Railway plans ‘on track’ as the government signals support for the Island

The old railway lines to Ventnor and Newport could be reopened as part of ambitious plans to restore routes lost to the Beeching cuts.

The Isle of Wight was name-checked in today’s Downing Street briefing as transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced ten successful bids to the government’s ‘Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’.

It means the Island will receive a share of £500,000 to develop exciting proposals to reopen lost railway lines, including those closed following the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

Council leader Dave Stewart said it was great news for the Island.

“Once again – working in partnership with our MP – we have been able to convince the government to support us in taking forward plans to enable investment on the Island,” he said.

“The potential to have an extended railway service on the Island is very real, and could have a transformational impact on our public transport provision.

“We also welcome the opportunity to explore how a train route into Newport could play an integral role in our plans for the regeneration of Newport Harbour.

“I would like to thank our officers for their tremendous work so far in support of this initiative, and we look forward to working with local stakeholders over the coming months to explore how these plans can be progressed.”

The bid, submitted by the Isle of Wight Council and sponsored by Island MP Bob Seely, proposes two potential schemes:

  • extension of the existing Island Line service (Ryde-Shanklin) south of Shanklin to reach Ventnor, calling at Wroxall;
  • integration with, and extension of, the existing Isle of Wight Steam Railway route to provide passenger services through Smallbrook from Ryde to Newport.

Department for Transport officials will now work with the council to agree the focus of the work and the funding which will be required, and on what timescales.

Mr Seely welcomed the possibility of restoring the routes but warned it would not be easy.

He said: “When the rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris visited us on the Island last September, he saw first-hand how our Island community is passionate about not just upgrading our existing route but also seeking to re-open some of the previous routes in the longer-term.

“If we were able to see rail services restored to Newport and Ventnor, these towns (and the surrounding areas) would immediately benefit from improved connectivity. Working with the council and others, I will do all I can to see these aspirations become a reality.

“However, we must also be realistic about the logistical challenges we face in seeing these routes restored.

“My discussions with the steam railway last week confirmed that they will support feasibility studies, which will need to look at how – and if – the existing route between Smallbrook and Wootton could be utilised for public passenger services, alongside its existing use.

“Understandably, the steam railway’s first priority is to ensure the continued operation of their award-winning and popular heritage railway.

“I am very keen to explore how we can continue to progress their plans to return steam trains to Ryde St Johns and – in due course – see them running into Newport as well.

“In addition, there are also some substantial issues which would need to be resolved to enable the return of railway services to Ventnor, but these are not insurmountable.

“It is clear that our vision for the future of railway provision on the Island has convinced the government that these plans merit further consideration, including funding for a feasibility study. We must now rise to this challenge and take these aspirations forward with vigour.”

This news follows the announcement last September that the Island’s existing public passenger route – from Ryde to Shanklin – will receive £26 million of investment, including to provide refurbished rolling stock, a new passing loop at Brading (to provide a half-hourly service) and improvements to track quality.

This investment is now getting underway, with the first of the new rolling stock due to arrive on the Island later this year.

In addition, Network Rail has allocated millions of capital funding to ensure Ryde railway pier is maintained to a high standard, with preparatory works now underway.

Pictured: Newport Railway Station before it was demolished and built over.