David Pugh, speaking on behalf of the KILF Campaign said,
“We are pleased that Christopher Garnett has given careful consideration to the challenges facing Island Line. However we need to be careful describing his work as an independent report, as he was recommended for this work by the MP’s Transport Adviser Nick Finney, who has been a long-term advocate of what is mirrored in these conclusions.
“What is welcome is a recognition that Island Line will – like many other small branch lines – need some form of subsidy in the future. This is in contrast to the DfT’s ambition to put it onto a self-sustaining basis, which is clearly unrealistic.”
Shortlisted bidders have tram experience
David went on to say,
“The idea of converting to a single line tram operation is certainly one that merits further consideration, although the current lack of detail of the likely operational costs of such a model (along with the significant upfront investment required to convert the whole route to such a model) leads to questions about how feasible this might be. The introduction of trams in Manchester and Edinburgh are indicative the substantial infrastructure costs involved.
“KILF remains of the view that whatever operational model is put in place that this can be best managed as part of a wider franchise operation.
“We disagree with Mr Garnett’s conclusion that the franchisee would probably not have the management skills to run a tram based system as part of its operation. Both bidders for the franchise – Stagecoach and First Group – have extensive experience of running trams (in Manchester and London respectively), and it is not unusual a range of operational models to exist within a wider operation.”
Long-term solutions needed
He finished by saying,
“We consider that the current franchise tender process is the ideal opportunity to incentivise the bidders to come forward with the best long-term solution for Island Line. The DfT is the franchising authority, and it is in their power to place such requirements on the next franchisee.
“As the Rail Minister Claire Perry previously said, the Government expects bidders to develop proposals for how they will reduce the cost of running the line. Now is the time to obligate them to do that. The regional franchise model undoubtedly provides the best prospects for delivering economies of scale to reduce the costs-revenue ratio, but requires a firmer direction from the DfT than has been provided in the past.
“Finally, we need to remember that the Isle of Wight Council voted overwhelmingly last September in favour of keeping Island Line in the regional franchise. They have not endorsed these alternative proposals, and given the other significant financial challenges on their plate, they should press the DfT fulfil its obligations to provide a comprehensive rail network, including on the Isle of Wight.”