Sheffield tram-train project back on the rails

Monday, March 28, 2011

An ambitious project to bring a unique tram-train service to Sheffield and Rotherham, in the United Kingdom, is back on track, following the announcement of a £150,000 Government grant on Thursday. The plans, which were originally to see tram-train operation on a trial basis over the Penistone line during 2010, have been on the cards since 2008, but were shelved during 2009 to allow alternative proposals to be drawn up. The current plans will now see the vehicles operating along a currently-freight-only line between Rotherham and Meadowhall, before linking up with the existing South Yorkshire Supertram network there and continuing onto the streets of Sheffield.

The plans to use tram-trains — which are already in widespread use throughout continental Europe, but not at all within the UK — have come about as an alternative to an original proposal to extend the Supertram network to Rotherham, which would be a much larger expense for the same or even fewer benefits.

Whilst the journey between Sheffield and Rotherham is already covered by mainline trains, project officials believe that the new service – running via Meadowhall South and Rotherham Central and terminating at Parkgate, with a twenty-minute headway throughout – will attract extra custom to the intermediate points between the two conurbations, as well as making travel easier for people who find it hard to walk to and from Sheffield’s railway station; the tram-trains will serve the heart of the city-centre.

Now that the funding for further feasibility work has been approved, Network Rail, Northern Rail and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) can continue to look at the business and project case for the trial, which will look at a range of issues, including economic and environmental benefits of the tram-trains, and ensuring that the vehicles will be safe to run on both the Supertram network and heavy rail tracks.

Transport Minister Norman Baker announced the sum, and stressed the Government’s commitment to the scheme: “There is no doubt about finance being available to deliver the scheme. The Government is committed to a trial of tram-trains in the UK and the route between Sheffield and Rotherham is the best place to develop it. This is a unique scheme.

“Tram-trains offer passengers travelling from rural and suburban areas into city centres a viable, environmentally sound alternative to short and medium car commuting that can cut congestion and reduce overcrowding at railway stations.

“These sorts of rail fleets are already in use on the continent, but this is a first for the UK. The funding we are providing for this exciting project represents a real chance for us to test whether they can be adapted successfully for South Yorkshire and the rest of the UK.”

David Brown, director of SYPTE, added: “We have done an awful lot of work on the plans so far and further efforts will look at ensuring the vehicles are compatible with both types of network, which are the same gauge.”

If further investigations are successful, the system could be up and running by 2014.

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