects to ask bidders for the next franchise to help sustain the line while suggesting ideas to turn it into a separate and self-sustaining business during the life of the franchise, with Network Rail responsible for maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the line.
Government also expects bidders to develop proposals for how they will reduce the cost of running the line, which currently costs £4 million a year to run, against an income of £1million. This could involve the next operator securing an investment partner or working with the community and stakeholders to set up a social enterprise to take over the running of the line.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
“I am determined that residents, employers and tourists on the Isle of Wight will continue to benefit from the service that the Island Line provides.
“We know that the line is expensive to run and in the current financial climate we need to find ways to bring down the cost to taxpayers, while ensuring that the line continues to meet the needs of the community. Giving local people more say over these services is the best way to make this happen. That is why I want to see stakeholders work with the next operator to come up with innovative solutions that will reduce the burden on the public purse, while safeguarding the line for years to come.”
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The Department for Transport will consult with passengers and the public on its plans for the South Western franchise later this year. The government has also given its backing to a task force which will be set up by the Isle of Wight Council to examine the future of transport across the Island.
Councillor Jonathan Bacon, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, has today said:
“On Monday we had a very open and honest discussion with the DfT about Island Line. It was encouraging to hear that the government will include the Island Line in its plans for the next South Western franchise from 2017.
“Government have made it plain that the line is expensive to run. However, the DfT has confirmed that it will work with the Council as the government develops its invitation to tender, which will give the best opportunity for the continuation of the Island Line service. We will be looking very closely at how we can engage with the process and work with the Rail Executive to ensure that we can secure the best future for this critically important service.”