UK: The Department for Transport announced on September 11 that it would undertake public consultation on proposals to secure the future of the 13·5 km isolated line on the Isle of Wight by turning it into ‘a separate and self-sustaining business’ during the life of the next South Western franchise, which is expected to begin in 2017.
Island Line is operated within the South Western franchise, and carries around 1·1 million passengers/year on a fleet of small-profile ex-London Underground trains dating back to 1938.
According to DfT the line ‘currently costs £4m a year to run, against an income of £1m’. Bidders for the next franchise will be asked to develop proposals to reduce costs, which could involve securing an investment partner or setting up a social enterprise to take over running of the line. Network Rail would be responsible for maintaining and upgrading the infrastructure.
‘I am determined that residents, employers and tourists on the Isle of Wight will continue to benefit from the service that the Island Line provides’, said Rail Minister Claire Perry. ‘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. 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.’
The government has also given its backing to a task force being set up by Isle of Wight Council to examine the future of the island’s transport. ‘We had a very open and honest discussion with the DfT about Island Line’, said council leader Jonathan Bacon. ‘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.’