Initial proposals to secure services on the Island Line have been set out today, Friday 11 September 2015, by the Department for Transport.
The line, which runs on the Isle of Wight, is part of the current South Western franchise. A new franchise is due to start in 2017.
The government is currently drawing up detailed plans for the next franchise, which covers the route between London, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset. However, it is releasing preliminary proposals for the Island Line ahead of a formal consultation later this year.
The plans are designed to deliver the services that local people need, while putting the line on a more sustainable footing for the future. Under the proposals, the government expects to ask bidders for the next franchise to help sustain the line while suggesting ideas to turn it into a separate and self-sustaining business during the life of the franchise, with Network Rail responsible for maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the line.
Government also expects bidders to develop proposals for how they will reduce the cost of running the line, which currently costs £4 million a year to run, against an income of £1 million. This could involve the next operator securing an investment partner or working with the community and stakeholders to set up a social enterprise to take over the running of the line.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
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.
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 Department for Transport will consult with passengers and the public on its plans for the South Western franchise later this year. The government has also given its backing to a task force which will be set up by the council to examine the future of transport across the island.