THE THREAT hanging over the future of Hythe ferry has sparked new calls for a passenger rail service to be revived after 50 years.

Campaigners say the prospect of the ferry link being axed has highlighted the need for another form of public transport between Southampton and the Waterside.

Passenger trains operated on the Totton and Fawley branch line until 1966, when the service fell victim to the infamous Beeching cuts.

Now the long-running campaign for passenger trains is being stepped up following the threat to the ferry service.

As reported in the Daily Echo, Hythe Ferry Ltd has been hit by a combination of falling passenger numbers and rising overheads and says it is “unlikely” to continue operating.

A petition to save the historic service has already been signed by more than 6,500 people. Last weekend more than 100 commuters and residents staged a mass rally calling for the vital transport link to be saved from closure.

Town crier Mac McLaren issued a “use it or lose it warning” as members of the Hythe Pier Train and Ferry Action Group highlighted the importance of the service.

County councillor David Harrison, who represents part of the Waterside said: “We need a passenger rail service, whether or not the ferry continues operating. The problems of traffic congestion and air quality seem to be getting worse by the day. I can’t think of a more positive contribution towards easing these issues than providing people with an easy alternative to taking the car.”

Campaigners say plans to build 1,000 homes on former Fawley power station site has boosted the case for a new rail service.

In 2009 the Association of Train Operating Companies said the old railway line should be re-opened to ease congestion on the A326 and other roads between Southampton and the Waterside.

County transport boss Cllr Rob Humby said a new rail service was operationally possible and could cut congestion but sai there was insufficient demand in the area for passenger trains.