Plea to improve 'astonishingly weak' rail links between Sheffield and Leeds before HS2 study

Work to improve the “astonishingly weak” train network between Sheffield and Leeds cannot wait for the conclusions of a delayed review into the future of HS2, a new report has warned.

Transport specialist Greengauge 21 has published a new report focused on the rail links between the two cities which makes a series of recommendations on how to improve the current situation.

Under previous HS2 plans, the Eastern leg of the high-speed line was to run to Leeds with Sheffield having a connection to the track but not being part of the main route.

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However, under the Integrated Rail Plan published in November 2021, HS2 will not reach Leeds with services stopping in the East Midlands and getting up to Sheffield via slower existing track.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper is being urged to take actionTransport Secretary Mark Harper is being urged to take action
Transport Secretary Mark Harper is being urged to take action

The Government has promised a £100m review of how to connect HS2 to Leeds but more than a year after the IRP was published, this work is yet to begin.

The Greengauge report said: “The need to re-examine the case for highspeed rail between the East Midlands and Leeds was determined a year ago in the Government’s £96bn Integrated Rail Plan.

"Waiting for the conclusions of a review which has not yet started risks a damaging hiatus, especially in the key corridor between Sheffield and Leeds, where the train network is astonishingly weak, and where the alternative—the speed-restricted M1 motorway—is already congested."

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The report warns the key Sheffield to Leeds link – where there is only one fast service per hour and towns in between are poorly served – risks being missed out entirely given the current focus on the east–west Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade for Leeds; and Midland Main Line electrification extended from the south to Sheffield.

Report co-author Jim Steer said: “Sheffield-Leeds is an Innovation Corridor, with a concentration of businesses and research facilities in advanced manufacturing and other spheres.

"To build on successes to date, expand the economy and grow employment prospects, the cities, towns and ex-mining villages of South and West Yorkshire need to be properly inter-connected.”

“But this is in danger of being a land that time forgot as far as rail improvements are concerned.”

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Suggested cost-effective improvements that can be made this decade include adding a second hourly fast service between Leeds and Sheffield that could also go onwards to Nottingham; having extra capacity for stopping services; extending the existing Sheffield to London service to Barnsley, Wakefield and York and the creation of a new station for Rotherham.

Rail minister Huw Merriman said last month that the Government is committed to the Integrated Rail Plan.

On HS2 services at Leeds, Mr Merriman said: “We are looking at what can be done.

“That money has been committed, a £100 million study, and then we’ve also got the commitment to assess options for Bradford.

“I’m keen that we progress that because I’m passionate about delivering better services to connect our cities together.”