TRANSPORT Secretary Philip Hammond was urged this week to speed up the introduction of faster trains between Sheffield and London for the sake of the region’s economy.
Business and political leaders presented the case for Sheffield being part of a high-speed network linking London, Birmingham and Leeds.
But with at least 21 years to go before the prospect of this becoming a reality, the Government’s Department of Transport is being pressed to accelerate the programme and, in the meantime, approve the electrification of the Midland Main Line so that train times can be speeded up well before then.
“We believe that 21 years is too long to wait for better rail connectivity and capacity,” said the Local Enterprise Partnership for Sheffield City Region, which represents the local business community and local authorities.
The LEP made its pitch to be part of a £32bn high-speed network when Mr Hammond visited Sheffield on Monday, pointing to a survey indicating 91% of South Yorkshire businesses are in favour of a national network.
The Government is consulting over plans for a route that would run from London to Birmingham then split, with one line going to Manchester and one to Sheffield and Leeds.
Local leaders say they would like to see the full network built.
“However evidence suggests that the economic benefits and associated business case are greater for the eastern arm of the Y, indicating that this link must be built before, or in parallel with the western arm.”
Mr Hammond said that it was intended to build both arms at the same time.
Sheffield City Region representatives believe faster and better trains are crucial to improving north-south links and attracting investment.
“Because journey times between London and Sheffield City Region on the Midland Main Line are so poor for our city region, the journey time savings offered by high-speed rail are important and non-marginal.
“High-speed rail will provide Sheffield City region businesses with a level of connectivity comparable to other core city regions and help make the city region a more attractive location for business inward investment.”
It is estimated that journey times from Sheffield to London could be cut by 40% to one hour, 15 minutes.
This would also open up leisure opportunities in European destinations by offering a realistic and sustainable alternative to air travel, it is argued. Journeys from Sheffield to Paris could potentially take less than five hours.
But the case for action in the shorter erm is being underlined.
“Ahead of high-speed rail there must be interim improvements in the Midland Main Line and East Coast Mainline as part of any national rail strategy to support our economic growth,” says the submission by the local LEP.
Public consultation over high-speed project, which has attracted opposition on the basis of the environmental impact on the Chilterns and questions over its economic value, ends tomorrow (Friday).