Scrapping of Sheffield-London railway upgrade branded 'betrayal'

New trains will be introduced between Sheffield and London, cutting journey times by up to 20 minutes, the Government announced
New trains will be introduced between Sheffield and London, cutting journey times by up to 20 minutes, the Government announced
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A long-awaited upgrade to the railway line between Sheffield and London has been scrapped, in what an MP has branded a 'betrayal of promises' to the city.

The Midland Main Line was due to be electrified by 2023, in a move transport chiefs said would speed up trains, increase capacity and reduce the need for track maintenance.

But the Government announced this morning those plans had been dropped, with 'bi-mode' trains - which can switch from electric to diesel power - to be introduced instead between Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield, and on lines in Wales and the Lake District.

The Department for Transport claimed this new technology would cut long-distance journey times from Sheffield by up to 20 minutes and provide more than 1,000 extra peak-time seats an hour to London without the need for 'disruptive' electrification works.

Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central branded the announcement 'an utter disgrace'.

"This is a betrayal of promises made to Sheffield not once but twice. The Government said that electrification would bring cleaner, faster and more reliable services for passengers. Now they're saying Sheffield can’t have it," he added.

"At a time when there has never been a greater focus on the impact of diesel fuel on the environment their decision to scrap electrification is incredibly irresponsible."

But Peter Kennan, chairman of the transport forum at Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the news.

He said it provided much-needed certainty over the new franchise and meant new trains were now guaranteed on the line, where it had been feared the existing fleet would merely be renovated.

"I would rather get a reduction in journey times and a new fleet than some half-baked electrification schemethat takes many years to deliver. It’s not ideal but it’s not the end of the world," he said.

Electrification of the line was initially due to be finished by 2019 but was put on hold in 2015, with the completion date subsequently pushed back to 2023.

Today's announcement came three days after it was confirmed the HS2 high-speed railway line from London to Leeds would pass through Sheffield city centre via a spur from the main line near Chesterfield.

The DfT said the next operator of the Midland Main Line, the franchise for which is up for renewal next year, would be required to deliver a new set of bi-mode intercity trains from 2022. It added that further investment would come to ensure Sheffield is 'ready for HS2'.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling claimed the improvements planned across the UK represented the 'biggest investment in the railways since the Victorian era'.

But Labour's shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald accused the Government of 'taking people for a ride'.

And Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "This government's talk of rail investment is just jam tomorrow when in reality important upgrade and renewal work across the UK is being shelved and scrapped due to on-going austerity."