Penistone line is chosen for £24m tram trains trial

NEW-style tram trains could be running by the end of 2010 on a line in the Pennines as part of the first phase of a £24 million trial.

The trains, which are used on many routes in Germany, will be sharing tracks with conventional trains on the 37-mile Penistone line, which runs between Sheffield and Huddersfield, via Barnsley.

The two-year trial involves Northern Rail, Network Rail and the Department for Transport, which is part-funding the project.

The aim is to evaluate the potential for running tram trains on main rail routes which could then link into street-running systems such as Sheffield’s Supertram network.

Engineers and project planners face a number of major engineering and safety issues but it is believed that such trains could be environmentally friendly and would help raise capacity and cut track maintenance costs.

The trains will differ considerably from the ‘light’ railway systems used only on dedicated lines and routes.

One of the biggest initial tasks is to set a specification for the building of the five diesel-electro hybrid tram trains at a cost of £9 million. The trains will have to be equipped with braking systems suitable for on-street running and a Train Protection Warning System which is required for running on lines with ‘heavy’ rail passenger and freight trains.

During a special briefing in Sheffield, project leaders said the Penistone line was chosen for the trial after evaluating 22 routes, which led to a shortlist of seven.

Currently Northern Rail runs a one hourly service on the line.

The route best met the objectives and offered the best value for money.

It is envisaged that, under phase one, tram trains would share tracks with other trains between Sheffield and Barnsley via the Meadowhall Inter-change, while on the 21 miles between Barnsley and Huddersfield only tram trains would run.

The stretch is chiefly single track with two passing loops and conventional colour light signalling. Line speeds are typically 50 mph.

The second phase of the trial will involve linking into Sheffield’s Stagecoach Super-tram network, which runs between Rotherham Central and Sheffield.

Simon Coulthard, senior commercial schemes sponsor for Network Rail, said track renewals would be carried out between Barnsley and Huddersfield before the tram trains were introduced.

He said the trial would help to determine costs, and safety implications in terms of crash-worthiness and the trains’ on-board features.

Journey times could be reduced, even with additional station stops, because of the trains more rapid acceleration.

Barry Graham, business development manager for Northern Rail, said: “We could get further benefits if we were able to rewrite the timetable but there is intensive use on parts of the route chosen, so the scope for changing the timetable is fairly constrained.

“This is ground-breaking work with information which will be shared across the industry. This is a test of our [the industry’s] ability to respond to the management of change.”

During the Penistone line test period passengers reactions will be sought and technical data collected.

Back to News