Red Funnel has been ferrying passengers and vehicles to and from the Isle of Wight since 1861 and as befits an organisation that has over 150 years of operation under its belt, the company has continually invested in its infrastructure in order to move with the times. This forward-thinking approach is as evident today as it’s ever been with significant development plans currently taking shape.
“We are an integrated travel and tourism business operating three roll on, roll off ferries and three high speed catamarans between Southampton and the Isle of Wight,” explains Murray Carter, Customer Service Director. “On the ferry side of the business we transport around 2.4m passengers per year across 12,000 sailings, which take just under an hour each. We have invested significantly over the past four years to increase seating capacity with extensive accommodation upgrades. We will have spent around £7m over the past couple of years to give all our ships a contemporary new look.
“On the high speed ferries side of the business, we operate 18,000 sailings a year, the journey across the Solent taking about 25 minutes. We carry 1.1m passengers annually and again we have made significant investment over the past two years. We built a new high speed catamaran, Red Jet 6, in 2016 at a cost of £6m on the Isle of Wight, the first vessel of her type to be built in the UK after a gap of 16 years. We have also placed a £7m order for Red Jet 7, which is being built as we speak and will be operational by late June 2018.”
It’s not just its fleet that is being enhanced with Red Funnel also looking to expand and relocate its ferry terminals, both in Southampton and on the Isle of the Wight. “It’s particularly important that our Isle of Wight-based ferry port has sufficient capacity as it’s the gateway to the Island,” adds Mr Carter. “It also creates the first impression for new arrivals and it therefore needs to look good from an aesthetic point of view and work well operationally.
“At the moment we are significantly restricted in terms of how quickly we can unload traffic from the ferries when they arrive and we currently have capacity at our marshalling yard for only one vessel load of traffic, which equates to around 214 CEUs (Car Equivalent Units). During busier periods we can become quite congested and it is increasingly challenging to keep the fleet on schedule. We’re determined to maintain good punctuality levels as it’s a point of difference vs. our competitor and helps generate repeat business. We have been successful in achieving planning permission for two schemes in East Cowes. The first is an interim scheme which will enable us to hold more traffic than we can fit on a single sailing, which is useful when customers arrive early as it allows vehicles to be segregated more effectively.
“As you can imagine our ferries can carry anything that will fit under a motorway bridge, from HGVs and caravans through to box vans and cars. We therefore need to be able to segregate this traffic in the terminals by having designated lanes. Over the coming months we will be developing the marshalling yard accordingly with the view of being fully operational by May or June 2018.”
Murray Carter, Customer Service Director
“As you can imagine our ferries can carry anything that will fit under a motorway bridge, from HGVs and caravans through to box vans and cars. We therefore need to be able to segregate this traffic in the terminals by having designated lanes. Over the coming months we will be developing the marshalling yard accordingly with the view of being fully operational by May or June 2018.
“The second phase is more extensive, increasing our capacity to 415 CEUs. This will effectively give us two ship loads worth of marshalling space and will greatly improve our efficiency. We will also have the additional space needed to operate an intermodal transport hub that helps improve the flow of passengers and vehicles.
“We’re starting to see strong progress after overcoming the challenges of bringing all the relevant stakeholders together. We have worked particularly well with the Isle of Wight Council throughout the entire process to ensure that the voices of local businesses were heard. This engagement process was essential so everybody understood what the scheme entailed and its importance to the Island’s future economic prosperity. This took time but all the hard work has really paid off now.”
As the trusted legal advisor to Red Funnel, Pitmans Law provided legal advice on the project, particularly on negotiations with the Homes and Communities Agency concerning the acquisition of the complicated waterfront site, the acquisition of associated sites, and on the demolitions and building contracts. John Newton, Pitmans Law real estate partner, said: “I’m very proud and excited to have been heavily involved in this latest phase of Red Funnel’s vision for the Isle of Wight. We have played a significant part over the years in supporting leading businesses on the Island and we look forward to doing so in the years to come.”
As Red Funnel looks to build on the momentum that has been achieved, 2018 looks set to be another year of strong progress. “Within the next 12 months we’ll have certainly fully delivered the interim scheme, which will significantly increase the efficiency of our business and, to an extent, improve traffic flow within our marshalling areas,” says Mr Carter. “As a consequence, we are confident that our internal and external customer monitoring tools which show a further improvement in our already award-winning level of customer service.”
“We will also be in a position where we will be much closer to delivering the main scheme. For the backend of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 we are aiming to have started the works on the main scheme, a project valued in the region of £7m-£8m. This will involve demolition works and the development of a new 600 sq m terminal building and all the other associated elements. The aim is to be operational with the 415 CEU scheme by the end of 2020.”
“Looking further ahead, there is no point just having a superb terminal at one end of our route and not at the other. We therefore have exciting plans for our terminal in Southampton which will involve expanding it and improving the vehicle marshalling yard so that it can accommodate 415 CEUs.”
“The overall objective is to amalgamate the operation of our ferries and our high speed services into one purpose built terminal which also incorporates our head office. Culturally it will have a major impact on how we operate because our business is all about people. We have 500 employees and we strive to create an environment where our staff enjoy working, feel comfortable and have the right tools to be able to perform at their optimal level. If we can do that and recruit strongly then we will be in an excellent position to efficiently deliver the best possible customer service.”
With such a forward-thinking approach it is easy to see how Red Funnel has survived for over a century and a half and looks set for an exciting and successful future.