Tuesday, February 21, 2017

News: Sheffield city region's £5m rail investment - in Market Harborough

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Network Rail is asking the Sheffield city region (SCR) to put up £5m for a rail improvement project 70 miles away in Market Harborough.

The Midland Mainline (MML) is a key route between London and the Sheffield city region via the East Midlands but reports point to the planned electrification of the line to Sheffield by 2023 being abandoned by the Government.

Network Rail, the owners and operators of Britain's rail infrastructure, had planned to electrify the Midland Mainline north of Bedford, working north. It was set to reach Corby at the end of 2017; Nottingham and Derby at the end of 2019 and Sheffield at the end of 2020.

The project was controversially "paused" by the Government who had concerns over the performance of Network Rail. A new Network Rail chief, Sir Peter Hendy was brought in and proposed that line speed and capacity improvement works already in hand are added to, with electrification of the line north of Bedford to Kettering and Corby by 2019 and the line North of Kettering to Leicester, Derby/Nottingham and Sheffield by 2023.

The Government is yet to commit to Hendy's proposals.

Now leaders in the SCR are being asked to provide a £5m contribution towards a line speed improvement scheme at Market Harborough in a joint £13m funding package with Local Enterprise Partnership counterparts in Leicester and Leicestershire and Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

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A report to the SCR Combined Authority states that there has been some concern recently that phase 2 of the electrification project to Sheffield may be further delayed. It adds that in confirming the £5m, "a letter is sent from the CA to the Secretary of State for Transport asking him to reaffirm the Government's commitment to phase 2 of the MML electrification to Sheffield by 2023 and seeking a meeting with the Rail Minister to discuss this issue."

In parallel with the electrification project, a number of other upgrade schemes are planned to the MML to increase line speeds and capacity at key "pinch points." These include a line speed improvement scheme to straighten a curve near Market Harborough station in Leicestershire to allow faster speeds for inter-city and freight trains that do not stop there.

It is estimated that this £54.5m scheme will cut around 30 seconds off the journey time in each direction between London and Sheffield. The report adds: "Whilst this is a relatively small saving in itself, it is one of a number of MML upgrade schemes that will contribute towards reducing the fastest journey time between London and Sheffield by 4 minutes to 1 hour 57 minutes from the current 2 hours 1 minute."

Network Rail said that: "The works will improve the journey time for non-stop passenger and freight train services on the Midland Main Line at Market Harborough. As such, the economic benefits of the scheme are shared along the line between Sheffield and London.

"Long-distance services linking the capital to Sheffield (as well as Derby and Nottingham) are the main passenger beneficiaries. The single biggest flow of time-critical business travel from Sheffield is to and from London, therefore reducing journey time on the Midland Main Line is strongly beneficial to the economy of Sheffield City Region."

A recent report by IPPR North showed that the average transport infrastructure spend per head in London is nearly £2,000, but in the north it is just £427, with Yorkshire and Humber getting the worst deal in England, with only £190 per person. The Crossrail scheme alone will cost £4.7bn, while the entire northern transport budget is worth £6.6bn.

Images: Network Rail


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