Friday, March 18, 2016

News: Tram train delayed again

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The innovative Sheffield-Rotherham tram train service that was scheduled to reach the borough in 2017 has been delayed again, and again the blame is being placed with Network Rail.

The delayed pilot project, first mentioned in 2009, will see vehicles running on both rail and tram networks, using the freight route from Rotherham and then joining the Sheffield Supertram network at Meadowhall South.

With funding from the Government, the £60m pilot scheme is set to run for two years with a view to permanent operation. It is the first of its kind in the UK and if it is successful, it opens the way for tram trains to be introduced in other parts of the country.

Operated by Stagecoach, three trams an hour will run all day from Sheffield city centre through the Rotherham Central to Parkgate retail park. The running time from Parkgate to Sheffield Cathedral will be about 25 minutes.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is the client in this project, with South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) responsible for the delivery of all of the light rail modifications, rail replacement and procurement of the seven vehicles. Network Rail is separately responsible to DfT to deliver the heavy rail modifications required for the project.

Network Rail, the owners and operators of Britain's rail infrastructure, is responsible for construction plans for 170 metres of track at Tinsley to connect the Supertram and railway networks. It has also been getting to grips with some of heavy rail modifications, including power, track modifications, approvals and testing and commissioning. It meant that projected costs have increased and transport bosses have been frustrated by the delays in updates from Network Rail and revised spend profiles.

The first vehicle was recently delivered to the Stagecoach depot in Sheffield. The SYPTE warned last year that there is a danger that the new vehicles could be sat at the Nunnery depot with the warranty running out whilst Network Rail completes work to its lines.

Cllr. Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council updated members and commissioners on the lack of progress this week. He said: "Some of you will have seen that there are further delays to the tram train project caused by Network Rail. I'm writing formally to Network Rail to demand action from their senior management on that. It isn't acceptable that it slips year after year."

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In November, the Committee of Public Accounts highlighted severe planning and budgeting failures in Network Rail's current five-year investment programme.

Having gained formal approval from the Secretary of State for a Transport & Works Act order, lead contractor Carillion has started work on the heavy rail section including the installation of cabling for signalling and piling works for the foundations to support the Overhead Line Equipment along the route.

An update to the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: "The Network Rail delivery programme still contains several key risks which are closely being monitored by Network Rail and the Project Board. Heavy Rail approvals, safety verification, product acceptance and general compliance to standards on the Heavy Rail side remains challenging, with the effect on construction and certainty on completion still unknown."

The Network Rail-led work on the tram train project is also causing delays to the £34.3m Sheffield to Rotherham Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme, which is already a year behind schedule and more than £8m over budget.

The Northern route of the scheme aims to improve the links between Rotherham and Sheffield passing Meadowhall, the Lower Don Valley and Templeborough. It aims help to foster economic growth along the corridor by helping people access jobs and opportunities.

The main feature is a £20m, alternative, all transport route which bypasses the congested M1 junction 34 South by providing a new section of highway beneath the Tinsley Viaduct and is currently under construction.

Materials needed to build the Tinsley Link road have to be transported across the Tinsley to Rotherham Freight line before being lifted up onto the bridge deck area. Network Rail refused access across the railway line and access was very limited between October and December 2015. The same report to the transport committee said: "This was due to the Tram Train Project taking possession of the line (i.e. temporary ownership of the section of track) and thus preventing Network Rail permitting BRT's contractors on this section. These issues have now been resolved and work is progressing."

SYPTE website

Images: DfT

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