Third time lucky - Transport Secretary Grant Shapps promises rail electrification is definitely coming to Sheffield
The Transport Secretary has promised rail electrification is definitely coming to Sheffield - after the project was axed to save money twice.
Grant Shapps MP said he was ‘aware of the history’ but insisted he ‘absolutely, fully’ intends to complete electrification of the Midland Main Line to the city by 2030.
It will allow HS2 trains to reach Sheffield and cut journey times to London to just under 90 minutes.
And new infrastructure, including digital signalling, would improve reliability and allow more services, he said.
And it would happen years before HS2 had been due to arrive.
Mr Shapps said: “We absolutely, fully intend to complete electrification of the Midland Mainline to Sheffield. I am aware of the history. I do know it has been promised before.”
Electrification of the route was axed to save money in 2015 and again 2017.
The upgrade is part of the £96bn Integrated Rail Plan announced last month - and condemned by northern leaders for falling short of what had been promised.
It killed off high speed rail on a new line through Yorkshire to Leeds, as well as hopes of a new track between Manchester and Leeds.
Improvements to the Sheffield-Leeds route - set to be dramatically faster under HS2 - were not given a date. Work to look at ways to improve connectivity starts next year.
But Mr Shapps said he was ‘mystified’ by the criticism, claiming much of it was politically driven and insisting Sheffield was a ‘big winner’ from the IRP.
He added: “This is better than our original plans. Journey times will be as fast as HS2 and by 2030. There’s nothing in more recent HS2 plans that would come close to that.”
The last estimate for the completion of the eastern leg to Leeds was 2040. Now, it will terminate south of Nottingham, where trains will join the Midland Main Line.
The route is electrified between St Pancras and Corby. Work on the next section, between Kettering and Market Harborough, starts on December 24.
Mr Shapps said the new plans were less disruptive but would still add capacity.
He added: “We accept that building incredibly straight rail lines through people’s homes may not be the best way to do this.
“The new plans make journey times dramatically faster while massively increasing capacity. The limitations are as much to do with the way the rails are used.”
Electrification, bi-mode trains and digital signalling would be greener and massively increase reliability, ‘so we can run more trains’.
He added: “HS2 was never going to do this stuff.”
On the Sheffield-Leeds route, a spokeswoman said: “The Government is investing £100m to identify the best way for HS2 services to serve Leeds. This will include work on the Sheffield-Leeds corridor which could also see Northern Powerhouse Rail services between the two cities.”
Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, said he was disappointed electrification would arrive by 2030 - just two years ealier than the original completion date for all of HS2.
Peter Kennan private sector board member at South Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It is suggested that the IRP will cut journey times from Sheffield to London to 90 minutes.
“The revised HS2 plan sees the high speed trains routed via Derby and there is significant surprise amongst industry experts that the journey time of the previous HS2 proposal can be maintained at 90 minutes.
“In any event HS2 is not all about speed but about increasing capacity of the network. It would be more helpful to know the number of seats per hour from Sheffield and South Yorkshire to Birmingham and London, how this opportunity to mode shift from road to rail contributes to the decarbonisation of our transport system and what the business productivity impact is.
“It is important to keep in mind that Sheffield was excluded fully from the Northern Powerhouse Rail funding proposals as part of the IRP.
“Proposals for better Sheffield/Leeds, Sheffield/Manchester and Sheffield/Hull connections including a tram-train extension to Doncaster and new stations at Rotherham and Barnsley Dearne Valley were all shunted into a siding by the government, in favour of a focus on Liverpool/Manchester/Leeds connectivity.
“The economic impact on Sheffield is serious and that is why there is so much disappointment with the final IRP proposals. The work to secure better rail investment proposals for Sheffield and the wider North goes on through Transport for the North and through other channels into government."
In March, the Government announced £137m to upgrade the Hope Valley line and remove bottlenecks between Sheffield and Manchester.
The increased capacity will allow more passenger and freight services, including an increase in fast trains to Manchester from two to three an hour.
There will be new sections of track near Bamford to create a loop allowing overtaking, improvement to Jaggers Lane Bridge in Hathersage and a second track at Dore and Totley station which will also have a second platform added.
Construction is expected to begin in 2022 with completion by December 2023.
But Sheffield MP Clive Betts said he feared the third train would not stop at Sheffield and would instead head south.
A Government spokeswoman said: “We have awarded £137m to Network Rail to complete detailed designs and deliver the Hope Valley capacity scheme. This scheme will transform journeys between Manchester and Sheffield by removing bottlenecks on the Hope Valley line.
“It will create places for fast passenger services to overtake slower moving freight trains, potentially allowing more trains to run and increasing the reliability of services on the line.
“The Manchester Recovery Taskforce (MRTF) is looking at a range of options over the decade to improve performance in and around Manchester. Planning for the additional fast service that the Hope Valley scheme will enable is being considered as part of this work.”