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News: Green light for Rotherham tram-train

By James Abbott on 18 May 2012, 15:45

The Government has agreed to fund a tram-train pilot in south Yorkshire

The Tram Train concept is to be piloted between Sheffield and Rotherham, as the first step to its possible wider adoption around the country.

On 17 May Transport Minister Norman Baker gave the green light to a £58m Tram Train pilot scheme in South Yorkshire. New 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.

Tram Train can assist city economies by increasing capacity and releasing space at mainline stations for other commuters or improved long distance services. It can reinvigorate suburban rail routes and bring passengers right into city centre destinations, creating growth and cutting carbon.

Announcing the pilot, Norman Baker said: 

“Tram Trains have already proved 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. 

“We will carefully monitor customer satisfaction, passenger demand levels, reliability and the operating and maintenance costs. If Tram Train proves itself in South Yorkshire, I don’t doubt that there will be others interested in introducing this technology elsewhere in the UK.”

The pilot will determine the practical and operational issues of Tram Train operation in the UK. The knowledge that we will obtain will be shared with the promoters of other schemes.

The pilot requires the electrification of a stretch of track between Sheffield and Rotherham and the construction of 400 metre link between Supertram and Network Rail infrastructure.

Three services an hour will operate all day every day from Parkgate Retail Park in Rotherham, travelling through Rotherham Central Station and joining up to the existing Stagecoach Supertram network at Meadowhall, where the services will then continue onwards to Sheffield City Centre.

The Tram Train concept - a tramcar capable of operating on both a street tramway and the heavy rail network – has been introduced successfully in Germany, France and Spain. In Karlsruhe, the switch to Tram Train operations saw demand increase significantly at a reduced or similar cost to the previous heavy rail services.

Vehicles for the Sheffield-Rotherham pilot will be supplied by the Spanish manufacturer Vossloh in a contract to be let by South Yorkshire PTE. They are expected to be operated by Stagecoach Supertram.

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 Tram Train pilot is a partnership between the Department for Transport and Network Rail, Northern Rail Ltd, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) and Stagecoach Supertram. SYPTE will lead on delivery of the pilot.


Seven vehicles are being bought for Tram Train and the additional Sheffield Supertram capacity announced in 2011. The total project is estimated to cost £58 million.


A procurement competition led by Northern in 2009-10 identified Vossloh as the lead bidder for the supply of the Tram Train vehicles. Because Northern’s franchise ends before the two year experimental period, the contract for the vehicles will be let by South Yorkshire PTE and the vehicles are expected to be operated by Stagecoach Supertram.


Tram Train will commence in 2015 and the pilot will run for two years with a view to permanent operation. Tickets will be fully integrated with Supertram.

5. The core objectives of the Tram Train pilot are to:
· Understand the changes to industry costs of operating a lighter weight vehicle with track brakes on the national rail network;
· Determine changes to technical standards required both to allow inter-running of lightweight tram vehicles with heavy rail passenger and freight traffic and to gain the maximum cost benefit from Tram Train operation;
· Gauge passenger perception and acceptability of Tram Train;
· Determine the practical and operational issues of extending Tram Trains from the national rail network to on-street running; and
· Understand the technical and operational challenges involved in this project so that the concept can potentially be rolled out elsewhere.


A Tram Train vehicle is based on a tram that has been enhanced to make it suitable for operation on the main line as a train as well as street running. Typically a tram train will have:
· Higher vehicle crashworthiness to allow for the higher average speed operations of it and other trains and to resist slow speed collisions with heavier trains;
· Enhancements to the signalling system to minimise the risk of a collision between trains and Tram Trains. This involves installing train protection and warning system (TPWS) at all signals, whereas TPWS is currently installed at junctions and sites with high levels of signal passed at danger (SPAD) incidents;
· Road Traffic Act compliant head lights and direction indicators for on-street operation and to meet rail main line lighting requirements for visibility;
· Additional main line signalling and communications equipment such as TPWS and the Global System for Mobile Communication – Railway (GSM-R);
· More seating than a tram for longer distance journeys;
· A wheel profile suitable for both tramway and standard main line track.



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