UPDATED: A report into the future options for Island Line – the Island’s train network which runs from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin – has concluded that trams run by a social enterprise could be the future for the Island, with steam trains from the Isle of Wight Steam Railway running into St John’s Station in Ryde.
Transport expert Christopher Garnett, who was brought in by the Isle of Wight Council to take a look at the options available, has concluded that it is unlikely acquiring more trains from the London Underground would be feasible due to their age, availability and size. In his report he states that the London Underground trains would not be available until 2027; the replacement stock would be over 40 years old and would be expensive to convert. Any more modern Underground stock would also be longer, unlikely to fit through Ryde Tunnel and too mechanically complicated to run on the current line.
The suggestion made is to run a single-line tram operation with passing points to allow for reduced running costs and a 15-minute frequency. Although there would still need to be investment in the line, the operating costs are said to be much cheaper and second-hand trams are now becoming available. A tram system would also offer the potential for expansion including ‘street running’, if desired.
The trams available are said to be 15-year-old T69 trams (like the one pictured right), which were refurbished internally in 2013 and could run for a further 10 years. The report states 6 trams would be required to run a 15 minute service at peak times, plus a further 4 as operational spares and spare parts.
Under the tram proposal, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway (IWSR) would be given the released section of double track between Smallbrook Junction and St John’s Station in Ryde where they would be given access to the western platform. As a result, Smallbrook Junction would likely to be closed and engineering supplies would be moved from Sandown to Havenstreet, allowing money to be raised by selling the land in Sandown (near Perowne Way) for housing development.
Mr Garnett says that this would bring direct economic and tourist benefits to the Island and Ryde in particular and that it would also clearly benefit IWSR who in return have offered to provide their technical and engineering support including constructing the passing loop and other change required.
As well as changes at St John’s Station, a tram system would see the opening of the second platform at Ryde Esplanade, which would allow Hovertravel passengers direct access from the hover terminal onto a tram.
Speaking about how such a network would be run, Mr Garnett has said in his report:
“If Island Line were to operate on a different basis to the main franchisee, for example as a tram, the case for it to be independent of the larger franchise becomes even stronger. If the main franchise is running a heavy rail operation and Island Line was operating as a tram the franchisee would be very unlikely to have any transferable skills.
“The Island franchisee could well be operated by one of the existing train operators but through a tram subsidiary rather than rail subsidiary and would need its own operators and engineers.
“The key underlying requirement for the IW is that if Island Line became a small franchise it would still have to retain all the benefits of the national network including through ticketing, revenue allocation, travel information, rules on fare increases as exists elsewhere.
“It also must also be subject to the same rules about delivery of performance and protection if the operator got into financial difficulties with the DfT as the “safety net” and stepping in as operator of last resort”.
Councillor Jonathan Bacon, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, has today said:
“I would like to thank Christopher Garnett for his generous assistance in bringing together so many local residents with a vested interest in the successful future of Island Line in such a constructive way.
“It seems that we are all in general agreement; Island Line must remain, and that it might benefit from local management, which will provide better local opportunities for promotion and control, to enable the line to flourish and support the local economy.
“It is also essential that government gives us cast iron assurances that Island Line remains part of the nation rail network for timetabling and ticketing and has the same guarantees in relation to infrastructure as the rest of the network.”
Christopher Garnett, said:
“I just wanted to thank all the people and organisations who took part in this investigation; for their very open approach and real desire to get a really good outcome for the Isle of Wight”.
The Island’s MP has today said:
“Mr Garnett has considered the issues carefully, set them out concisely and clearly and reached sensible conclusions. The only feasible replacement rolling stock will not become available until ‘at least’ 2027. So even if, at great expense, the current trains could be kept running until then, it’s clearly sensible to look for other, more sustainable alternatives. The Government is committed to retaining the service, and conversion to a light rail or tram system with much lower running costs, seems the most sensible way forward. As Mr Garnett points out a tram service would also have the potential to be extended in the future.
“Most people are not concerned about whether Island Line is inside or outside of the South West franchise – they simply want the best possible service and for the service to carry on into the future. We need to access the substantial funds available for capital infrastructure projects to reduce the amount of subsidy the service needs. We need to work together to make sure that Island Line has an exciting future.
“The first step is clearly a thorough condition survey of the track, to clarify what the future costs would be. I will be pushing the Government to take this forward as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile David Wragg, a railway historian has today commented:
“The suggestion that trams should run into Ryde makes sense, but trams and steam trains might not mix too well. The steam locomotives are so much heavier than a tram that safety issues could be a problem, while the smoke and steam would corrode the overhead power lines, as the London Brighton & South Coast Railway discovered with its initial overhead electrification before the start of the Great War”.