“When the wires appear, then won’t that be the time to celebrate?”

This letter sent to the Star was written by A Oldfield, Secretary, Huddersfield, Penistone and Sheffield Rail Users’ Association

Friday, 14th February 2020, 6:52 am
Updated Friday, 14th February 2020, 6:52 am
Midland Station, Sheffield, in the 1800s

The 150th anniversary of the opening of Sheffield Midland Station is a time for celebration. Right? Wrong.

Rather than back-slapping and self-congratulation, should not the Sheffield/South Yorkshire Establishment (SSYE), be ashamed at the long term neglect of this key asset and the lack of any significant rail investment in the city since Woodhead electrification in 1954? Would not despair instead of delight be more appropriate?

Let current data illustrate matters. In the 2018/19 Office of Rail and Road station usage survey, Sheffield, England’s fourth-largest city, attracted 9.9 million passengers, which saw it attain (sic) 44th place in the UK station usage table. Is this not a pitiful performance?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Regional Yorkshire/The Humber figures offer little joy, with Leeds 30.8 million and York 10 million heading the list, cities with smaller populations than Sheffield, and in the case of York, much smaller. How can their numbers be explained? Could they be related to the fact that they both benefit from having an electrified link with London, a feature which Sheffield still lacks?

Sadly this seems set to remain for years thanks to the Integrated Rail Plan of the Sheffield City Region (SCR) relegating Midland Mainline electrification to an aspiration. Electrification is the future; it is a must. Electrification defines the North-South divide, so how could this stance have ever been considered at all?

Trans-Pennine travel should embrace electrification too. Presently this centres strictly on Manchester-Leeds, although calls for Liverpool-Hull are rising, leaving Sheffield even more detached and disadvantaged.

Northern England is served by a Victorian rail network with few exceptions. One such exception is the Woodhead route which welcomed the future in 1954 with the launch of Sheffield-Manchester electrified services. It is electrification proven, and 66 years on, still modern compared with all the other trans-Pennine lines.

A century on from the opening of Sheffield Midland, the electric trains were withdrawn in January 1970 by Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle. What consideration did they show towards Sheffield?

With South Yorkshire having been identified as one of the poorest areas across Europe, it desperately needs investment. That must be rail investment after 66 years of surviving (sic) off crumbs.

What chance does Sheffield have of ever getting on the right track without long-overdue investment, and does this not also demand a complete change of mentality from the SSYE on rail reflecting ambition and vision?

The SCR is not expected to fund electrification, but it is expected to fight for it. Don’t leave Sheffield as an electrification exclusion zone.

When the wires appear, then won’t that be the time to celebrate?