Minister grilled on rail service

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TRANSPORT Secretary Philip Hammond came to Sheffield to find out business community views on the planned high speed rail network - and was greeted by demands for better trains now.

The fast new tracks are not due to reach this area for another 20 years...if the scheme goes ahead.

Public consultation over the £32 billion project ends on Friday.

James Newman, chairman of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, set up to help South Yorkshire businesses grow, told the Transport Secretary he prefers to use his car because he does not like travelling in old train carriages.

He said: “I prefer not to use the trains between Sheffield and Doncaster because of the condition of the carriages. They are not pleasant.”

The newest train used by operator Northern on its routes around South Yorkshire is 22 years old.

The company and its predecessors on the franchise have paid millions of pounds to lease rolling stock since privatisation but have not received a single new carriage.

David Brown, of South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, said: “There is passenger growth of seven to eight per cent on local trains despite no investment.

“If we had investment, usage would grow even more. High speed rail is essential for South Yorkshire but we also need investment in existing routes.”

The LEP has also called for electrification of the existing Midland Main Line to London regardless of whether the high speed route goes ahead. Mr Brown and the LEP has also asked Mr Hammond why a connection cannot be made between the first phase of the high speed route from London to Birmingham - being built first - and the line to Sheffield, so the city can have some of the benefits of high speed rail more quickly.

Mr Hammond, who received a document from the LEP which said 91 per cent of local businesses were in favour of the new network, replied: “It’s a fair point.”

He added: “We are determined that investment in rail continues. But people in the South East have had new trains before areas like this because they pay higher fares.”

Mr Hammond said Northern services may receive newer carriages from other regions where lines are being electrified.