Tuesday, August 8, 2017

News: "Tram-train will benefit Rotherham"

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The innovative Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train service that is years late and significantly over-budget will benefit Rotherham town centre and the borough, so say Council regeneration bosses.

First mentioned in 2009, the project 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. Services will run from Sheffield Cathedral through to Parkgate Shopping.

The Council expects that the improved connectivity from next year will support the local economy and the new leisure and housing developments proposed for the town centre.

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The project was discussed at a recent Overview and Scrutiny Management Board at Rotherham Council following the recent publication of a National Audit Office report that highlighted how budgets have risen significantly and that it was close to being cancelled altogether.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is the client in the 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 vehicles. Network Rail is separately responsible to DfT to deliver the heavy rail modifications required.

In May 2012, when Ministers approved the programme, the Government expected Network Rail's modification of the national rail network to cost £18.7m and the tram-train scheme to be completed by December 2015. The report reveals that by December 2016, the cost of these works had quadrupled to £75.1m. Network Rail's project is now expected to be completed in May 2018.

Ministers and the Rail Investment Board had recommended that the tram‑train project should be cancelled but it continued due to the interest in the development of further schemes with greater potential elsewhere in the country.

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Cllr. Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy at Rotherham Council, said: "What we have ended up with is a delayed project which should be completed by 2018. There's a complete new management structure in place with Network Rail and we, in Rotherham, have got an investment of £75m.

"Whilst it is frustrating that there's been delays, it is a pilot project, the first of its type in the country, and it has not cost the people of Rotherham or Sheffield any money. What we have got is inward investment of £75m to improve our infrastructure, which will then be a benefit for jobs and the local economy."

Opposition leader Cllr. Allen Cowles called the project "an unmitigated disaster," adding: "The size of this project compared to something like Crossrail is minuscule. I don't know how anybody tries to defend what is clearly indefensible."

The Rotherham town centre masterplan places a greater emphasis on town centre living and leisure, as opposed to traditional retail uses, in continuing the regeneration of Rotherham town centre.

On housing proposals, like on the site of the former Sheffield Road baths, Cllr. Lelliott added: "It's about fetching people from Sheffield into Rotherham, that's how I see it. The connectivity will be key to other developments in our [town centre] masterplan.

"If you can get good quality housing, with the connectivity links of the tram train, then why would you buy somewhere in Sheffield where it might cost twice as much money?"

At a recent meeting of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority it was agreed that a second phase re-railing on the existing Supertram network is to be carried out at a cost of around £15m. Funding sources are being investigated and could include the SYPTE budget, National Productivity Innovation Funding, a passenger fare levy or using the authority's reserves.

SYPTE website

Images: SYPTE


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