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Tram-Train works given boost by DfT

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 16

Simon Coulthard, head of tram-train projects at Network Rail, talks to RTM after plans to begin work on the Tinsley Chord have been approved by the Department for Transport. 

Plans to progress the £60m Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train pilot project were given a major boost at the end of 2015, with the government approving a joint Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) application to build the new Tinsley Chord. 

tinsley chord map

The TWAO to build the new 160m section of railway had been submitted by Network Rail and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) back in March. And the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin MP, approved the plans in November. 

RTM caught up with Simon Coulthard, head of tram-train projects at Network Rail, to discuss what this means and how work will progress this year. 

“We are cracking on with our side of the project, which is the infrastructure works,” he said. “We’ve been on site since the summer, piling for the OLE stanchions. That work is virtually complete, apart from the section that was incorporated within the TWAO.”

A new compound and site for the Tinsley Chord will be set up, and Network Rail will be progressing the construction of junctions to link the tramway to the train tracks. 

Tinsley Chord is actually a 400m rail line, and the project partners had to get the TWAO for a 160m stretch on Highways England owned land. 

“In terms of the land we get to build on, that is from Highways England. It is a relatively straightforward piece of land,” said Coulthard. “It is directly beneath the M1 viaduct, there is nothing there at the moment. It is pretty much clear.” 

There are two sets of underground power cables that run underneath the site, and Network Rail is working with National Grid and Northern Powergrid to ensure the correct protective measures are in place. 

“That is one of the bits of work we’ll be doing in the spring,” said Coulthard. “Then we’ll get cracking with laying the formation, putting the junction in on the tramway around Easter time and that piece of work follows through to the summer. Then we connect onto our network a bit later into the spring.” 

Working towards the unknown 

The plan for tram-trains 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. But in late 2014, due to problems with the design work to adapt the heavy rail network, this was pushed back to early 2017. 

RTM was told that by autumn 2016 Network Rail, and its main contractor Carillion, aim to have the infrastructure works complete. 

Coulthard added that as the project is a UK first, Network Rail is working continuously with industry partners, such as the RSSB, to develop new processes and standards for products and systems that don’t yet exist or deviate from existing ones. 

“That’s why on paper it might seem we are doing these things quite close to construction, but it is the way you have to propose the detail of the solution to get the approval for what you want to do,” he said. “We still need to go through a number of these deviations, and product approvals, because the nature of some of the kit we are putting in isn’t the norm for Network Rail. So there is a process for that as well.” 

He is confident the works team will be done by November 2016, and the project will stay on track for its 2017 deadline. Once complete, tram-trains will run between Britain’s rail and tram network for the first time and will provide a direct service between Sheffield city centre, Rotherham Central railway station and Parkgate retail park. 

Shared learning 

Coulthard added that he has been assisting colleagues in Glasgow, where there are proposals to potentially run a tram-train link, costing £144.3m, between the city to Glasgow Airport via Paisley. 

“A key objective of our project is to share the learning,” he said. “We are planning to create a body of documentation, from our project, which will be available at some point. We are currently working with UK Tram to look at the best methods for making that information available.” 

Unveiling the vehicle 

The UK’s first tram-train was unveiled by transport minister Andrew Jones MP together with the tram-train project team at an official event in Sheffield on 10 December. 

SYPTE has procured seven new dual voltage vehicles (750V DC and 25kV AC) for the pilot project from Vossloh España. The recently delivered tram-train will undergo testing before being introduced on the Supertram network in summer 2016 to provide extra services at busy times. 

The government is working in partnership with SYPTE, Network Rail, Stagecoach Supertram and Northern Rail to pilot this pioneering technology. 

Speaking on behalf of the tram-train project team, SYPTE’s executive director Steve Edwards said: “It will provide a boost to the regional economy, thanks to improved connections across the region. And, if the pilot is successful, it opens the way for tram-trains to be introduced in other parts of the country.” 


  • December 2015: Tram-train vehicle testing begins
  • January 2016: Supertram tracks prepared for tram-train
  • Spring 2016: Construction of track to link the tram network to the train line
  • Summer 2016: Three tram-trains introduced on the Supertram network
  • Autumn 2016: New platforms built at Rotherham station and Parkgate
  • Winter 2016: Completion and electrification of the tram-train network
  • Early 2017: Tram-train passenger services begin

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