ELECTRIFICATION of the Midland Main Line railway and improvements to the route between Sheffield and Manchester are top priorities in a £5.6 billion plan of improvements proposed by Network Rail over five years from 2014.
The projects - which will reduce journey times between Sheffield and London and allow extra trans-Pennine services - are among schemes outlined in the company’s Initial Industry Plan, which would need Government approval.
The package of projects, which also include other improvements to services across the north of England, electrification projects and station refurbishments, aim to allow increased passenger and freight services.
Improvements already approved for the Midland Main Line, to increase line speeds, will see £40 million spent to reduce journey times from Sheffield to London to less than two hours.
Use of electric trains, which have quicker acceleration, would reduce times further.
Plans for the Sheffield to Manchester line through the Hope Valley are part of a larger scheme to deliver more than 700 extra services a day between Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sheffield.
The project would enable three fast trains an hour to run between Sheffield and Manchester, instead of the two services which are blighted by overcrowding, by removing bottlenecks on the line.
Coun Mick Jameson, chairman of the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, which represents the county’s four boroughs, said: “Electrification and improvement of the Midland Main Line would boost connectivity and be great news for the travelling public of Sheffield and South Yorkshire.
“The announcement is welcome and we will continue to press Government to implement Midland Main Line upgrades and then electrification as soon as possible”.
The investment is proposed alongside plans to cut rail costs by £1.3bn a year by the end of this decade.
Season-ticket holders face average fare rises of eight per cent in the new year at a time when passenger numbers are rising on a network where rail costs are seen as too high.
Network Rail group strategy director Paul Plummer said: “The railways are booming, with more and more people choosing rail. Closer collaboration within the industry will deliver even more efficiencies.
“This revenue growth and improved efficiency taken together provide governments with real choices to consider, choices around the appropriate balance between subsidy, investment and fares.”
Councils along the Midland Main Line route, including those in South Yorkshire, are planning a Parliamentary lobbying event in London to press home the case for improvements.