'We need to go back to the future’ – Call for electrified train line between Manchester and Sheffield

Rail campaigners are calling for a long-forgotten train route between Sheffield and Manchester to be brought back - 50 years after the last passenger services on the line ended.
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The Woodhead rail line between Sheffield and Manchester last carried passengers in January 1970, a victim of a wave of rail cuts in the late 1960s.

The route - which had been electrified in 1954 - was replaced by the Hope Valley Line, a picturesque but painfully slow route through the Peak District to Manchester Picadilly.

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Joseph Locke and his Park in Barnsley.

 Tunnel mouth Woodhead gcrJoseph Locke and his Park in Barnsley.

 Tunnel mouth Woodhead gcr
Joseph Locke and his Park in Barnsley. Tunnel mouth Woodhead gcr
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Transport for the North say that reopening the Woodhead line would be too expensive, and that with upgrades, the Hope Valley route could get passengers between Sheffield and Manchester in as little as 40 minutes, still using diesel trains.

But the campaigners say that if Sheffield is to ever truly compete with the other big cities of the north, it simply must have an electrified link to its near north-western neighbour.

Andrew Oldfield, secretary for the Huddersfield, Penistone and Sheffield Rail Users' Association, said: “In 1954 the Woodhead line was the pinnacle for the city in terms of rail and in the 50 years since it was closed we have gone backwards or stood still while others have got the investment.

“It should never have gone in the first place but we need to go back to the future. When the Woodhead closed a truly modern rail corridor was just abandoned.

The opening of the new Woodhead tunnel in 1954 The opening of the new Woodhead tunnel in 1954
The opening of the new Woodhead tunnel in 1954
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“Transport for the North have spoken about upgrading the Hope Valley Line to a 30-minute journey but people didn’t believe them. Then this was revised to 40 minutes but it is just classic smoke and mirrors.

“Electrification should include Sheffield to Manchester not just Manchester to Leeds. If that was the case then Sheffield would fall even further behind.”

Andrew said the problems will only become more pressing in the future, as development in the Upper Don Valley continues apace.

And he added that the Woodhead’s case is strengthened further by the fact three-mile-long Woodhead tunnels still exist, as does the western end of the route from Manchester to Glossop and Hatfield.

The opening of the new Woodhead tunnel in 1954.The opening of the new Woodhead tunnel in 1954.
The opening of the new Woodhead tunnel in 1954.
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“The existing infrastructure can’t cope with the present situation never mind more development,” he said.

“But in the grand scheme of things, Manchester is top of the pile. The influence Sheffield has on Manchester is much less than the other way round - so it has to be driven by us.”

As well as not having an electrified link to Manchester, Sheffield also lost out in 2017 when plans to electrify the Midland Main Line were shelved by then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

And the lack of electrified trains in Sheffield station is also having a big impact on air quality in the city, potentially putting hundreds of thousands of people’s health at risk every year, he added.

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“We have a vast population that is being disadvantaged,” he said.

In a statement released to The Star, Transport for the North said reopening the Woodhead line had been investigated, but had been deemed too costly.

Tim Wood, Transport for the North’s Northern Powerhouse Rail Director, said: “Transport for the North has considered a number of potential route concepts between Sheffield and Manchester so far, including the Woodhead corridor.

“The newest of the Woodhead Tunnels now carries electricity cables and brings with it other significant engineering issues, and the government’s 2013 decision not to purchase the two older tunnels means that they are not available. The cost of reinstating this route would be very considerable.

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“As noted in our Strategic Transport Plan, the emerging vision for Northern Powerhouse Rail is that Sheffield - Manchester would be linked by significant upgrades along the existing Hope Valley Line via Stockport.

“We are currently working with our partners including the Sheffield City Region to see how transformational journey times can be achieved in this corridor, including looking at options for routeing of freight traffic. That work is still ongoing.”