Network Rail announcement on Hope Valley rail capacity improvement scheme Sheffield Chamber reaction

29th September 2015

Peter Kennan, Chair of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Transport Forum, and Partner at Hawsons Chartered Accountants, said: -We welcome the news that Network Rail has applied to the Secretary of State for Transport for the necessary powers to deliver the Hope Valley rail capacity improvement scheme and trust that the Secretary of State will approve the planned enhancements.

-As representatives of Sheffield business, we support closer integration with other northern cities and improved rail links are a key component. Even with relatively slow journey times, the rail option is twice as fast as by road for city centre to city centre journeys, for most of the day. -The Chamber is keen to see the required works have the smallest possible environmental impact in the Peak National Park and we're pleased to see Network Rail have consulted extensively on the upgrade in that respect. -Following cutbacks in the 1970s and 1980s, Hope Valley is the only rail line from Sheffield to Manchester and it currently lacks the capacity to cope with today's rail traffic levels. In particular, there is considerable heavy freight traffic which has trouble maintaining line speed up the steeply graded line and so needs to be given loops, to allow an increased fast train service to pass at full line speed.  -However, we are concerned the benefit of the improvements will fail to materialise unless there is an investment in many more new trains.  The existing services are failing to cope with demand and a train building programme is needed to meet the requirements of the planned enhanced services. -It is expected that we will soon enjoy three fast trains each hour from Sheffield to Manchester.  We're disappointed the plans only allow three rather than the four originally hoped for.  This was justified by Network Rail on the grounds of the needs of the franchise operators, but we believe the Secretary of State should consult with the Chancellor and request further explanations from Network Rail about their conclusions here. -After all, we have a Northern Powerhouse agenda to link the key northern cities together and the benchmark was a 15 minute interval service to replicate that between Glasgow and Edinburgh, which involves very similar distances and city sizes.  -Indeed, the hot topic at the moment remains the Northern Powerhouse and many plans for this will take a long time to come to fruition.  This rail upgrade, being undertaken as part of the Northern Hub project, is a great example of what can be achieved at relatively modest cost and a 20 minute interval rail service from Sheffield to Manchester should benefit both business communities.

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