Sheffield city leaders spell out demands for better rail services

The Sheffield City Region local enterprise partnership, Sheffield City Council and other south Yorkshire public and private sector organisations, have written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling with a list of 10 priorities for improving rail services across the region.

The letter has been written in response to the Department for Transport's consultation on the renewal of the Midland Mainline rail franchise covering services from London St Pancras to Sheffield via the East MIdlands. The franchise, which is currently operated by the Stagecoach-owned East Midlands Trains, is due to be renewed in August 2019. Other services included in the operator's license connect with Leeds, Crewe, Liverpool and Lincoln via cross-country lines from Nottingham and Sheffield.

Earlier this year Grayling announced that the Midland Mainline will now not be electrified north of Nottingham as previously planned. Bi-modal diesel-electric powered trains will be introduced instead with other track and signalling improvements.

Signatories on the Sheffield LEP's letter include the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry, sent with other individual responses to give a 'single voice for the Sheffield region', it says. According to the letter the government's current proposals do not get close to what's needed.

The ten points set out concens over Midland Mainline journey-times to London; bi-mode trains; improvement of the Liverpool-Norwich service; investment in Sheffield railway station; local railway services; customer service; weekend and Bank Holiday services; staffing of East Midlands trains; and the cost of rail fares.

The chairman of the Sheffield City Region LEP, Sir Nigel Knowles, said: “Myself and my co-signatories are united on the importance of the East Midlands franchise to Sheffield and the wider city region. The Midland Mainline provides the key link between Sheffield and London as well as the East Midlands, including Chesterfield, while the inter-regional service between Liverpool and Norwich links Sheffield to key regional cities, including Manchester and Nottingham.

“We were disappointed at the government’s decision in July not to electrify the Midland Mainline from Kettering to Sheffield, and we are seeking to ensure that the new bi-mode trains can deliver the improved journey times and environmental performance that we expected from electrification."

Another signatory on the letter, the leader of Sheffield City Council, councillor Julie Dore,  said: “Electrification of the Midland Mainline is vital for improving transport connectivity for Sheffield and as part of the new franchise the government should reverse their damaging decision to scrap it.

78“There has rightly been much focus on creating a new HS3 line connecting towns and cities across the north, but there are also real improvements that need to be made now to our existing Midland Mainline service. There should be a regular journey-time of under two hours to London, a seven-day railway with better services throughout the day including early morning, peak times, evenings and weekends and significant improvements to Sheffield Midland station with barrier-free accessibility. At the same time we need to be planning for the future improvements needed to enable HS3 and HS2 services into Sheffield.”

According to the Sheffield LEP, other specific issues raised in the joint consultation response include concern over the “delay in delivering the Hope Valley Northern Hub upgrade scheme” and adds: “We hope this scheme can be approved and implemented as soon as possible to provide a third fast train path from Sheffield to Manchester, which is vital to improve the frequency of trains between these two major Northern cities.”

The letter calls for the Lincoln to Doncaster service to be increased “as the current five trains per day service is inadequate”, and also asks for additional services to stop at the commuter stations of Dronfield and Dore and Totley.

Better value fares between Sheffield and London are also cited as a priority, as many passengers from Sheffield currently travel to London via Doncaster rather than on the Midland Mainline.