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Delayed Sheffield tram-train starts services on light rail network

The delay-hit tram-train project has finally reached an important landmark as it launched its first passenger service yesterday.

Rail minister Paul Maynard was in attendance with transport leaders from across Sheffield to introduce the first train onto the Supertram network.

“South Yorkshire’s tram-train project is the first of its kind in the country and will transform services for passengers, enabling quick and easy movement across the region, reducing journey times and boosting the economy,” the minister said.  

“The first passenger service is a significant milestone for this scheme which remains on track to be completed next year and will improve journeys between Sheffield and Rotherham.”

From its inception through to its delivery, the tram-train project was hit by numerous delays. Its launch was pushed back from 2015 to spring 2016 and then January 2017, before a competition date of summer 2018 was finally set in February.

Testing of the trains officially started in April, and construction for the project, including a crucial connection between the light rail and heavy rail network called the Tinsley Chord, was completed a few months ago. The project is a first for the UK as it will allow trains to run on tram and heavy rail tracks.

Citylink launch image 1

A recent NAO report on the beleaguered project also found that the lacklustre delivery of the tram-train means that it will have run five times over its original budget when it fully opens in May 2018 – costing over £75m.

The first train has been named Theo, after the mascot for the Children’s Hospital Charity, and passengers riding the train yesterday were asked to make a charitable donation rather than pay a fare.

Interim managing director for Supertram, Tim Bilby, said: “We are delighted to be giving passengers in South Yorkshire the chance to be the first in Great Britain to travel on these innovative new tram vehicles today.

“Following successful completion of a programme of testing, commissioning and training, today is an important day for all passengers travelling across the network and is the next step towards the launch of Tram-train services to Rotherham next year.”

South Yorkshire’s new Citylink vehicles, which have been produced and designed by manufacturer Stadler, will run on the regular Supertram timetable from October to support the existing tram service until the new tram-train route from Sheffield to Rotherham is opened next year.

Sheffield City Council’s cabinet member for transport and sustainability, Cllr Jack Scott, also commented: “This is an important milestone in our ambitious plans for tram-train and is a clear signal that the project is now well on track.

“It is great that Sheffield is able to pioneer this type of cutting edge innovation. Connecting Sheffield and Rotherham in this way will bring big economic benefits to people across the whole area.”

The tram-train pilot is due to run for two years, during which customer satisfaction, passenger numbers, reliability and costs will be measured. After this, tram-train will continue as a local service.

In RTM’s latest edition, Andrew Braddock, chairman of the Light Rail Transit Association, analysed where the tram-train project had gone wrong.

The countdown is on to get your entries in for this year’s UKRIA. Closing date is 25 September. ENTER NOW! 


J, Leicester   15/09/2017 at 13:50

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why tram-train projects have probably been set back 20 years in the UK. Mismanagement from start to finish, top to bottom, and a mixture of financial mismanagement and an insanely optimistic original cost projection, which has rendered the business case for many similar proposed projects null and void. And for what exactly? A service no faster than the heavy rail alternative to Midland station, which costs more to use and is not even that much more frequent. The only thing it's got going for it is that... well, it isn't a Pacer! I will be absolutely astounded if the Tram Train breaks even in the next 30 years, if ever. The original Supertram network has never done so, and Stagecoach's own claims of profitability are skewed by an undisclosed annual subsidy from SYPTE which is rumoured to run to at least 7 figures. I don't like to always sound like a bitter git when I come on here, but everywhere I look the rail network seems to be sleepwalking into disaster after disaster these days, whether it's this mess, cancelled electrification, fobbing off entire regions with unwanted bi-mode trains, pathetic internal coach design, heritage railways on the edge of failure or being evicted (Coventry and Penrhyn spring to mind), reopening schemes dismissed based on intentionally skewed figures, strikes up and down the country and plenty more. I despair for a future where, it seems, a shiny coat of paint is enough to mask the horrors of the network at large. If it wasn't for the odd good news story like the GCR bridge or the Waverley Route reopening, I think I'd call it a lost cause and find something else to be interested in, because even as a relatively young adult I don't think it's good for my blood pressure! All the people of Sheffield have managed to achieve is to get a new white elephant to sit atop the first one they bought 20 years ago.

Andrew Gwilt   15/09/2017 at 16:20

Finally. The Class 399 Tram-trains are now in passenger service. But when will the extension to Rotherham be completed including the electrification as part of the expansion to Rotherham. Hopefully it should be completed by before Christmas.

Ampox   15/09/2017 at 17:43

"Cutting-edge innovation" my foot. Tram-Trains have been operating successfully in Karlsruhe and Kassel in Germany for several years. Only a Brexiteer could claim that this is a first for England!

Huguenot   15/09/2017 at 17:50

Whilst there is no excuse for making such a hash of this project, it wasn't really necessary to have tram-train at all. There is room along the whole route from Tinsley to Rotherham Central station for two tracks (yes, even under the M1) and in places 3 or 4 . Thus there could have been complete segregation of tram from Network Rail. Where there is room for 4 tracks, both tram and NR could have had 2 each; where only room for 3 tracks one would be single line where the other was double. This would have been far cheaper than trying to operate 'tram-train', and the tram could have kept its DC electrification throughout instead of swapping to 25kV AC. This is what was done successfully between Timperley and Altrincham on Manchester Metrolink.

Geoff Kerr   15/09/2017 at 23:16

The tram train concept is worth pursuing, but of course we've reinventing the wheel here as the Germans have been doing it for years. Going to Rotherham is certainly more sensible than the original idea of a trial on the Penistone line.

Graham Smith   17/09/2017 at 18:40

With HS2 not likely to go to Rotherham. Electrification being cancelled all over. Why did we need the extra costs of 25KV for the tram train?

David   17/09/2017 at 20:31

I don't think the 25kV capability made a significant difference to the costs of the project. And the Midland will be electrified eventually. The government jumped the gun by a long way by announcing it in 2015.

AJG89   18/09/2017 at 02:10

So the Rotherham extension should be completed possibly early next year with the Class 399 Tram-Train units to start service between Rotherham and Sheffield. That's why I can't wait.

Roger Capel, Sheffield   18/09/2017 at 07:52

For us locals, forget TramTrain, we're just relieved to have more cars. Supertram's 25 cars to run a 24 car service has always been marginal in the extreme (viz knocking off Herdings Park cars after the two car bump at Shalesmoor. As for TramTrain itself, local feeling is that it'll take commuters from Rotherham Central to Sheffield off Northern by sparing them the slog up the hill from the Midland station to the city centre. And the next TramTrain? Ah yes, Glasgow Airport, due 2022. Well, both Holyrood & Strathclyde have had a fine demonstration of how NOT to do it &, thanks to devolution, they've the opportunity to come up with a totally different set-up. We'll see-----

Melvyn   20/09/2017 at 00:08

It's worth remembering that the Tram Train project began life as a simple experiment to test the concept here and build up experience and rules for the future. However, the delays have meant the project has damaged the reputation of tram train concept . It would have been better had Greater Manchester that has a far bigger tram network with longer experience been given the job of trialling the tram train concept given some of their existing network runs along former main lines as well as street running. The future for tram train may not be as bleak as it looks given it still offers another solution to electrification of branch lines at maybe less cost than the main line standard overhead used for main lines for services where demand is more in align with Light Rail than heavy rail .

Geoff Kerr   13/10/2017 at 22:20

Any plans for a tram stop at New York Stadium, which is right next to the line?

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