We offer a unique opportunity to transform the loss making Heavy Rail Island Line on the Isle of Wight to a more sustainable modern Light Railway by using new UK designed and built lightweight Railcars that will lower the operational cost of the line and create a friendly, inviting railway together with a much more frequent service, a far more comfortable ride and easy access to stops and Railcars.

Island Line provided almost 1.m passenger journeys in 2017-18, which was down 6.8% on 2016-17. The existing railway is in a rundown and neglected condition and is in need of urgent attention. The 1938 rolling stock is past its sell-by date and the line is in need of modernisation.  Island Line currently loses over £3.5m a year, due primarily to the high cost of maintaining an old Heavy Rail branch line and, since 2010-11, a 25% decline in passenger journeys.

The Island Line is an important part of the Isle of Wight economy and must be retained.  The Council’s Strategic Plans indicate that an upgraded Island Line would be in line with its overarching approach to sustainable transport and an economically led regeneration policy.

After a thorough comparison of the options, we propose to bring together two facets of the rail industry for the first time to the existing Ryde to Shanklin line combining the introduction of Light Railcars and tramway operation.  New UK designed and built electric Railcars will provide the Island with a modern and sustainable Island Line.  They will not require overhead or 3rd rail electrification but make full use of modern battery storage with suitable charging facilities.

The Railcars will be designed to operate as a tramway and will therefore enable much needed improvements to station platform access particularly at Ryde Esplanade and at other stops.  The Island Line in this form will be able to achieve far wider ranging strategic transport aspirations such as the ability to reconnect Ventnor, Newport and Cowes to the Island Line network again. These extensions would provide access to more than double the local population currently served by Island Line.  

Much of the Island Line track and ballast particularly along the single line sections will need to be reviewed and made suitable for the Railcars to operate and to give an acceptable ride for passengers. To this end we decided to take a similar approach to that of the initial Manchester Metrolink Bury and Altrincham tram line, where the track was ‘made good’ for the Trams to operate, and the track and alignment was replaced as and when required.

Within the initial estimate we have an ‘allowance’ to ‘renew ballast & sleepers’ where required to ensure that the track and alignment is fit for purpose.  There is also sufficient in our estimate to renew the Ryde Pier deck for single line operation, reposition the Smallbrook stop to enable a new ‘Park & Ride’ for Ryde, reinstate the twin track alignment between Brading and Sandown, add new stops, re-edge all the existing platforms to provide level boarding and using Tramway Operation, introduce line-of-sight working and improve passenger ride quality and accessibility at all platforms.

The return of the double track between Brading and Sandown will increase passenger appeal further as it will enable an unrestricted core 15 minute service, linking with a 30 minute service of the high-speed catamaran passenger ferries that operate from Ryde Pier Head to Portsmouth by Wightlink and the 15 minute Hovertravel hovercraft service from Ryde Esplanade to Southsea at peak periods.

For the new down line alignment between Brading and Sandown, we are recommending the use of the new PCAT Light Rail Slab Track technology which will result in lower installation and ongoing maintenance costs, as well as provide a suitable trial for this type of track methodology elsewhere on the line, and for extending the network if appropriate.

These will facilitate passenger access and convenience as well as support the Island’s Green Credentials.  The improved connectivity will support reduced car usage, greener housing, eco-tourism as well as future sustainable development in line with existing Isle of Wight Council and National policies. The benefits of regeneration from this proposal will flow far beyond the immediate ‘corridor’ of development, boosting employment opportunities and local investments supporting Section 106 applications.

Consideration will also be needed on the subject of how the Island Line is to be governed in the future and we fully support the concept of retaining the railway within the National Rail Network process due to the requirement for significant ongoing involvement by  the DfT, South Western Railway and the IoW Council.

We propose that Island Line would benefit further from an Island based Train Operating Company.  Pre-Metro Operations Limited (PMOL) are interested in expanding and have expressed an interest to bring their expertise and operate Island Line in a similar way to that of their very successful Stourbridge branch line, that is to operate the Isle of Wight Light Railway under a sub-contract to the First/MTR South Western Railway within the UK rail network.

The Department for Transport expressly requested that the franchise holder, the South Western Railway, develop a plan to make Island Line ‘more sustainable’.

Our estimation of the financial impact of investing in a modern Light Rail solution is that a current £3.5 million annual loss will begin to break even after 5 years, but this will depend on any leasing arrangements imposed by Network Rail and potentially leased vehicles.  This forecast is built on passenger growth following a substantially increased service frequency as seen in other Light Rail / Tramway projects in the UK and in Europe coupled with reduced operational and maintenance costs as supplied by the expert partners in our team.

Our expert partners are:

These partners represent the best UK expertise in Light Railcar design and manufacture, new Light Rail track technology, knowledge of current Heavy and Light Rail costs, branch line operation and Light Rail industry developments.

The South Western Railway was tasked by the Department for Transport within their ‘Invitation to Tender’ for the South Western franchise to produce a ‘fixed price option’ that is ‘more sustainable’ for Island Line.  The local press recently suggested that the South Western Railway solution is to replace the existing 80 year old 1938 class 483 tube trains with 40 year old refurbished ex TfL 1980  surface trains.  Our model has confirmed that this approach will make Island Line ‘less sustainable’, not ‘more sustainable’.

This proposal is designed to replace that SWR ‘fixed price option’ with a new ‘Light Rail’ ‘line-of-sight’ tramway type operation using new UK designed and built lightweight Railcars with small changes to the existing track layout to enable 15, 20 and 30 minute service frequencies with reduced infrastructure and vehicle maintenance costs.

Isle of Wight Tramway has had some dialogue with the South Western Railway during their consultation with the Isle of Wight Council to find a solution, and they have said that they ‘would be willing to participate in a Light Rail solution for Island Line if this is what the IoW Council and the DfT wish but that SWR are unable to take responsibility for Light Rail delivery through the franchise ‘fixed priced option’ process’.

We will need the South Western Railway’s support to ensure that Island Line becomes a ‘more sustainable’ railway if the Department for Transport wishes to invest in Light Railway for the Isle of Wight.