The Isle of Wight Steam Railway has released a statement saying that it’s aim to link to St John’s Road Station in Ryde has been frustrated by South Western Railway (SWR). Talks which had gone well with previous rail franchise holder South West Trains (SWT) were ‘halted’ when the franchise was awarded to SWR, according to the heritage railway.
Claire Perry MP, the Rail Minister in 2015, made it clear that Island Line needed to become ‘more sustainable’. The Steam Railway responded to the consultation with a business plan which offered sustainability, potential cost savings and revenue growth for Island Line and it was believed that a solution to return steam trains to Ryde St John’s Road was feasible after discussions with SWT. Benefits included the chance to increase passenger numbers on both railways by having the two operating alongside one another and deliver financial benefits to Ryde. Towns that have a heritage railway either passing through or terminating see a significant economic uplift.
SWR’s vision for the Island Line operation was very different from that of the previous franchisee, the Steam Railway declared after extensive talks. The Steam Railway was finally offered the opportunity to run its trains on the western track between its existing terminus at Smallbrook Junction and Ryde St John’s Road with trains being ‘topped and tailed’ (a locomotive at each end of the train). This was considered impractical and not cost effective by the Steam Railway. Other considerations included the significant expense of installing additional safety equipment on heritage locomotives and carriages to satisfy the requirements of the Office of Rail and Road.
Finally, SWR advised the Isle of Wight Steam Railway it would be liable to pay additional significant charges if the plans were to go ahead, at this point the Steam Railway withdrew from the talks.
Peter Conway, chairman of the Steam Railway said: “We examined all options to return steam trains back into Ryde St John’s but, in the end, regulatory concerns and the costs involved made the project unsustainable. Our ambition remains to return steam hauled train to Ryde at some point in the future, but it is unlikely to be within the term of the current South Western Railway franchise.”