Sheffield-Manchester rail upgrade delay branded 'extraordinary'

A long-awaited upgrade to the railway route linking Sheffield and Manchester is now not scheduled to begin until 2022, it has been confirmed.

Monday, 23rd September 2019, 5:41 pm
Updated Saturday, 28th September 2019, 3:01 am

Work on the Hope Valley line would pave the way for a third fast train per hour between the two cities and an hourly stopping service, rather than one every two hours, running through the Peak District.

The relatively minor project, which would significantly boost capacity by enabling passenger trains to overtake slower-moving freight vehicles, was finally approved in February 2018 – many years after first being mooted.

At the time, Network Rail said that, subject to funding, work on the upgrade was due to begin in 2019 and expected to take up to three years, meaning it should have been completed by 2022 at the latest.

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A TransPennine Express service at Sheffield railway station (pic: Chris Morgan)

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Network Rail, which owns the country’s tracks and stations, and is responsible for the work, now says construction is not expected to start until 2022 and is scheduled for completion by 2023.

Gill Furniss, MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, who raised the matter in parliament earlier this month, branded the wait ‘extraordinary’.

She said: “Yet again, the Tories have shown that transport in the north is not a priority for them. It is extraordinary that work to this line which is vital for connecting these two great cities has been delayed for so long.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are reviewing the original plans for the Hope Valley line and expect to put the contract out to tender in the next few weeks.

“The chosen contractor, once approved by the Department for Transport, should be announced by autumn 2020. Construction is expected to start in 2022 and complete by 2023.”

Network Rail added that the scheme was being reviewed to ensure it ‘meets current railway standards’ before the contract can go out to tender.

The upgrade involves creating a 1,100-metre passing loop between Bamford and Hathersage, and adding a second track at Dore and Totley station, among other changes.

Once the work is completed it will be up to the train operators to introduce new services on the route.

Responding to a written question from Ms Furniss about progress earlier this month, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Network Rail have completed the single option design for the railway infrastructure scheme proposed in the Hope Valley and are working on plans to progress the work to the next stage ‘Decision to Deliver’.

“Network Rail are developing a procurement plan to deliver the scheme, and are undertaking pre-construction planning to enable this scheme to be delivered as quickly as possible. They will be working with the train operators to assess the best way to deliver the scheme with the least disruption to passengers.”

When consultation about the project took place in 2015, it was envisaged work would get underway in the summer of 2017 and be completed the following year.