How major rail plans could bring jobs and investment to Sheffield
Among the talk of tax and health in the Prime Minister’s Conservative Party Conference speech last week was a pledge which caught the ear of Sheffield’s transport bosses.
That was the moment Boris Johnson pledged to go ahead with the scheme known as Northern Powerhouse Rail.
It is just the latest prospect for boosting the city’s railway links, and could help speed links to other northern cities, including Hull and Manchester, as well as Leeds.
And campaigners say it is more important than ever to move these schemes forward as the UK looks to stop using fossil fuels.
With Northern Powerhouse Rail added to HS2 and proposals to open new lines, the railways could see big changes in Sheffield, and the Government is expected to announce more details of how it would like to improve the railways in an official document that they are calling their integrated rail plan in the next few weeks.
If it goes ahead, it has been claimed HS2 would shave an estimated 34 minutes off a rail trip to London from the city and increase express trains to Leeds from one an hour to four.
While these schemes would improve links with cities, there are also proposals to re-open old lines and stations to improve rail services within the city.
Hopes for Barrow Hill line
The most advanced is a plan to bring in passenger services on the Barrow Hill line between Sheffield and Chesterfield, via Eckington, Killamarsh, Beighton, Woodhouse, and a proposed new station at Waverley, near the Parkway.
An application to the Government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund by the North East Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley has already passed the first stage, with the Government backing a detailed feasibility study. It has the backing of the mayor of South Yorkshire, Dan Jarvis.
Plans to re-open railway stations in Heeley, on London Road; Millhouses, on Archer Road, and to expand the station at Dore and Totley have been put forward to the same fund, as have plans to open passenger services on old freight lines linking Sheffield and Stocksbridge. These may involve the re-opening of Sheffield Victoria as a second station within the city centre, according to the South Yorkshire Combined Authority, which is calling on the Government’s transport plan to include electrification of the Midland Main Line from Market Harborough to Sheffield by 2025.
But there is still an element of uncertainty over the plans to bring HS2 through Sheffield.
The cost of HS2 has shot up from £32.7billion in 2012 to an estimated £107.7bn today. Sheffield Midland Station would be served on a loop off the mainline.
The Government says no decisions have been made in terms of the delivery of Phase 2B, the phase which would take it to Sheffield and Leeds.
Peter Kennan, Co-Chair of the Transport and Environment Board, South Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, believes poor rail links have held South Yorkshire back for too long, and improving them will bring jobs and investment.
Northern Powerhouse Rail plan
He said: “Poor rail connectivity has held South Yorkshire back for too long.
“Businesses in South Yorkshire are awaiting publication of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, and we hope it will include plans to complete HS2 and connect our towns and cities through the Northern Powerhouse Rail project. Better rail links across our region and between our towns and cities will bring more jobs and investment, and help get people to those great jobs.
“But more than the economy, if we can create more capacity on our existing network, that will help take cars and freight off our already congested roads, vastly improving our environment and cutting our emissions.”
He also believes re-opening old rail routes will help take traffic off the roads and make the city greener.
He said: “Reopening rail lines and repurposing existing ones for passengers is a useful way to use our existing infrastructure to improve connectivity across South Yorkshire, and I support the work of SYMCA (South Yorkshire Metropolitan Combined Authority) in these projects.
“If more journeys can be taken by train in the region, this cuts the reliance on cars. This will ease congestion and air quality, improve bus times and make cycling and walking safer too.
“The recently published plans for the long-term regeneration of Sheffield Railway Station and the surrounding area – including a new station at Waverley and reopening lines like the Barrow Hill line - will boost employment opportunities in our region and improve air quality.”
Local MPs are keen to back the proposed lines in their areas.
North East Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley has been working on the Barrow Hill plan. He said: “It’s early days, and there are no guarantees, but just being in the process at this stage demonstrates our combined commitment to find new solutions to improving things. We are keen to hear from the Government on whether we get through to the next stage – and I’ll continue to push, with others, on this exciting possible initiative.”
Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake, who has been campaigning for the Sheaf Valley line said: “Our bid will boost rail use, create new job opportunities, and make travel to and from work quicker and more efficient. And while it decreases commuter times and rebuilds our economy, it will reduce car use across the city, helping us to cut emissions, tackle the climate emergency, and improve the health and wellbeing of our city.”
Stocksbridge railway line
Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates has put restoring her constituency’s passenger line among her top issues.
She said: “The Upper Don Valley is one of the key corridors in the city that really needs investment in public transport and active travel infrastructure, and having the railway line already in place is a perfect opportunity to connect the communities along the line and reduce journey times into Sheffield considerably.”
Government HS2 plans
The Department for Transport says it is committed to enabling the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East to reap the benefits of high-speed rail services.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”
The users of Sheffield’s railways have their own views on what improvements are needed.
Liubov Kozharaskaia, from Skye Edge, said she wanted to see more comfortable seating on the trains.
She said: “My husband and I are both tall and sometimes it hurts his knees because of the lack of space between the seats. It would also help if the seats would lean back, maybe five degrees, which would help parents with children on their knees.”
Nina Winstanley, of Sharrow said she went to Meadowhall quite often and had not had many cancellations when she went to her family home in Wakefield.
"I think they’re quite good and quite efficient,” she said, adding she did not feel the need for a local station but thought they may be useful for people living further out.
Anita Bailey, of Barnsley, said she thought Sheffield station was always clean and she never had problems finding trains.
She said she got trains from Sheffield to London and Barnsley. Of plans to open new railway lines locally she said: “I think if it helps people commute to where they want to go, then absolutely, but you’ve got to balance that between what you’d then lose if they have to build train stations and where we have to build them."
Grace Hart, from Sheffield city centre, said she thought services were reasonably comprehensive but having one central station was perhaps a drawback. She said: “It would be nice to have smaller ones, perhaps near the university, meaning you could get to here or get to other places a lot quicker.”