Why bringing the Don Valley rail line in Stocksbridge back into passenger use could be a lifeline if Liberty Steel plant closes
Railfuture Yorkshire says good transport options are essential for locals in Stocksbridge who may need to look for jobs elsewhere due to the uncertainty surrounding Liberty Steel's plant in the South Yorkshire town.
The company last month started a formal sale process for its plant as well as Coventry’s Liberty Pressing Solutions, and Liberty Aluminium Technologies, which has sites in Essex and Kidderminster. It said the Stocksbridge aerospace and special alloys steel business, which employs 750 people, was ‘not core to the green steel vision’.
Stocksbridge is served by a railway line but is is currently freight only and campaigners say "the opportunity must be grasped to return this railway to passenger use".
They say possible options include a conventional rail service serving a reopened Sheffield Victoria station and continuing to Chesterfield via Barrow Hill or to Retford for East Coast Main Line connections. An alternative, they say, could be a tram train starting in the centre of Stocksbridge and joining the Supertram network in central Sheffield.
Railfuture’s Vice Chair for South Yorkshire, Mike Rose, said: “If the Government is serious about its 'levelling up' agenda, this should be one of its priorities.
"Public transport between Sheffield and Stocksbridge is poor, and communities along the way such as Oughtibridge and Deepcar would also benefit from a passenger service along the line.
"Sheffield City Region put in a bid under the 'Restoring Your Railway' fund to the Department for Transport, which regrettably was unsuccessful. If the works were to close this has to change”.
A bid to return the line to passenger use as part of the £500 Restoring Your Railway initiative, which aims to reinstate axed local services and restore closed stations, was made last year.
But the proposal has now been resubmitted as part of round three of the fund following feedback from the Department for Transport, with a decision expected later in the year.
All the round three bids will be assessed by an expert panel in June, including three Government Ministers, the Chair of Network Rail and Isabel Dedring, former London Deputy Mayor for Transport.
A Sheffield City Region mayoral authority spokeswoman said: “Transformational investment is needed to upgrade our infrastructure and improve connectivity across South Yorkshire.
"Improved public transport is essential to our renewal and growth in the coming months and years, and investment in our local and regional services will be a key signal of government’s intent on levelling up the North.
"The uncertainty over the future of the Stocksbridge steel works only reinforces the case for this critical investment."
The proposed route runs along trackbed owned by Network Rail that was constructed in the 1840s as part of their line between Manchester and Sheffield. This line, which became known as the Woodhead Line, closed to passengers in 1970.
Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge Miriam Cates said the bid was "well supported by the local community and by the current management of Stocksbridge Speciality Steels".
She added: "This is important as the small section of track between Deepcar and Stocksbridge is still owned by the steelworks.
"As the sale process continues, I look forward to engaging with any new owners and management to secure their support for this transformational new public transport link.
"The sale of the Stocksbridge steelworks is a worrying time for many local people, especially the steelworkers and their families.
"The plant is a vital part of the town and the surrounding area, and I am working closely with the Government, unions, and management to help secure its future."
Ten schemes from Yorkshire and the Humber - including a bid to restore 32 miles of railway track between Beverley and York nearly five decades after the line was closed during the Beeching cuts - are among those under consideration by DfT in round three of the fund.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We received a proposal to introduce passenger services on the Don Valley Line between Stocksbridge and Sheffield Victoria in the third round of the Ideas Fund, along with a bid to restore passenger rail to Sheaf Valley. We are currently considering these bids and a decision is expected in the summer.
“Our Restoring your Railway programme will help level up connections between communities, increasing access to jobs and opportunities. We are pleased to be supporting the development of several other rail schemes in the Sheffield area, including the Barrow Hill Line and Waverley Station.”