TRAM TRAINS will be running in Britain in 2015, as the result of a decision by the Department for Transport to invest £58 million in a trial scheme in South Yorkshire.
Transport minister Norman Baker has given the green light to a project which will link the present Sheffield tram network with the railway to Rotherham via a new 400m connection between the tramway and heavy rail near Meadowhall. The line onwards to Rotherham will also be electrified.
Seven new tram trains – which are suitable for both light and heavy rail – are to be built. A procurement competition led by Northern in 2009-10 identified Vossloh as the lead bidder to supply them, but because Northern’s franchise ends before the two year experimental period starts, the contract will be let by South Yorkshire PTE.
It is expected that the operator will be Stagecoach Supertram.
Mr Baker said: "Providing better connections between Sheffield and Rotherham’s city centres and residential areas will help to reinvigorate the local economy. It will also encourage people to leave their cars at home, making this pilot environmentally friendly.
“This is great news for passengers in South Yorkshire and potentially it could benefit people across the country wherever tram and rail networks exist together.
“Tram trains have already proven hugely popular on the Continent. Now we will be able to test whether they can bridge the gap between tram and train in this country.”
SYPTE Director General David Brown welcomed the news. He said: "It is further welcome investment by government in the transport infrastructure of South Yorkshire. The project will provide important enhanced local connectivity and demonstrate the potential, both locally and nationally, of this new technology to deliver value for money services."
Network Rail also believes tram trains could have a significant part to play. Route managing director Phil Verster said: "Tram trains offer a real opportunity to improve transport links in urban areas and today’s announcement of funding is extremely welcome.
“We have already learned a significant amount about how a tram train could benefit Britain’s rail network. Now we can move into detailed design and delivery of the infrastructure."
The new service will run at 20-minute headways between the Parkgate Retail Park, Rotherham Central station and Sheffield city centre. Ticketing will be integrated with the present tram system. The DfT said the scheme is a pilot, running for two years, but 'with a view to permanent operation'.
The DfT said the main objectives of the pilot were to understand the costs of operating a lighter weight vehicle with track brakes on heavy rail, clarify the technical standards required to allow inter-running of trams with conventional trains while gaining the maximum cost benefit, find out what passengers think, and also understand the technical and operational challenges involved so that tram trains can be provided elsewhere.
The decision to go ahead in Sheffield marks the end of several years of indecision, during which the heavy rail route from Huddersfield to Sheffield via Penistone was also considered. However, critics of that scheme pointed out that achieving a connection with the tramway at Meadowhall would have involved the construction of a costly flyover. The Rotherham scheme will need only some new track and overhead equipment, with no major new structures.