South Western Railway (SWR) has today announced that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unforeseen challenges to the delivery of the £26m Island Line upgrade, leaving the project team no choice but to push back its reopening by around six weeks.
The nationwide lockdown has added to the complexity of the project as teams have had to work hard to navigate changing restrictions on movement and colleagues have been required to form work bubbles on the Isle of Wight to ensure sites are COVID Secure.
The recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the UK has also created the additional challenge of colleagues needing to isolate all along our supply chain, setting back the whole project.
Vivarail, who are supplying the new class 484 trains have been particularly affected by the pandemic, with the number of engineers able to work on the new train at any one time being significantly reduced and the supplier of the Traction system being unable to work at full capacity.
With a project that involves completely stripping back and refurbishing existing rolling stock to create a modern fleet of trains complete with new electronics, seating, lighting, traction systems, wifi and USB sockets, small delays in the supply chain can have a significant impact on the delivery date.
Whilst some elements of the project have been hit hard by lockdown restrictions, other work streams continue to make good progress. They will use this extra time to complete additional track works and bring forward elements of the project that had been planned for later in the year - including repainting stations and other minor refurbishments.
Alex Foulds, Major Projects Director at SWR said:
“We’re sorry the impact of COVID-19 means we have been forced to reschedule the reopening of the Island Line, but our teams continue to work tirelessly on the project and aim to have the first trains running to a new timetable in mid-May.”
“Everyone at SWR is committed to delivering a modern railway for the Isle of Wight and we all look forward to welcoming customers onto the new Island Line tracks and trains as we emerge from the shadow of COVID 19 later this year.”
Adrian Shooter, CEO, Vivarail Ltd said:
“The complete upgrade of any line is never easy as there are so many variables involved, however undertaking it during a pandemic and with several nationwide lockdowns has obviously caused issues for everyone involved.
“We’ve seen some fantastic cross industry co-operation to come up with innovative solutions to make up lost time. From running the trains on forklift truck batteries for software testing, through to borrowing a test track in Derby to simulate the conditions on island line, everyone is pulling out all the stops to have the trains ready as soon as possible.”
Planning for the project began well before the pandemic and although mitigations have reduced the impact of COVID-19, the unpredictable nature of the virus and the associated restrictions mean there is a risk more time may be needed before the line can be reopened.
In the meantime, a replacement bus services continues to operate and offers plenty of spare capacity for the relatively small numbers of socially distanced customers needing to travel.