This article was published today. It sounds very very speculative to me, but an interesting idea nonetheless. The first rail service to Barrow was via Fleetwood and then boat to Roa Island, so the route has some precedent. And if it can be done in 20 minutes, then it's very much competitive, although it would be even better if it connected up to a new rail service at Fleetwood...
In a document obtained by the Evening Mail, Hovercraft Services UK reveals plans to launch an 18-minute foot passenger service across Morecambe Bay.
The service, with up to 14 return crossings a day, would have two vessels carrying a maximum of 84 passengers each.
Nobody from Hovercraft Services was available to go into more detail, although the document projects the service could attract up to 350,000 passengers in its first year.
The scheme would involve an investment of £9.5m and include onshore passenger terminals at Barrow and Fleetwood.
Chris Clouter, port operations manager at Barrow, said he was not aware of any approach from Hovercraft Services, but hinted the service could be implemented.
“In theory, and bearing in mind I don’t know the full detail of what’s being proposed, with proper management and planning, it could be done,” Mr Clouter said.
“There is the capacity to do it but it would need to be fully coordinated.”
Hovercraft’s plans state an AP1-88/100S hovercraft would likely be used, which are the same operated between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight by Hovertravel.
A spokesman for Hovertravel, the world’s only passenger hovercraft operator, said while the vessels were much quicker than ferries, high winds and bad weather could delay sailings. Around 15,000 foot passengers sail with Hovertravel every week, the crossing taking 10 minutes on average and costing £22 for an adult return and £11.50 for a child return ticket.
The distance between Barrow and Fleetwood is roughly double that between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, while the crossing from Fleetwood to the Isle of Man could take just one hour and 40 minutes at a speed of 35 knots (40mph). Existing ferry routes from Heysham to the Isle of Man take around three and-a-half hours and cost from £38 for an adult return ticket and £36 for a child return ticket.
In the document, Hovercraft Services claims its Barrow-Fleetwood crossings would cut journey times by 70 per cent. By road, the route can take anything up to two hours.
Hovercraft Services, a subsidiary of Preston-based coach firm Walton’s Coach Hire, has also written to the prime minister about the plans. In the letter, owners Peter and Mary Walton said: “Hovercraft Services UK believes, with direction, support from both you and cabinet ministers, a similar service has the potential to be in operation on the North West coast by 2013.”
As well as potentially attracting more tourists to the area, the service could also be used by commuters – such as Centrica staff who work between Barrow and Heysham, as well as encouraging individuals to move to the area.