Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in his Autumn Budget that plans to restore the Don Valley line, with stops at Deepcar, Oughtibridge, Wadsley Bridge, Neepsend and possibly even Kelham Island, had been awarded a slice of the Government’s £500 million Restoring Your Railway Fund.
The plans also involve reopening Sheffield Victoria station, which could serve a new Barrow Hill line to Chesterfield, stopping at Darnall, the Advanced Manufacturing Park, Woodhouse and other new stations, similar funding for which was granted last year.
Up to £50,000 has been made available to develop ‘early stage proposals’ after the Don Valley project became one of 13 across the country and three in Yorkshire and Humberside to make it through the latest funding round.
The money is a drop in the ocean when it comes to major railway schemes, but marks a big breakthrough for campaigners who have fought for years to get passenger trains running again on the route, which closed to passengers in 1970 and is currently only used by freight trains serving the steelworks in Stocksbridge.
The successful proposal was submitted earlier this year to the Government by Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates and the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, with backing from the Don Valley Railway campaign group.
Should the route be revived, with at least two trains an hour running between Stocksbridge and the city centre under the plans submitted, onward connections could also be provided to Rotherham, Worksop and Chesterfield.
Ms Cates said it would cut journey times between Stocksbridge and the Sheffield city centre to just 15 minutes, connecting people in the growing suburb to jobs, education and various other facilities.
“The route into Sheffield is one of the most congested in the city, so we desperately need this sort of investment in alternative public transport,” she added.
She was unwilling to commit to a potential timescale for the project, saying there are many ‘important processes to through’ before passenger services can resume on the line, including engineering and environmental surveys.
Only when those steps have been completed and planning applications approved, she added, would additional money be unlocked to allow work to begin.
The Dartmoor railway line, which was the first to be reopened under the Government scheme, was restored in just nine months, once work began, with 17km of new track laid.
Chris Bell, of the Don Valley Railway group, said members were 'absolutely delighted’ the scheme had overcome the first hurdle after nearly two decades of campaigning.
He added: “This may only be the start of several huge steps we need to go before trains will start to operate on the line, but it represents a huge step in the right direction for our cause.”
Beverley-York and the Askern branch line were the other two routes in Yorkshire and Humberside to be awarded funding in the latest round.
Similar funding has previously been approved to look into opening a new station at Waverley, but plans for the Sheaf Valley route, where stations at Millhouses, Heeley, and Beauchief would be restored, Dore & Totley station expanded and a new station at Totley Brook created, have so far been unsuccessful.