Chris Garnett suggests new direction for 8.5-mile railway

 

midlandmetroCould former Midland Metro trams be used?

 

An investigation into the future of the Isle of Wight’s Island Line by former GNER chief executive Chris Garnett has concluded that converting the line to a tram route could be an effective option for reducing its costs and helping ensure its future.

The Isle of Wight Council has submitted the report to the Department for Transport as part of its response to the government’s consultation on the new SWT franchise which includes the 8.5-mile Island Line.

Garnett argues that conversion to light rail would reduce operating and maintenance costs, free up some land for property development and enable closer integration with Isle of Wight Steam Railway. It would also allow the current 80-year-old rolling stock to be replaced rapidly rather than relying on cascades of Bakerloo Line trains from London Underground in 2027. Discussions with West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive have shown that 15-year-old refurbished Midland Metro trams could be purchased “at a very reasonable price”.

However, even with the reduced cost of operating a tram system, Garnett suggests the DfT’s aspiration of the line becoming a “self-sustaining business unit”, supported by a local investment partner and potentially run as a social enterprise are unrealistic. He points out that the line’s current revenue is £1m a year compared to costs of £4m, that significant maintenance work is required across the line, that the extent of the works needed is unclear, and that local organisations would lack the skills to operate the business. He adds that given the line’s economics, “no private sector company would invest in it other than through a franchise with some sort of government support”.

If the line were to be converted to a tram route, Garnett concludes that it would be best operated as a standalone micro-franchise let by the DfT, rather than continuing as part of the SWT business.

 

The full story appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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