POLITICIANS and the business community this week welcomed the Government’s commitment to improving the rail link between Sheffield and Manchester.
They have been campaigning for years for a faster and more reliable trans-Pennine service and for more trains - and Chancellor George Osborne gave the green light in yesterday’s Budget as part of a £130m investment in the ‘Northern Hub’ with the aim of encouraging economic growth.
The package, designed to improve passenger and freight routes, includes an extra track and platform at Dore, a new passing loop at Grindleford or Dore and bigger capacity at Chinley, at the same time as Network Rail renews signalling and track.
More trains are being promised between Sheffield and Manchester and a reduction in journey of about five minutes. The capacity enhancements, especially the doubling of the track at Dore, should improve reliability.
And the Department for Transport believes train operators will be encouraged to run more and longer trains, after years of complaints that seats are not always available.
Deputy Prime Minister and Hallam MP Nick Clegg, who has pressed for improvements at Dore, said: “This massive investment is great news for Sheffield. It means more trains, faster connections and less overcrowding for people travelling between Sheffield and Manchester. It is good for passengers and good for business.”
Council leader Julie Dore said pressure had come from Sheffield and other northern cities.
She said: “There are huge capacity constraints on the north’s rail network which is a significant obstacle to economic growth. The Government now has to deliver on the promises it has made.”
Sheffield is well-connected by rail, but rail travel is increasingly popular and trains between Sheffield and other northern cities are all too often overcrowded, added Coun Dore.
“It’s essential that our railways can meet this demand if we’re to fulfil our economic potential as a city. The Northern Hub will be a solution.”
Tim Hale, who chairs Sheffield Chamber of Commerce’s Transport Forum, said: “The budget confirmation of the rail investments in the Northern Hub, and specifically in the improvements to the Hope Valley line are excellent news that will benefit Sheffield rail users.”
The Northern Hub encompasses the Manchester lines to Bradford and Preston, although there is the condition of it being “subject to value for money being confirmed”.
The exact timetable will be in the hands of Network Rail, but the Government expects the Hope Valley scheme to have been completed by the end of 2018.
It also says the extra capacity on the Hope Valley line will allow an hourly service on Mondays to Fridays as well as on Saturdays for local trains but Derbyshire County Council and other organisations will consider the case for subsidies.
Services are run by Northern, Trans-Pennine Express and East Midlands Trains.
The Government says that doubling the junction at Dore will provide benefits to the Midland Main line, and the case for electrification of the Sheffield to London link is being assessed as part of a review to be published by the end of July.
The Institute for Public Policy Research in the North welcomed the transport investment but said more needed to be done to bring down unemployment.
IPPR North director Ed Cox said: “IPPR North have previously argued that transport investment is unfairly skewed towards London and the South East and our research has recently shown that planned future transport investment in the North East is just £5 per head compared to £2,700 per head in London and the South East. Investing in the Northern Hub will go some way to rebalance investment.”