SHEFFIELD will become the first city in England to trial a new generation of tram-trains designed to connect locations across its city centre with neighbouring towns.
The Government yesterday gave the green light to a £58m scheme to pilot specially-modified trams that can run on the city’s existing Supertram network as well as normal railway lines.
The new services should be running by 2015, operating across the city centre and out through the suburbs as far as Rotherham.
If the two-year pilot proves successful, the service could be extended to other nearby towns as well as being introduced in other towns and cities in the UK with tram networks.
The project is the latest in a lengthening line of positive transport announcements for Yorkshire over the past 12 months, following plans for electrification along key railway routes and the halving of the Humber Bridge tolls.
Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “This is great news for passengers in South Yorkshire – and potentially could benefit people across the country wherever tram and rail networks exist together.
“Providing better connections between Sheffield and Rotherham’s centres and residential areas will help to re-invigorate the local economy.
He added: “It will also encourage people to leave their cars at home.”
Tram-trains are modified trams that are given improved safety, communications and signalling hardware to allow them to move seamlessly between tram rails and wider railway networks.
Their flexibility and potential to deliver passengers to specific locations within town and city centres have long made them popular in Europe – though they have not been used in England for decades.
Mr Baker made it clear he believes the Sheffield pilot could well be the precursor to a huge expansion of their use in the UK.
“Tram-trains have already proven hugely popular on the continent,” he said.
“Now we will be able to test whether they can bridge the gap between tram and train networks in this country.”
Seven tram-trains will be purchased for use in the trial, while a short stretch of railway between Sheffield and Rotherham will need to be electrified
The project will work in tandem with the upgrade and expansion of the Supertram system announced by the Government last year.
There are expected to be three services per hour, all day, every day. They will operate from Parkgate Retail Park in Rotherham, travelling through Rotherham Central Station and joining the existing Supertram network at Meadowhall, where the services will continue onwards to Sheffield city centre.
Such a scheme has been discussed for many years in South Yorkshire and yesterday’s announcement was warmly welcomed by the county’s passenger transport executive, .
SYPTE’s director general David Brown, said: “This is further welcome investment in 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.”
Rotherham MP Denis MacShane also welcomed the news, but added that adequate low-cost parking would have to be found at Rotherham station to encourage shoppers to use the tram-train. It will defeat the purpose if car parking charges are so high they discourage people from taking the train,” he said.
Mr MacShane also called for an extension of the services to Doncaster. “We need smart 21st century public transport to lessen dependence on cars,” he said.