Projects need to urgently progressed
Your report on the delayed rail improvements on the Hope Valley Line between Sheffield and Manchester highlights a problem that has existed ever since 1km of track was singled through Dore & Totley station in 1985.
Since 1985 passenger numbers between the two cities have grown enormously. Many now board at single platform Dore & Totley where passenger numbers have doubled in the last seven years, two thirds commuting to Manchester. The growth in cement and stone traffic coming out of the Peak District by rail is also increasing, relieving the roads of possibly hundreds of lorry movements each day. The freight trains are longer, take longer to speed up and slow down and can’t go as fast as the passenger services. The 5.7 km Totley Tunnel is also subject to speed restrictions for all trains.
The picture taken at Grindleford shows a freight train that was running 45 minutes late with stone going to Selby. It had been delayed in leaving Peak Forest by a late running incoming train that had to pass over the same single line near Chinley. It was followed down the Hope Valley by a faster East Midlands service running from Liverpool to Norwich. By the time it got to Grindleford it was running seven minutes late, but after waiting four minutes there to allow other trains to clear the tunnel and single-file section it was 11 minutes late into Sheffield.
The planned Hope Valley Capacity scheme requires the building of passing loops to allow freight trains to be overtaken at Bamford and at Dore, in addition to the redoubling of the tracks through the station. Other improvements are supposed to be being made down the Hope valley where trains capable of travelling at 100mph are limited to 60 or less for long sections. Redoubling the link to Peak Forest is not in the plan and will continue to be a bottleneck, as will trains entering and leaving the Hope Cement works.
It doesn’t seem to have dawned on those in the corridors of power that all these little details add up. Manchester Piccadilly station needs two more platforms and the go-ahead for that scheme is also delayed, potentially cancelled. There is another single-track bottleneck between Sheffield and Manchester at Hazel Grove.
In a recent Sunday Times survey of all British railway companies TransPennine Express, operators of half the semi-fast services on this line, came out worst for delayed trains.
Many of them aren’t their fault. They’re stuck in the congestion of other trains on inadequate tracks, where one delayed train can cause knock-on effects across the nation.
We need more shorter pieces of extra and better track, offering overtaking opportunities and alternative routes to cut these delays. HS2 may bring more capacity, but smaller projects need to be urgently progressed.