Island Line trains will be run by a consortium of FirstGroup and Hong Kong’s MTR, from 20 August for seven years.
Stagecoach, which has been running Island Line trains between Ryde and Shanklin, has lost its contract for the entire South-Western rail network.
The DfT says it will mean:
“…Better connections for the Island Line, and work with the Isle of Wight Council and other local bodies to develop a business plan and option for a more sustainable long-term future”.
The first change of contracts on the line since 1996 had led to concerns that the Isle of Wight’s train service would fall out of the franchise altogether.
While some argued that a community group could run it instead, others campaigned to keep the service within the South-Western Trains network.
Reacting to today’s (Monday) announcement by the Department for Transport, campaigners say they will continue their battle to ensure Island Line remains part of the franchise for the duration of the contract. However, the cross-party, community-led campaign to Keep the Island Line rail service in the South Western rail franchise (KILF) is cautiously welcoming the news.
KILF campaigner David Pugh said:
“We welcome the reference to securing a more sustainable long-term future for Island Line, which we can all agree on. However, we must not forget that the DfT’s original intention was to make Island Line a “separate, self-sustaining business”, and it is only when we threatened them with Judicial Review last summer that they backed down on this plan.
“And although Island Line is in the next franchise, its long-term future is still far from certain. We will now redouble our efforts to make the case for it remaining in the wider South Western rail operation for the entire duration of the seven year franchise, and beyond.”
Chris Quirk added:
“…We look forward to hearing more about their ideas for using more modern rolling stock and a new passing loop to allow a half hourly timetable to be introduced.
“This sounds like First MTR is prepared to invest in the route (subject to DfT approval), which we believe will be a far more effective model than trying to run it separately as a stand-alone service. We will be encouraging First MTR to support Island Line for the full duration of the franchise and reject any proposal that would see it taken out of their operation or the national rail network.”
The Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner welcomed the decision:
“Now that the franchising process is over we can all start to move forward. I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to finding a sustainable way forward for the Island Line service. They have never said there can be no subsidy, but it is clearly unsustainable to continue putting £3m a year into this service. The new operators have been tasked with working with the Isle of Wight Council, and with elections in the offing, clearly nothing concrete can be done before those are over.
“The Government actively encouraged the Isle of Wight Council to set up an independent taskforce to look at the Island’s future transport needs in a holistic way. To their credit the Island Independent Group did that and I understand the taskforce’s first report will be published shortly after the elections in May. That will be an important document to open a dialogue with the new operators and the Government and I will certainly be taking part in those discussions.
“This is an opportunity for the Island to get some innovative thinking and some serious investment into our transport infrastructure. I hope that all involved will try to find a constructive way forward to make the most of this opportunity.”