Transport Minister Norman Baker today gave the green light to a £58m pilot scheme to run revolutionary Tram Trains on both rail and tram networks, making them ideal for the eight mile non-stop journeys between suburbs and city centres from Sheffield to Rotherham.
As well as providing a boost to the regional economy thanks to improved connections across the region, the project is also expected to create 35 new jobs locally.
As part of the major works to make the project a reality, the electrification of a stretch of track between Sheffield and Rotherham and the construction of a 400 metre line linking the tramway to the train tracks will take place.
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 networks in this country."
David Brown, SYPTE’s Director General, said: "We welcome the announcement today by the Minister confirming approval of the funding for the Sheffield /Rotherham tram train project. 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."
For the pilot to go ahead, rail infrastructure operator Network Rail will electrify a stretch of track between Sheffield and Rotherham.
Phil Verster, route managing director for Network Rail, 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 to support this exciting project which will bring lasting benefits to passengers in the Sheffield and Rotherham areas.”
Northern Rail’s Managing Director Ian Bevan said: “We are working with our partners to pilot Tram Trains on the network as we believe these vehicles can complement heavy rail, particularly in outer urban and semi-rural areas around major cities with an existing tram network. There are lessons to be learned here and Northern cities are among those well placed to benefit from them.”
Margaret Kay, Managing Director of Stagecoach Supertram, said: "We welcome today's announcement and look forward to playing an important role in this pilot.
"Tram Trains offer us the potential to deliver greener, smarter public transport services to even more people. We have a strong track record of providing high quality, good value services to the people of Sheffield day in, day out and we are excited at the prospect of being able to expand our services even further through this ground-breaking project."
If the pilot is successful, it opens the way for Tram Trains to be introduced in other parts of the country.
Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said: “We’ll be watching Sheffield’s Tram Train pilot very closely as we have begun work to understand whether this technology could be deployed within Greater Manchester.
"Tram Train could combine the advantages of the better access to the city centre our Metrolink tram system provides with the reach of the rail system into neighbouring districts. It has the potential to both improve public transport for passengers while also making our local rail services more cost-effective.”
The new Tram Train vehicles will operate from 2015 on Sheffield’s Supertram network and on part of the national rail network, which will be adapted to allow seamless travel from one to the other.
There are expected to be three services an hour all day and every day. These will operate from Parkgate Retail Park in Rotherham travelling through Rotherham Central Station and joining up to the existing Supertram network at Meadowhall where the services will then continue onwards to Sheffield City Centre.