Bob wrote to cross-Solent travel operators on 4th October asking about their winter preparations and has now shared their responses.
Mr Seely said he was keen to avoid the same situation as last year where maintenance and operational issues – coupled with adverse weather conditions – led to restrictions in travel and inconvenience for Islanders.
Mr Seely sought reassurance that preparations were being undertaken by all providers to ensure that these issues did not repeat themselves and that any delays to cross-Solent travel were limited only by unavoidable and adverse weather.
“I am pleased that all three operators have taken action to prepare themselves for the winter and I hope they will reach the targets they have set for themselves to ensure a reliable service for Islanders.
“Bad weather aside, Islanders need services they can rely on and I will be keeping a close eye on them.”
“We fully appreciate that disruptions to the advertised timetable during any time of the year cause considerable inconvenience and frustration to the people travelling to and from the Isle Of Wight. The Hovertravel team have been working tirelessly since last winter to see our reliability reach an average of 99% and we are aiming for 100% through this year.
“Last February saw our fleet of two hovercraft return to operate our timetable supported by the dedicated island-based engineering team, who have invested in, and taken, all possible measures to ensure we are prepared for this winter.
“You will appreciate that safety is of the utmost importance, and on occasions the weather will affect our service, and we ask for your understanding in these circumstances. I can, though, confirm that following feedback from our customers, we reviewed the information management and service status communication processes to ensure up to date service status are issued in a timely manner to allow travellers to plan accordingly when the island’s services are affected by weather.
“I hope the above information gives the confidence required, and rest assured the entire team and I will continue to monitor our performance as we are fully committed to keep improving”.
Red Funnel’s response
“During the winter months, there are, of course, increased occurrences of adverse weather, all of which may have an impact on our ability to operate safely and on occasions, it may be necessary for us to cancel or amend services to ensure the safe travel of our customers. Occasionally too, mechanical or operational issues may also result in disruption to our services, although naturally we strive to minimise these. However, during the winter period in 2018/19, we operated at reliability levels of over 99% for both our Red Jet and vehicle services.
“I would like to reassure you that Red Funnel, as always, places the highest priority on ensuring our services run safely and to timetable throughout the winter season. We have a comprehensive maintenance regime for all our assets, both ashore and afloat, which includes many scheduled inspections, component servicing and certification renewals, as well as the completion of hull inspections, out-of-water surveys and vessel upgrades.
“We continually review our maintenance regimes to ensure maximum reliability and punctuality The entire Red Funnel team, from the support office to the terminals to on-board, is relentlessly committed to doing everything we can to move passengers between the Island and the mainland as quickly and as safely as possible, 365 days a year, and to keeping our customers informed and involved at all stages of their journey.
“With regards to your second point around your constituents’ concerns regarding delayed rail services, we work closely with Blue Star, Southern Vectis, the Cowes Floating Bridge and the railway operators to ensure our timetables are appropriately coordinated, and in the event of delays to their services, we do adjust departure times if at all possible. However, operational and legal constraints such as crew hours of rest and the needs of other passengers already on board makes this unviable on many occasions. As you note, travel on the vehicle ferries is always possible, although I appreciate that this is not necessarily a preferred option, and we will always do our utmost to ensure that passengers are not further inconvenienced”.
“The winter season has particular challenges, not only due to weather but also as we take each of our eight vessels in turn through an intensive refit and inspection programme, including drydocking, using facilities in Portsmouth, Southampton, Dunkirk and Falmouth. Wight Sky has already successfully completed her refit and Wight Light is now in Falmouth for hers. Our refit programme continues until April 2020.
“Our aim is to deliver more than 99% reliability on all three of our routes throughout the year, in other words, fewer than one in 100 cancelled sailings for all reasons including weather (in September we achieved 99.5%). Last winter our Portsmouth-Ryde Pier FastCats achieved the 99% target but we missed our target in January on Portsmouth-Fishbourne. Unfortunately, we also missed that target from November to January on Lymington-Yarmouth because of our well documented Volvo engine issues. Colleagues and suppliers have worked extremely hard all year to resolve these issues and as a result, we have had no significant service disruption due to engine failures since January.
“We are also undertaking a number of additional actions at our ports as we prepare for adverse weather. Our gritting machines have recently been upgraded and, between October and March, colleagues at all ports take and log temperature checks – if it drops below two degrees we start gritting. During extreme cold weather we take extra steps to reduce the risk of water pipes freezing, especially on Ryde Pier. We are also rostering Night Engineers to ensure that the vessels that are laid up overnight are warmed up and ready to go each morning etc.
” Safety is, of course, our overriding priority. At times of extreme weather our Captains may decide to delay or cancel a sailing on the ground of safety such as poor visibility. However, we realise that Islanders are dependent on us too for essential travel at all times of the year and all fo us at Wightlink strive to maximise the reliability of the service throughout the winter and beyond.
“You have asked me if our 22:45 FastCat service from Portsmouth can be delayed for customers on late-arriving trains from London. Yes, we frequently do wait for up to five minutes, based on information passed to us by South Western Railway (SWR). The issue with waiting longer is that we have a boat with many other people on board. They have arrived on time and are expecting to depart on time, some will need to make a tight connection at Ryde onto an Island Line train at 23:19.
“We appreciate that trains are sometimes severely delayed. To cater for these customers, a bus meets our 23:59 car ferry from Portsmouth at Fishbourne and provides a ‘backstop’ service for Islanders to get back to Ryde. The welcome investment in island Line could provide us with an opportunity to look again at connection times at Ryde and we will certainly discuss that with SWR when the time comes”.