MP Bob Seely has welcomed today’s announcement by Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, that the future of the IW railway – from Ryde to Shanklin - is to be secured by a £26 million investment.
The money, overwhelmingly funded by the Department for Transport (due to a resulting reduction in the premium payments made by the franchisee), will see more modern trains, improvements to 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, supporting local residents, businesses and tourism.
The current 1938 rolling stock will be replaced by fully refurbished former London Underground trains providing more capacity, better accessibility, passenger information systems and wi-fi. The 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.
The news follows the announcement earlier this year by Network Rail to invest millions of pounds into Ryde Railway Pier where Island trains connect with foot passenger services to Portsmouth.
Bob 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.”
Cllr Chris Quirk – a founding member of the Keep Island Line in the Franchise (KILF) Campaign – added: “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.”