Today’s columnist, Alan Marshall: The case for the missing link

I am intrigued by The Star’s campaign to locate the HS2 station at the site of the former Victoria station instead of Meadowhall – especially at a time when Leeds is preening itself that it has won the battle to have HS2 services integrated with the existing station.

Tuesday, 29th December 2015, 1:28 pm
The campaign to locate Sheffield's HS2 station is gathering pace

Let’s assume fthat HS2 services do use a new Victoria station in Sheffield. And let’s say a passenger wants to travel from Dronfield to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Today, it takes a train 12 minutes to reach Sheffield Midland – by the time HS2 is built that journey time may have been reduced a little. But let’s assume it will still be 12 minutes.

Now, how is that passenger from Dronfield to pick up the next Very High Speed Train from Victoria? Well, if nothing changes from today, the passenger faces leaving Midland station and making an inconvenient 0.8-mile walk, taking 16 minutes according to Google Maps (based on the location of the Holiday Inn, the former railway hotel that was close to the original Victoria station entrance). There is no tram link. Even using a taxi would take time and also be inconvenient, as well as costly.

So getting from Dronfield to HS2 Victoria, including a very inconvenient transfer between the two stations, might take about 28 minutes – let’s say half an hour as a round figure.

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Yet by continuing by train from Dronfield to Meadowhall the overall journey takes just 19 minutes – and avoids the quite major inconvenience of having to transfer almost a mile across the city centre.

I can understand the desire to have some HS2 trains coming into Sheffield city centre, but it seems to me pointless if their passengers cannot integrate quickly and easily with the existing rail network, which is why the Leeds plans have changed.

If the former Sheffield Victoria station site were to be used for HS2 there would be a need to connect it with the present (Midland) station.

In the late 1970s I was working for SYPTE when there was a battle going on (unsuccessfully, sadly) to keep the Woodhead Tunnel electrified rail route open, and we managed to get the then South Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council to ‘protect’ from future development the possible route of a chord line linking the Woodhead route through Victoria to Midland.

It would have involved quite a steep gradient, but with modern rail traction it would probably not present serious difficulties today, subject to the curvature being able to accommodate modern passenger vehicles up to 26 metres long.

I do not know, after some 35 years, whether that alignment is still protected, but at a meeting last year on the fringe of the Conservative Party’s conference in Birmingham I met Coun Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council – who was even then campaigning hard for the HS2 station to be at Victoria – and drew her attention to this possibility.

A link between Midland and Victoria stations would enable trains from the south, such as from the Hope Valley or from Chesterfield/Dronfield, to link directly with HS2 trains in the city centre.

But if HS2 services were diverted through Sheffield city centre, instead of Meadowhall, travellers from stations throughout Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, or those using the Supertram or (by then) tram-trains to Meadowhall, would have no way of connecting with HS2 and would have to travel into Sheffield before making their way to Victoria.

These are significant issues that have to be finely and carefully balanced. So far HS2 Ltd has remained in favour of Meadowhall, in order to serve the whole Sheffield city region.

During the past year, similar debates have also taken place in Derby and Nottingham – with the result that both cities have finally accepted the best solution is to provide the East Midlands HS2 hub at Toton, not in either city centre.