The Isle of Wight Steam Railway has confirmed that it has pulled out of plans to run historic locomotives to Ryde St John’s train station, with regulatory concerns and costs making the project unsustainable.
In a statement issued today (Wednesday), which comes days after a major announcement for Island Line, it has been revealed that the Steam Railway withdrew from discussions with South Western Railway some time ago.
The rail franchisee’s vision for the Island Line operation is said to be ‘significantly different’ from that of the previous franchisee, South West Trains and although the heritage attraction’s ambition remains to return steam hauled trains to Ryde at some point in the future, it is unlikely to be within the term of the current South Western Railway franchise – which runs until 2024.
When South West Trains (Stagecoach PLC) held the Island Line franchise discussions were well advanced to return steam trains to Ryde, but these halted when the franchise holder changed to South Western Railway (First Group/MTR). Initial discussions between the Steam Railway and South Western Railway were positive and it was believed that a solution to return steam trains to Ryde St John’s Road was feasible.
Extensive negotiations took place with South Western Railway but its vision for the Island Line operation was significantly different from that of the previous franchisee. The Steam Railway was finally offered the opportunity to run its trains on the western track between its existing terminus at Smallbrook Junction and Ryde St John’s Road with trains being ‘topped and tailed’ (a locomotive at each end of the train). This was considered not to be practical or cost-effective by the Steam Railway. There are also other considerations which become relevant when heritage railway rolling stock moves onto the national network, potentially including the significant expense of installing additional safety equipment on locomotives and carriages to satisfy the requirements of the Office of Rail and Road.
The Steam Railway also explored the possibility of building its own station in the car park at Ryde St John’s Road but again this would also have proved both problematic and expensive.
Finally, South Western Railway advised the Isle of Wight Steam Railway of the costs which it would be required to pay to create the separation between the 2 railways and the associated infrastructure changes. These were significant and were neither financially acceptable nor sustainable. It was at this point when the Steam Railway withdrew from further discussions.
Peter Conway, Chairman of the Steam Railway, has said:
“We examined all options to return steam trains back into Ryde St John’s but, in the end, regulatory concerns and the costs involved made the project unsustainable.
“Our ambition remains to return steam hauled train to Ryde at some point in the future but it is unlikely to be within the term of the current South Western Railway franchise.”
Notwithstanding this, the Steam Railway welcomes the investment of £26million to fund improvements to Island Line which will help secure its future. The existing interchange at Smallbrook Junction will continue to provide a link between Island Line and the Steam Railway.