Full speed ahead for rail campaign

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A CAMPAIGN to reduce train journey times between Sheffield and London to 75 minutes started to gather speed this week.

Business and council leaders combined forces in support of a high speed rail link that they said would generate investment and jobs.

And the authority made clear that it wants to see the fast trains stop in Sheffield city centre - not necessarily at the Midland Station - rather than at a Parkway station somewhere in South Yorkshire.

The Government is consulting on a strategy that would see an initial high speed line from London to Birmingham, then split with one line going through South Yorkshire to Leeds and the other to Manchester.

Critics say high-speed rail is a £32bn “white elephant” with few economic benefits and with environmental costs. Already the proposed first stretch, due to be completed by 2026, has drawn strong criticism for its impact on the Chilterns.

But the national “Yes to High Speed Rail” campaign rolled into Sheffield yesterday to be welcomed by the council, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Small Business Federation and East Midlands Trains, which operates trains to and from London.

They are trying to generate support from the public and the wider business community for a link that could cut an hour off current journey times. It would also see Sheffield on the map as part of a Europe-wide travel network with direct links to Paris and other major continental destinations.

Up to 50 possible lines for the northern legs are expected to be considered next year by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, and councillors in Sheffield believe some of the benefits of a faster line would be lost if it took longer for commuters to reach the nearest station. Council leader Coun Julie Dore, said: “We are the fourth largest city in the country and it is absolutely imperative that the station is in Sheffield. It provides the best opportunity for the local economy.”

Coun Helen Mirfin-Boukouris, cabinet member for business, jobs and growth, said: “A link between Sheffield and London and other major cities will undoubtedly bring opportunities to the city. If people can get to and from Sheffield in a day to do business here, it will be a great step forward in encouraging companies to see Sheffield as a business destination. “We strongly believe that a national high-speed rail network, along with improvements to conventional rail routes, are essential to increasing inter-city trade and improving access to more local jobs within commuting distance.”

Tim Hale, chairman of Champion Hire Ltd, who also chairs the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Transport Forum, said: “The state of rail infrastructure in the UK is very poor when compared to the best in Europe and investment is sorely needed across the network.

“The economic benefits of high-speed rail are calculated to be worth billions to the UK economy, many millions of which would accrue to the Sheffield City Region if the network extended to this area.

“High-speed rail is just part of the solution, though – investment in other areas of the existing rail network is also urgently needed, such as electrification of the Midland Mainline.”

Simon Carr, managing director of Henry Boot Construction Ltd and Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership board member, said: “A national high-speed rail network would provide a unique opportunity to rebalance the national economy by strengthening links with the south-east and Europe. High-speed rail would also release capacity on the existing rail network, providing opportunities for communities that are not directly on the high-speed lines.”

Simon Carr of Henry Boot