A £26 million investment in the Isle of Wight’s rail service is being announced this morning (Monday) by the Government’s Minister for Transport, during a visit to Brading station.

Scroll to listen to Isle of Wight Radio’s exclusive report.

Chris Heaton-Harris is on the Island to unveil the plans. Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely has welcomed the promise for the future of the line that connects Ryde and Shanklin.

Most of the cash is being put up by the Department for Transport and will mean more modern trains, improvements to the track and a new passing loop at Brading, which will help deliver a half-hourly service to the pier and cross-Solent routes.

Mr Heaton-Harris said the Island can expect more punctual, reliable trains and better connections to Wightlink and Hovertravel services.

The current 1938 rolling stock will be replaced by newer fully-refurbished former London Underground trains. They will offer more capacity, better accessibility, passenger information systems and wi-fi.

The replacement trains will continue to make use of the third (electric) rail, with the first carriages expected to arrive on test in early summer 2020. Track improvement works will follow during the winter.

Listen here to Isle of Wight Radio’s Iona Stewart-Richardson.

It follows the announcement by Network Rail earlier this year that it will invest millions of pounds into Ryde Railway Pier.

MP Bob Seely speaking at this morning’s announcement

Mr Seely said,

“When I became the Island’s MP, I pledged to make sure the Island was listened to by Whitehall. This is really great news for the Island and long over-due. With the support of local campaign groups, I have relentlessly made the case for securing the future of Island Line. I am pleased that yet again, the Government will be investing in the Isle of Wight, and I thank the Rail Minister for visiting the Island today to make this announcement with South Western Railway.

“This represents the first significant upgrade to the route for over 50 years (since electrification in 1967), and I look forward to liaising with SWR, Network Rail and the DfT to ensure that the benefits are delivered in a timely manner, with minimal disruption. Island Line serves residents, commuters, visitors and students on a daily basis – and I know how much these rail users will welcome this overdue investment.

“I am also pleased that a new passing loop will be introduced at Brading. This will improve connectivity with cross-Solent sailings at peak times, and complements the allocated funding from Network Rail to renew Ryde Railway Pier.

“I support the ambitions for steam trains to return to Ryde St Johns, and I will continue to work with the award-winning Isle of Wight Steam Railway to see how their practical proposals to achieve this can be delivered. I also support viability schemes to investigate the possibility of getting the Island line extended.”

In 2016, an independent report into the Island’s trains was published and in 2017, a consultation was undertaken to guide decisions on the future of Island Line.

It followed calls for an Isle of Wight-led transport organisation, backed by former Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner.

Infographics from SWR with details of the plans,
Infographics from SWR with details of the plans,

A cross-party campaign sprang up in response. Today, founding member of the Keep Island Line in the Franchise (KILF) group Cllr Chris Quirk, said:

“We are delighted with this outcome. Our sole objective has always been to secure Island Line’s future within the wider franchise model. SWR’s package of investment for the route – backed by the DfT – confirms that our train service will continue to be an integral part of the wider operation. As far as we are concerned, today’s announcement is ‘mission accomplished’ for KILF.

“The input of the Island’s MP Bob Seely has been crucial. He has repeatedly made the case for Island Line in both Westminster and Whitehall, making clear that anything less than a comprehensive upgrade would be unacceptable. My colleagues on the Isle of Wight Council have also played a key role, and I am grateful for their efforts in negotiations with the DfT and SWR.

“For too many years, successive governments have ‘kicked the can down the road’ with Island Line – putting it in the “too difficult” box and leaving the Island with sub-standard rolling stock. Today we can finally be confident that our much-loved local train service will have a long and sustainable future.”

Fellow KILF founding member, Stewart Blackmore – a former Labour parliamentary
candidate on the Island, and Mayor of Ventnor – added:

“Very rarely do I have anything complimentary to say about this Government, but I do today. I was a big critic of the former MP Andrew Turner’s disastrous plans for Island Line, but his successor Bob Seely has taken a markedly different approach. On this issue, I am prepared to congratulate and thank him for his efforts in helping to secure Island Line’s future.

“It may have taken a few years, but it goes to show that campaigning can deliver results. I would like to pay tribute to the input of Island Line staff and the trade unions for their part in securing this outcome. It was a member of staff who first raised concerns in 2015 about the then plans for Island Line, and since then the unions have worked alongside us in fighting for the future of the route. Keeping Island Line in the franchise secures their jobs and improves their working environment. This is good news all round, especially as the staff are highly regarded by passengers for their customer
service. I have no doubt that will remain the case.”