Letter: Reopening this route could cut Sheffield to Leeds train journeys to 30 minutes
This letter was written by D Long of S10.
The main purpose of the HS2 eastern leg has always been to improve services from London to Leeds and further north, with Sheffield being only a minor beneficiary.
Indeed it can be argued that diverting the Cross Country trains away from Sheffield (Leeds to Birmingham for example) would have been to our disadvantage. So, I'm quite happy to see much of the eastern leg being dropped. This doesn't mean that HS2 trains can't serve Sheffield, only that the would take a different route southwards from Sheffield.
The government claims that they want to improve services earlier than if we relied on building the eastern leg. We must take them up on this. Basically Sheffield needs to ensure that electrification of the Midland main line (Market Harborough through Leicester, Derby to Sheffield) is given a top priority for completion no later than 2030. Add in electrification from Derby to Birmingham and a junction with HS2 either to the north or south of Tamworth and we can have HS2 trains running from Sheffield to London in 90 minutes as soon as the southern part of HS2 opens, around 2030.
Unfortunately I'm very concerned that the government's latest proposals assume that HS2 trains from Sheffield would go to Derby, then eastwards to East Midlands Parkway before joining the newly built remaining leg of HS2, the main purpose of which is to serve Nottingham. From the point of view of Sheffield, Chesterfield and Derby this is unnecessary and might well substantially delay the introduction of HS2 trains to our cities beyond 2040. I suspect that building the new line to Nottingham cannot be justified unless it is seen as serving Derby, Chesterfield and Sheffield as well. This is not a reason for ignoring Sheffield's needs which seem to have been subserviant to Leeds in the past and, potentially, to Nottingham in the future.
So, I want to emphasise that local politicians need to work with those in Chesterfield and Derby to argue that HS2 trains can and should reach our cities by 2030. As a short term measure Nottingham could also be reached via Derby.
Looking in the northbound direction from Sheffield I cannot see a completely new line from Clayton/Moorthorpe toward Leeds being justified either. What is worth considering though is reopening the line through Cudworth which used to be the fastest route between Sheffield and Leeds until part of it closed in the mid 1980s. Much of the route is still used for freight and the only substantive problem is near Wath where an industrial estate has been built. I think a new viaduct may be possible here. I estimate that if the Cudworth route reopened the Sheffield to Leeds journey time could reduce to 30 minutes. It would be far cheaper than the building an entirely new route as previously proposed.
The Hope Valley route to Manchester also needs to be given a much greater priority than it receives from government because it is the only route from Manchester to Sheffield, South Yorkshire and much of the East Midlands, the direct route from Manchester to Derby having closed in 1968.
My final point is that there has been much talk of 'levelling up' in the north. When it comes to rail investment there has already been a huge amount of investment in Manchester and Leeds over many years compared with very little in Sheffield, and the HS2/3 proposals were only going to add to this.
Sheffield needs electrification and upgrading along with HS2 trains, all of which is readily achievable by 2030. This would allow us to catch up with Manchester and Leeds, and that is why Sheffield's interests ought to be a top priority for both government and the Northern Powerhouse.