Stuck in the sidings

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A reality check is needed in response to Clive Betts, (March 23), because not only did Sheffield miss the train decades ago, it now lags behind its rival cities in that the only way it can secure parity with them is by having its own version of the Northern hub.

This shocking situation is attributable to an atrocious track record of punching below its weight for more than a generation, with the Steel City showing little appetite for rail and as a result it has been starved of investment. Latterly both Sheffield City Council and SYPTE have stubbornly refused to veer from this position.

The last 20 years offer a perfect illustration, for this marks a period which has seen the number of passengers carried by rail almost double. It has been acknowledged that a significant contributor to this outstanding achievement in passenger growth relates to new stations, with a common pattern prevailing of actual usage exceeding passenger forecasts. Around the UK new stations have emerged as a key tool with regeneration, but not in South Yorkshire where the last new station dates back to 1993, so while everywhere else has enjoyed the benefits of this railway revolution, it has been rejected locally.

All is not lost though, for The Star has enlisted the support of some 200 businesses, institutions and organisations to back the call for the former Sheffield Victoria site to be developed as the HS2 station for the city instead of Meadowhall as proposed. This grouping of 200 refers to economic growth as being the key driver for the city centre location.

However, by enlisting the 200 representing the good and the great and the movers and shakers of the city, have they not simultaneously been exposed to be one-trick ponies?

If growth is deemed so crucial as they claim, why have they kept silent on the one rail project that has been approved, Midland Main Line electrification? Do they not recognise the benefits that this scheme will bring years ahead of HS2, the biggest rail investment package to hit the city since Woodhead electrification? Have none of them ever been concerned about the city’s abysmal attitude to rail?

Have they never noted the track layout at Sheffield station that screams out 1970s rationalisation? A snapshot of how much ground there is to recover.

Why don’t they campaign for Sheffield - Dore & Totley track quadrupling as part of the Midland Main Line project to deliver vital increased capacity?

Staying in the Sheaf Valley, many of the 200 leaders will have no doubt used some of the 90 new stations that have appeared over the past 20 years and probably passed through the rest of them on business trips, so have they never thought for a moment about opening some new stations locally to allow rail to serve this corridor rather than just sweeping through it?

Sheffield-Manchester connectivity is another hot topic, so why aren’t the 200 shouting from the rooftops for reopening the Woodhead line? Trans-Pennine travel between the two cities differs because this corridor is isolated compared with the other major northern cities, all of whom are served by the Diggle route. Realism must overrule dreaming about a rail/road tunnel, probably a project without any light at the end of it. What are the chances of such a scheme gaining priority over calls for a second London Crossrail tunnel and a third runway at Heathrow? Woodhead was once the future and it still is.

Let the 200 also press for the full implementation of the Northern Electrification Task Force package and the Ikea store in Sheffield to be rail connected.

Sheffield needs to adopt a completely different train of thought towards rail, jettisoning insularity, parochialism and deep-rooted prejudice. The estimated time of arrival? Without the application of a totally changed mentality, indefinite. Costly and damaging delays are to be expected.

There is so much more to rail in the city than just the glamorous and sexy HS2 project and ignoring such will leave the Steel City still left stuck in the sidings, trailing even further behind its rivals. Sheffield needs to evolve a track record that it can be proud of to replace the one that it should be ashamed of.

A Oldfield

Secretary, Huddersfield, Penistone & Sheffield Rail Users’ Association