Major upgrade to Sheffield-Manchester railway service could be scrapped, fear campaigners

The Hope Valley railway line at Grindleford
The Hope Valley railway line at Grindleford
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A major upgrade to the railway line linking Sheffield and Manchester may never happen, campaigners fear.

The number of fast trains between the two cities on the Hope Valley line would increase from two to three under long-awaited plans.

Kath Aspinwall, chairman of the Hope Valley Railway Users Group

Kath Aspinwall, chairman of the Hope Valley Railway Users Group

There would also be an hourly stopping service on the line through the Peak District, rather than one train every two hours.

The upgrade was first mooted in 2013, at which point it was initially planned to double the number of fast trains between Sheffield and Manchester.

Consultation on the revised plans was carried out in summer 2015 and, after a public inquiry the following summer, Network Rail applied last November to transport secretary Chris Grayling for approval to carry out the necessary work.

Nearly 10 months down the line, passengers are still awaiting an announcement, or any news on when a decision will be made.

After plans for electrification to slash journey times between Sheffield and London were last month scrapped, rail users fear the Hope Valley upgrade could become the latest project to fall by the wayside.

Kath Aspinwall, chairman of the Hope Valley Railway Users Group, said: "We feel if they were going to do it they would have got on with it.

"You're talking about a few hundred yards of additional track to increase capacity on the fast trains by 50 per cent and double it on stopping services. It's a huge outcome for a relatively small investment.

"The Department for Transport is being deeply uncommunicative, and we're increasingly worried this will be the second big blow for rail travel in Sheffield, after plans for electrification were dropped."

Ms Aspinwall added that trains on the route are so crowded conductors often can't move to collect passengers' fares.

She said Sheffield and Manchester are widely quoted as the two worst connected cities anywhere in Europe, with road and rail links both falling well short of what would be expected for two major cities so close together.

She also pointed out that the Peak District is Britain's most-visited national park and improving railway services there would reduce congestion on the often traffic-choked roads both within the park and on major routes from Sheffield.

Between them, Bamford, Edale, Grindleford, Hathersage and Hope stations are used by nearly 300,000 passengers a year. Taking into account Dore & Totley and Chinley stations, which are on the Hope Valley line but have other connections, that figure rises to more than 560,000.

To increase the frequency of passenger services on the Hope Valley line, a passing loop would be created between Bamford and Hathersage stations, and a second line would be laid at Dore & Totley station, where a new platform would also be built.

When consultation was carried out in 2015, it was envisaged that work would begin this summer and the extra services would operate from winter 2018.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "An application under the Transport and Works Act 1992 for this scheme has been submitted to the department. This is the usual way of seeking approval for a scheme of this type in England. This is an independent legal process and the department cannot comment."