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Island Line to become ‘separate business’ during next franchise

The Department for Transport wants the next South Western franchisee to come up with ideas for spinning off the Island Line on the Isle of Wight into a “separate and self-sustaining business during the life of the franchise”. 

It wants the next franchisee, from 2017, to help sustain the line in the meantime. Network Rail would be responsible for maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the line, as is the case now. 

Franchise bidders will be expected to develop proposals on how they plan to reduce the £4m-a-year running costs of the line, which has an annual income of £1m. 

The DfT says the next operator may want to find an investment partner, or work with the community and stakeholders to set up a social enterprise to take over the running of the line. 

The plans have been released ahead of a formal consultation due later this year for the South Western franchise, currently operated by South West Trains. 

However, the latest news at least goes some way to clearing up the confusion over the line’s future from a few weeks ago. At the time, the local authority, following meetings with the Department, thought the line would remain part of the new franchise when it is put to tender. 

But DfT officials said “no decisions” had been made about its inclusion in the next South Western franchise, and to suggest otherwise was “inaccurate and misleading”. 

Responding to the latest news, Cllr Jonathan Bacon, leader of Isle of Wight Council, 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.” 

Rail minister Claire Perry MP added that she was 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,” she said. 

“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.”


Martin Young   11/09/2015 at 14:40

I read with interest the article, having used the line a year ago. What I did not know was the vast difference between the revenue and the operating costs. The article mentions that the new Operators shall have to look at ways of making the line more efficient and self-sustaining. In my mind the existing fleet of rolling stock has to be ‘life expired’ and the third rail traction system definitely antiquated and heavy on maintenance and operating costs. Therefore, why not do away with the traction system altogether and run services with a fleet of the Vivarail D-Trains? These trains are fitted with state of the art, low emission diesel engines, that must be a lot better that taking traction power from the Island’s oil fired power station. Another possibility that removing the third rail could provide, is to allow heritage trains from the Isle of Wight Steam Railway to run their trains out onto the pier at Ryde again.

Neil Palmer   11/09/2015 at 20:12

Martin, D-train stock, and anything the IOWSR has, will not fit through Ryde St. John's tunnel, since the floor was raised in 1966-67 to help alleviate flooding. It would be possible to let IOWSR run to Ryde St John's Road using one of the pair of tracks between there and Smalllbrook Jn., and there are 3 platforms available at Ryde St John's Road (platform 3 could easily be made a through platform again).

Neil Palmer   15/09/2015 at 16:41

Separating Island Line from the South West franchise will make it financially unsustainable. Why should lthe Isle of Wight be singled out like this when there are many other loss losing lines on the mainland that are cross subsidised by other profit making lines in the franchise, or subsidised by central government as a social service? Is this an attempt to revive the ghost of Beeching to finish off what he started when he severed the lines to Ventnor, Newport & Cowes?

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