Posted 19th June 2013 | 7 Comments

Minister gives green light for tram-trains

Sheffield tram

The tram trains will run through Sheffield city centre using existing tramlines

THE first tram-train service in the UK has been given the go-ahead by transport minister Norman Baker.

The service, costing around £60 million, will run from early 2016 between Rotherham Parkgate and Sheffield city centre, using both the existing tramway and the national rail network.

Three new tram-trains are being built by Vossloh. They are dual voltage, which the DfT said makes them 'future proofed to cater for any subsequent electrification of the Midland Main Line by being capable of operating at both light and heavy rail operating voltage'.
Network Rail will build a new junction between the light rail and heavy rail lines near Meadowhall South.

The heavy rail line from Meadowhall South to Rotherham Central and Rotherham Parkgate will be electrified. New platforms will also be built at Meadowhall South and at Rotherham Parkgate, and Rotherham Central’s platforms will be extended to accommodate the new service. The DfT added that 'future station options will also be considered'.

Norman Baker said: “Providing better connections between the heart of Sheffield and Rotherham’s city centres and residential areas will help to reinvigorate the local economy. It will also encourage people to leave their cars at home.

“Tram-Trains are an innovative and high-capacity transport system which have proved very successful in other European cities.
“We will be monitoring the scheme over the course of the next two years and I look forward to seeing if it would be appropriate to replicate it elsewhere in the UK.”

Cllr Mick Jameson, who chairs the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, said: “Today’s signing is further welcome investment by Government in the transport infrastructure of South Yorkshire. The project will provide important enhanced local connectivity and demonstrate the potential, both locally and nationally, of this new technology to deliver value for money services. We are excited to be a project partner in this ground breaking project."

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    I would actually seriously look at running fast tram-trains between Sheffield and Meadowhall/Rotherham. Whilst some people might appreciate being able to get from Rotherham the central tram stops without the hassle of changing a tram at the rail station or walking the last bit, thre would be a much greater benefit if you could do that without the 20 mins extra on the tram line between Meadowhall and Sheffield. And if HS2 [phase 2 goes ahead as currently planned, it will become even more valuable. (The 1 hour saving of journey time to London isn't quite so good once you spend 30 minutes extra on a tram to the station.)

    In order to do this, I can see two challenges:

    1) You'd need to construct some sort of rail/tramway interchange, probably just north of Sheffield station. That looks like it would be tricky.

    2) You'd have to slot in trams to what's already a pretty busy section of line, at 11 tph. In theory, with a singalling headway of three minutes and leaving one spare path per half hours, that gives us 7 potential tram paths per hour, but trams have to put up with unexpected delays from pedestrians and vehicles and we could run into problems every time a tram is 3 minutes late. We could be look at an expensive signalling upgrade if this is to be viable.

    So I can see why the pwoers that be may have chosen to go for the cheap tram-train option first. But my instinct is that fast trams from Sheffield to Meadowhall will be worth it.

  • Roger Capel, Sheffield

    This lets us get from Sheffield city centre to Rotherham or Parkgate retail without messing about changing from light to heavy rail at the Midland Station. We can also get to Mexborough, Conisborough, Doncater & stations to Leeeds via the Dearne Valley with a "get off & stand (almost) where you are change at Rotherham Central. Expect a drop in loadings on the X78 Sheffield - Meadowhall -Rotherham - Doncaster bus.

    Bravo for the dual voltage cars, one hopes that the OLE will also be insulated to 25kv.

  • Caspar Lucas, Stourbridge

    Nick: as there are already typically 9 trains an hour between Sheffield and Meadowhall taking 5 or 6 minutes - there are no intermediate stations - and the HS2 proposals envisage a further 2 CrossCountry trains per hour (see "Updated economic case for HS2 (August 2012): Explanation of the service patterns", Appendix A), it seems unlikely that running capacity-limited tram-trains would be seen as an improvement.

    The HS2 plans also envisage moving the main line platforms at Meadowhall to be directly underneath the high speed platforms for improved interchange (see drawing HS2-ARP-LR0-DR-RT-55151), but it does not seem possible to improve the location of the diverging platforms.

    (As an aside, running on the main line from Sheffield to Meadowhall was part of the original 'tram-train trial' launched in 2008: in phase 1 [intended to be operational from 2010 to 2012] the envisaged bi-mode diesel/750V DC trams would have taken over the Sheffield-Penistone-Huddersfield service, complete with low platforms at all stations. If successful, this was to have been followed by phase 2, which would have seen two years' trial running on the route now being implemented. The actual route for phase 1 was rather badly publicised, leading to assumptions that the Supertram infrastructure would be used and much resulting confusion about how the tram-trains would leap over the principal lines at Meadowhall!)

  • nick, welwyn

    Just a thought but if the existing Sheffield to Meadowhall line were electrified, which I don't believe they are at present, and the tram and rail lines were connected, then the tram trains could run fast between Meadowhall and Sheffield city centre.

    So in addition to the all stops Rotherham Parkgate - Sheffield service there could be a service leaving out the intermediate stops. This would also provide a fast link to the new HS2 station.

  • Philip Russell, Carlisle

    Im sure this will be a great improvement for passangers in the sheffield area ,however the previous government refused to support proposals for trams in liverpool and Solent LRT, and the local authority in St Albans is not prepared to push the project through there ,so sadly its hard to see this concept being adopted much unless government is really prepared to back it

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Hmm ... I'm yet to be convinced by this idea. If we need a station at Rotherham Parkgate, that can be built with or without tram-trains. The question is how the service to Rotherham Central/Parkgate is best improved. And with a conventional train service already existing between Rotherham and Sheffield, we're already running into problems. I believe it takes 20-25 minutes longer to travel between Meadowhall and Sheffield by tram than by train, so that's already a big disincentive for train-trams.

    The only journeys where I can see this being a clear advantage are the intermediate stops on the tram route between Meadowhall and Sheffield, where a direct journey will be possible (having previously had to change at Meadowhall). Debatably, there's also an advantage of the convenience of through journeys to whichever suburb the Rotherham trams go to, but will still be quicker to take a train to Sheffield station and change? I'm not sure. The only other advantage I can see is that this may be a cheaper solution to increase passenger capacity than running more rail services or longer trains, but if that's the case, it really does seem like a bargain basement remedy.

    However, if the people of Sheffield and Rotherham have thought all of these things through, fair enough. If they understand all the advantages and disadvantages, it's no-one else's business whether they think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I don't live or work in South Yorkshire, and it would be highly condescending to lecture people who do live and work in South Yorkshire on what's best for them. Some goes for anywhere else in the north. Isn't that right New Economics Foundation?

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    This surely is the future for the Rail Industry, - Mass transport in urban areas at a cheap cost. Safety is now so high that reinforced heavy carriages are no longer needed.