All aboard! Sheffield's trains return to a full - and better - timetable
Sheffield’s trains are back and better than before the pandemic - but will travellers return and when?
Rail bosses gathered at Sheffield station to mark the relaunch of a full timetable, plus improved services to London, as lockdown restrictions were eased.
The grand reopening was boosted by big improvements to Sheffield-London services which start earlier and finish later and are faster and more frequent.
Passenger numbers are about a third of what they were. But it is predicted that leisure travel - day trips and staycations - and student numbers will rise first and fastest. Business journeys could be half of what they were due to online meetings and increased working from home.
Will Rogers, of East Midlands Railway, admitted the upgrade was based on pre-pandemic numbers but insisted the improved London service wouldn’t be at risk if it wasn’t an instant success. They would just run shorter trains.
He said: “The new Sheffield-London timetable provides a much more consistent pattern. One of the most significant changes is on Sunday afternoon where there’s a train every half hour from 2.30pm, and trips take up up to two-and-a-half hours.
“We also expect leisure travel to return more rapidly. We’ll run smaller trains until demand returns, I don’t think it will be at risk.”
East Midlands Rail is receiving emergency funds from Government until March.
Peter Kennan, chair of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Transport Forum, said the changes were announced following two years of lobbying by Sheffield Chamber, Sheffield City Council, the City Region and others.
He added: “Faster and earlier rail services into London are great for business and the doubling of the Sunday afternoon and evening service is really important for students and for weekend trips away.”
Passenger numbers were already significantly up on a few weeks ago, he added.
But demand was expected to shift from rush hour to weekends and off peak periods due to more working from home.
Sheffield City Region contributed £5m to a £1.5bn Midland Main Line upgrade by Network Rail which made the improvements possible.
Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield City Region, was unable to attend due to ‘an important meeting outside of Sheffield’.
He said in a statement that improved rail links between Sheffield and London were ‘an important step on our journey to rebuild and renew South Yorkshire, and a great signal of intent for our future’.
He added: “To level up the North, we need to ensure there is no barrier to accessing opportunities, and investment in public transport is vital to this. Better connectivity benefits all of us, from students looking to study here to visitors enjoying the arts and culture of South Yorkshire, and businesses looking for a great place to work and invest.
“We are committed to investing in South Yorkshire’s future, creating a stronger, greener, fairer region for everyone. That mission is being brought to life with an improved train service to help our economy grow, develop greener modes of transport, and enable access to opportunities for our people.”
The new timetable provides more seats, quicker journeys, and is ‘simpler and more resilient’, EMR bosses say.