'Give us our rail revolution' - campaigners call for vital upgrades in Sheffield
Sheffield needs a rail revolution to meet soaring demand for services on a congested rail corridor, campaigners say.
Three MPs, city council leader Bob Johnson and city region mayor Dan Jarvis have thrown their support behind a bid for four new stations and two new tracks on the Sheaf Valley line to the south of the city.
They are needed to cut traffic congestion and air pollution, boost the economy and improve health and well-being post pandemic. And they are doubly required to cope with more plans coming down the track, including new services to Manchester, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The ambitous proposals include re-opening stations at Heeley, Millhouses and Beauchief, building a new one at Totley Brook and expanding the existing stop at Dore and Totley.
Four miles of new track would also be required, restoring the route from two to four tracks.
Sheffield MP Olivia Blake has submitted a bid for cash from the government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund.
As well as political backing, a public consultation found 'overwhelming' support from hundreds of people, she said.
She added: “It is great to see so much support for our campaign to expand rail services in Sheffield. I have spoken to so many people across our city who are disadvantaged by the poor public transport infrastructure and clogged roads.
“By bringing rail access back to where people live, I hope to re-address this imbalance, boost rail use post-pandemic, open up new job opportunities in other cities, and make travel to and from work quicker and more efficient.
“But this isn’t just about reducing commuter times and rebuilding our economy. If we can reduce car use across the city, we can help reduce emissions, tackle the climate emergency, and improve the health and wellbeing of our city.
“With air pollution expected to kill over 1400 people in Sheffield over the next decade, and 15,000 in Yorkshire, we have to act now."
The government launched the £500m Restoring Your Railway Fund last year to help restore lines closed in the 1960s after the Beeching report. The money is only meant to fund feasibility studies to build business cases for routes.
Ms Blake initially submitted a bid last summer which was rejected by the Department for Transport. The DfT praised a ‘well evidenced strategic case…with a high level of socio-economic and transport benefits’ but called for more evidence and further engagement with stakeholders.
This time she has the support of the Peak District National Park and Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, as well as a big majority of more than 450 people surveyed.
The bid will now go through a selection process and the results will be revealed later this year.
Heeley MP Louise Haigh backs the plan.
She said: “We are desperate for better public transport to cut congestion and air pollution so it is really important to open up the rail and tram networks to help reduce the reliance on road traffic. As we come out of the coronavirus lock-down, we need initiatives like this to ensure our roads stay quiet and pollution stays down.”
Sheffield Central MP, Paul Blomfield, who is co-sponsoring the bid, said: “Restoring the Sheaf Valley rail line with its local stations will improve connectivity and take traffic off the roads, relieving congestion, cutting pollution and tackling carbon emissions.”
But Peter Kennan, chair of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Transport Forum, sounded a note of caution on costs and a lack of action on rail.
A station at Horden in County Durham reopened in June 2020 and cost £10.5m. And that was without new track. Sheffield’s bid could therefore soar past £50m.
There was also a record number of proposals for rail upgrades across the region - but action on making them happen was frustratingly slow.
The Sheffield City Region has already put in two successful bids to the Fund.
In the first round it submitted a plan to reinstate passenger services between Sheffield and Chesterfield via a line through Beighton and Barrow Hill.
The second was for a new station at Waverley on the Sheffield to Retford Line. It means feasibility studies to build business cases will now be partly funded.
The SCR is also bidding, in this new round, to reopen the Sheffield to Stocksbridge line. It is a second attempt after the first was rejected in November.
Mr Kennan also noted plans to increase the number of trains on the Hope Valley line to Manchester, from 2023, as well as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail and the high costs of new track, which would include new bridges and culverts.
He added: “Everybody supports the idea of better public transport in the Sheaf Valley but it is going to be a challenge given the cost of opening new stations and fitting new services around what we already have on that already very congested rail corridor.
“It won’t be a cheap project. But a study needs funding to find out how new services would fit in.”
He added: “I have never known a time when there was so much potential activity to develop the rail network. I also recognised that very little is turning into reality at this time.
“We want to see some action on levelling up and this infrastructure will help. Everyone I deal with is very frustrated with a lack of progress when it comes to spades in the ground - but I remain optimistic.”