During the general election campaign, Bob Seely – the now Isle of Wight Conservative MP – spoke often about his desire to see the former train line between Shanklin and Ventnor re-opened.
With today’s news that Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, is keen to identify new rail projects to “unlock economic growth and housing development across the country”, it was no surprise to hear Bob Seely raise a question in Parliament.
Funding for feasilibility study
“Is my right honourable friend aware that on the Isle of Wight there may be interest in extending Island Line to the beautiful seaside town of Ventnor and the county town of Newport. The latter made possible in part due to the foresight of the isle of wight steam railway in securing track in decades past.
“Will there be money available for feasibility studies to assess the costs and benefits of opening up for economic regeneration purposes former branch lines which were closed in the 1960s?”
Minister to explain process
Chris Grayling replied,
“Madam speaker, we will be publishing the New Year a new process for evaluating and moving into development of new projects and I’ll be very happy to talk to my honourable friend about the Isle of Wight and how that process will work and he can get his project into consideration.”
Is it even possible?
Many gardens along the Shanklin to Ventnor line have now been extended over the old track and Southern Water own the tunnel which comes out on the Ventnor Industrial Estate.
The Ventnor railway tunnel project was completed in 1866, just a year after the population of the town was recorded as 5,000 (up from 350 in just 30 years).
In 1938, whilst in exile from Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie arrived in Ventnor by train.
The station closed in April 1966 and the track was lifted by 1970.
Speaking after the session, Bob said,
“I am delighted that SWR accepted my suggestion and put in a question in the consultation about extending the line. I am talking now to transport and rail stakeholders on the Island about whether they would support extending the Island Line.
“I believe there is potentially a strong case to extend the railway to Newport, to link the Island’s two biggest towns and help ease traffic congestion, and also to link Ryde with Ventnor, supporting Ventnor’s regeneration.
“However, both possibilities are not without difficulty.
“The route to Newport would require greater integration with the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, and I recognise that their principal objective is to maintain a popular heritage route for visitors. However, the Steam Railway have long-term aspirations to extend both into Ryde St Johns and closer to Newport, so there is certainly the potential for closer working and the extension of existing lines, subject to the current services provided by both Island Line and the Steam Railway continuing, as a minimum.
“Regarding Ventnor, getting the train back into the town would help the town and help connect it better with the east of the Island. However, there will be issues about potential routes through or around Wroxall, as well as access to the tunnel.
“The important thing is that, if there is a desire to see the routes extended, we should look to secure a feasibility study to offer an up-to-date assessment of the potential costs and opportunities of either extension.
“I have already made my ambitions for Island Line clear to the operators, South Western Railway, and to the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in several meetings and I have had with them.”
Comment from Bob Seely added (7.50pm)