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Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train delayed

The launch date for the tram-train pilot running between Sheffield and Rotherham has been delayed again – with no new date set.

The plan for flexible vehicles to run on both rail and tram networks, using the freight route from Rotherham and then joining the Sheffield Supertram network at Meadowhall South, was scheduled to launch in spring of 2016, after being delayed from 2015. Now the £60m project, to be operated by Stagecoach, will no longer meet even that new deadline, due to problems with the design work to adapt the heavy rail network to allow tram-train style service.

When it is up and running, three trams an hour will run all day from Sheffield city centre through the redeveloped Rotherham Central station to Parkgate retail park.

The pilot project was originally announced by the Department for Transport in May 2012, with final approval for the contracts between the project partners (SYPTE , the DfT, Network Rail, Northern Rail and Stagecoach Supertram) granted in June 2013. The original announcement said the project “will see tram-trains operating between the cities of Rotherham and Sheffield from 2015”.

A joint statement from SYPTE (the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive) and Network Rail announcing the delay said: “Network Rail, who are responsible for these works, are presently undertaking a detailed assessment of their delivery programme, and the project partners are committed to working with Network Rail to mitigate the delay as far as possible. Some of the delay arises from the project’s relationship with other heavy rail investment programmes in order to maximise efficiencies, such as signalling control.

“Good progress is being made on other aspects of the project, with vehicles being manufactured and works to the tramway and depot to accommodate tram-trains well underway.”

Carillion have been working on design and establishment works for the project, including a stop at Stonerow Way, the road that runs behind Parkgate Shopping retail park, and the lowering of tracks at three bridges to accommodate overhead power lines. At the redeveloped station in Rotherham town centre additional platforms and access ramps will also be constructed.

Last year RTM spoke to Dr Paul Allen, assistant director of the Institute of Rail Research at the University of Huddersfield and project manager for work on an optimal interface for the tram-train pilot in Sheffield, who explained some of the challenges in adapting vehicles to run on both light and heavy rail networks.

Tram-train’s proponents hope to eventually emulate the success of cities like Kassel and Karlsruhe in Germany, and Mulhouse in France, where it has proven very successful.

268 Karlsruhe tram train copyright Gregorius Mundus

(Above photo from Karlsruhe: Gregorius Mundus. Creative Commons)

SYPTE is procuring seven new dual voltage vehicles (750V DC and 25kV AC) for the pilot project from Vossloh España, using tram-trains that are part of the Citylink family, as are being provided to Karlsruhe.

IMG 9849

(Above: Former transport minister Norman Baker at the announcement of the Vossloh deal last summer. Picture: SYPTE)

Vossloh is building the new tram-trains at its Albuixech plant near Valencia and will deliver them next year. Maintenance will be by Vossloh at the existing Nunnery depot.

Each three-section Citylink vehicle is 37.2m long, 2.65m wide and they have low-floor doors.

Sheffield tram train from Vossloh

The Sheffield tram network has some tight curves and tough gradients, presenting unique challenges for the vehicles, which have on-board systems for both tramway and heavy rail operations.

A revised timetable for the launch of Sheffield to Rotherham tram-trains is due to be announced before the end of this year.

Other areas considering the feasibility of train-tram service include Greater Manchester, which last year approved plans to develop a train-tram strategy, and West Yorkshire where the all-party parliamentary light rail group was pushing for a tram-train link from Leeds to Leeds-Bradford International Airport.

The Manchester Metrolink network already contains a stretch of trackbed – between Altrincham and Timperley – that is used by both light rail and heavy rail vehicles. (Note: this paragraph was edited for clarification)

511 tram next to a train

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at


Malc   14/11/2014 at 12:37

No surprise there then. The railways were developed here in Britain yet we lag so far behind the rest of Europe. Why does a well proven idea need to be tested in the UK . Manchesters old T68/T69s were tram trains . They worked . Or is a case of Network Rail not wanting to lose a freight line . Or could it be a case of wrong kind of such an such. Massive failure to deliver pePnalties should be imposed. Come Network Rail pull your damn fingers out an stop with the naff excuses .

Rebecca Dove   14/11/2014 at 13:27

"Why does a well proven idea need to be tested in the UK . Manchesters old T68/T69s were tram trains . They worked . " Usually because Network Rail want added safety to the rest of Europe, standard European practices are often not good enough in the minds of Network rail who demand extra safety precautions, which usually end with the system reporting failed more often ...

John Brook   14/11/2014 at 14:12

Just to clarify the picture and comment of train and tram at Navigation Road, between Altrincham and Timperley. Although sharing the same trackbed, the two systems do not share the same track or signalling, (both are single line)although obviously the shared level crossing is interlocked to both.

RTM   14/11/2014 at 14:28

Hi John, you're right of course, we could have made that clearer in our report. We understand that stretch is going to be one of the most complex parts of the Metrolink TMS upgrade for Thales too, because of that Network Rail interface...

Stephen Waring   14/11/2014 at 17:28

Tyne & Wear trams run on Network Rail tracks between Pelaw and Sunderland - tracks which also carry Northern local trains, Grand Central ECS, and freight. Despite my degree in engineering I am struggling to see why the Rotherham project is so radically different or why it has to take so long.

Stephen Waring   14/11/2014 at 17:29

Tyne & Wear trams run on Network Rail tracks between Pelaw and Sunderland - tracks which also carry Northern local trains, Grand Central ECS, and freight. Despite my degree in engineering I am struggling to see why the Rotherham project is so radically different or why it has to take so long.

David Thornhill   15/11/2014 at 12:20

Just adding my name to the list of those mystified by why it is so difficult here (and becomes unaffordable as a result perhaps?) yet systems have worked successfully elsewhere for many years. Kassel is another city well worth a visit to see what can be done. The electrified mainline to the west sees a splendid mix of heavy freight, ICEs, other heavy rail passenger trains all mixed with tram services. Or the reopened branch lines that see dual-mode trams, with diesel power used on the branch and on the mainline, the pan only going up at Kassel Hbf where you join the light rail system. Other trams are dual voltage to cover the light and heavy rail sections. This one city has tried, tested and has working just about combination you would need for tram-train operations.

Andrew Macfarlane   16/11/2014 at 09:21

Just to clarify that between Timperley and Altrincham the signalling on both the Metrolink lines and the lines used by heavy rail is controlled from the same signal box at Deansgate Junction. Metrolink pays Network Rail access charges to use that section of line.

Dave Harrison   17/11/2014 at 10:58

The main issues with the delay of this project are signalling, Network Rail yet again changing scope on the project. Sheffield going to York ROC has been an issue along with woodburn and all the issues there.

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