FASTER trains, new rail links and extra capacity have been promised for South Yorkshire’s rail network as part of £9 billion nationwide plans revealed by the Government.
The improvements are part of a huge package announced Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Prime Minister David Cameron and Rotherham-born Transport Secretary Justine Greening, which will become a reality by 2019.
Highlights for South Yorkshire are:
■ electrification of the Midland Main Line from Sheffield to London at a cost of £500 million which could reduce journey times to as little as one hour and 45 minutes, down from two hours and 20 minutes five years ago.
■ further electrification to create new ‘Electric Spine’ link from Midland Main Line at Bedford to Southampton at a cost of £300m, which could see new fast services from Sheffield to the South Coast for passengers and freight.
■ improvements to the Hope Valley railway line from Sheffield to Manchester including dualling tracks at Dore Station and passing places so fast trains can overtake slow ones.
■ £240 million to remove bottlenecks on the East Coast Main Line which runs through Doncaster plus extra carriages and new trains.
■ extended platforms at South Yorkshire stations to accommodate longer trains, reducing overcrowding, plus track layout changes at Sheffield Station to increase number of trains which can run and reduce delays.
Ms Greening said: “These plans to increase capacity and shorten journey times on intercity, commuter and freight services are, alongside our plans for high speed rail, absolutely key to securing our country’s prosperity in the decades ahead.”
Mr Clegg said: “This is the biggest expansion in railways in over 150 years, with more than £9bn of investment across the country.”
He added: “As someone who cares deeply about the environment, the opportunity to dramatically expand rail, a greener form of transport than aviation or road is very exciting indeed. This investment will help people to choose trains over cars, reduce carbon emissions and provide a rail system that is faster, more reliable and greener.”
The Star understands that the bulk of the diesel trains currently running on the Midland Main Line, operated by East Midlands Trains, will be replaced with an electric fleet, which will be quieter and smoother.
They will also be lighter and it is estimated they will reduce maintenance costs for the line by as much as £60 million a year.
Replacement trains for the line, to be built as part of the Government’s Inter City Express programme to build a new generation of trains may not be immediately ready by 2019.
In the interim period, options are believed to include fitting East Midlands Trains’ existing Meridian trains with an extra carriage incorporating equipment allowing them to pick up electric current.
Alternatively, the East Coast Main Line fleet, the first to be replaced under the Inter City Express programme, could be deployed on the Midland Main Line.
Some diesel trains will still be used on the Midland Main Line for use on services including London to Sheffield via Nottingham, and those that extend to Leeds, which use lines that are not being electrified.
Details of how the line will be electrified and what disruption will be caused have also not been revealed - although it is likely to be kept to a minimum with the bulk of work at night or at weekends.
A BROAD welcome for the Government’s long-awaited plans has come from rail operators, politicians and campaign groups.
David Horne, managing director of East Midlands Trains, which runs the Sheffield to London service, said: “Electrification will provide a smoother, quieter and quicker ride for passengers, cutting journey times while crucially delivering more capacity to cater for future growth.
“Not only will it be good for the environment, the project will create hundreds of jobs during the construction period, providing an estimated £450m of wider economic benefits to the cities and towns we serve.”
Ian Bevan, managing director of local rail operator Northern, which will benefit from station improvements and the upgrade of the Hope Valley line, said: “The announcement will deliver the enhancements to infrastructure capacity that will be vital to securing the long term future of the rail network in the north.”
Sheffield South East Labour MP Clive Betts said: “We’ve been campaigning for 20 years for the Midland Main Line to be electrified - it’s great news.”
And Sheffield Council’s Labour cabinet member for transport Coun Leigh Bramall added: “This good news has been hard won.
“Importantly, electrification will helping the city attract inward investment and boost business growth.”
Green Party transport spokesman Coun Rob Murphy added: “We welcome electrification of the Sheffield to London train line due to the reliability, environmental and cost benefits. But this improvement must be accompanied by wider investment in public transport, buses as well as trains, so that everyone in and around Sheffield can benefit from better services.
“Investment costs should not be borne by passengers paying higher fares. Many fares are unaffordable already and the government should be funding rail improvements after decades of under investment. “All travellers benefit from better public transport which reduces road congestion and air pollution.”
But RMT rail union General Secretary Bob Crow said: “All of the rail projects on this shopping list have been talked about for years and with the surge in passenger demand we cannot afford further delays.”