By Peter Kay – Published in The Sheffield Telegraph, 25 October 2012.
THE Government is being urged to consider granting permission for wider use of tram-trains in Sheffield.
Already it has approved an experiment for the vehicles, which run on both tram tracks and railway lines, to operate between Sheffield, Meadowhall and Rotherham for two years starting in 2015.
It will be the first scheme of its kind in the UK, at a cost of £58m.
Convinced the project will be successful, Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts has asked the new Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, to start thinking about a “rapid expansion’ of the network, suggesting links to Beighton and Woodhouse in the south of the city and Stocks-bridge in the north.
Mr Betts said: “We’ve had the go-ahead for the tram-train pilot project between Sheffield and Rotherham, although the trams will not be delivered until 2015. After that, there will be an evaluation of the scheme.
“I am convinced that the evaluation will conclude that the initiative is successful and that it should be expanded.
“However, the reality is that expansion will need to take place on under-used rail lines which are not electrified. The advantage will be that the tram network can be expanded without digging up miles of road to lay new track, but the service will still run into the heart of town and city centres.
“Therefore, to enable further expansion of tram-trains, appropriate sections of heavy rail lines will need to be electrified. I’m asking the Secretary of State, working together with South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, to start planning ahead to do that, so that there isn’t a further long delay.
“Tram-train initiatives on existingheavy rail freight lines in Sheffield would almost certainly include lines through Beighton, Woodhouse and Stocks-bridge.”
Mr McLoughlin replied that he will “look closely” at Mr Betts’ suggestions.
Pressure for tram trains on the line to Stocksbridge will be welcomed by Don Valley -Railway, a group of volunteers which has been pressing for a commuter service for the past eight years.
They believe it would offer a quicker and more convenient route into the city centre and take pressure off the main road through the Upper Don Valley, and they say it makes even more sense in 2012 because a new retail centre and more housing is being planned around Stocksbridge and Deepcar.
Buoyed by a feasibility study backed by the council and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, the group is looking at different options for a commuter shuttle service.
It is being offered free advice by international planning and engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald, which has offices in Sheffield.
Meanwhile, Don Valley Railway has launched another petition to gather support. Five years ago, when it failed to win lottery funding, it pulled together a petition with 2,000 signatures.