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A Magazine for Sheffield

Was Sheffield misled about new rail projects?

After cancelling HS2, the Prime Minister announced a whole host of new railway projects for our city. But now it looks like they might not happen after all.

New mills central

The Hope Valley Line is already being upgraded to allow faster direct trains between Sheffield and Manchester.

Rcsprinter123 on Wikimedia Commons.

After weeks of media speculation, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed in his conference speech what everybody already knew: that HS2 had been cancelled north of Birmingham.

Almost simultaneously, a new page went live on GOV.UK detailing all the rail projects (branded 'Network North') that would be funded instead with the money saved from the HS2 route cut.

With the exception of Leeds, which has finally been promised its long overdue tram network, Sheffield arguably does better than any other city in the UK from the list, with several major projects planned for the city.

In his keynote speech, Sunak even specifically name-checked a commitment to "bring back the Don Valley line", which would connect Sheffield to Hillsborough and Stocksbridge by rail, using tracks closed to passengers since 1970.

But in the week since the speech, what were presented as firm commitments have been thrown into doubt. It all started when eagle-eyed local leaders spotted signs that the list may have been cobbled together in a rush.

Most famously, Mancunians pointed out that while Sunak's commitment to extend the city's Metrolink system to Manchester Airport was a welcome idea, it had actually already happened in 2014. The proposal has still not been removed from the list.

On Monday, Sunak told the BBC's Jeremy Vine that the list of projects was only "illustrative" and that it would be up to local leaders which of them went ahead. This is the opposite of how they were presented in the speech.

South Yorkshire's mayor Oliver Coppard has also publicly shared his confusion over the plans, which local leaders say they were not consulted on, and has put forward ten questions for the government to answer.

Below, we look at each of the projects announced for Sheffield and the prospect of them going ahead – or whether they will go the same way as HS2 and dozens of other northern rail projects.

Now Then asked the Department for Transport (DfT) specific questions about all of the schemes below, including timetables for completion and confirmation of whether they would definitely happen.

Sheffield rail
Ian S on Wikimedia Commons.

They told us that the government had made a clear commitment to all the projects in the document, and that delivery schedules would be decided in conjunction with Network Rail and local leaders. They did not comment on our specific questions about most of the schemes.

Sheffield to Leeds

The Network North announcement promised that "the line between Sheffield and Leeds will be electrified and upgraded, giving passengers a choice of three to four fast trains an hour, instead of one, with journey times cut of 40 minutes" [sic].

This appears to be a hasty rewrite of the original announcement, which promised to "quadruple" the total number of trains between the two Yorkshire cities. As travel journalist Simon Calder pointed out, this would mean a train every three minutes.

The Midland Main Line is already being electrified between London and Sheffield. The full Network North document promises to extend this to Leeds, which would not only speed up services but also reduce dangerous air pollution caused by diesel trains at Sheffield Station.

We asked DfT for an exact timetable on this project, but this was not provided.

Screenshot 2023 10 11 153325

A map of the government's 'Network North' plan.


Sheffield to Manchester

The government's announcement promises that the Hope Valley Line between Sheffield and Manchester will be "electrified and upgraded, with the aim of cutting journey times from 51 to 42 minutes."

But the Hope Valley Line is already being upgraded to allow faster, direct trains to overtake slower stopping trains – although the current project does not include electrification of the line.

We asked the DfT whether this was a separate upgrade on top of the one currently ongoing, but they did not respond to this specific point.

Don Valley Line

The Don Valley Line between Sheffield Victoria and Stocksbridge, which called at Hillsborough and Oughtibridge, closed to passengers in 1970 but until recently was still used as a freight line connecting Stocksbridge steelworks to the railway network.

The government's announcement promises "restoration of the Don Valley Line between Stocksbridge and Sheffield Victoria" for passenger services.


The project could see Stocksbridge and Sheffield connected by rail for the first time since 1970.

Dave Pickersgill on Wikimedia Commons.

But campaigners have already been lobbying for the Don Valley Line to be re-opened for 20 years, and despite several expressions of interest from the government they have seen little progress.

Chris Bell, from the Don Valley Railway campaign, told Now Then that the day before the announcement he was “planning a strategy to look at saving the line from total dereliction and desertion.”

“The steelworks at Stocksbridge have ceased using the line because their rolling stock has been condemned and it is weeding up. I’m also not sure if we’ll get support or prioritisation from the next government,” he continued.

“This news means our project, along with the Barrow Hill line which heads in the opposite direction out of Victoria station, can potentially create a cross-rail service for Sheffield.”

“It means the project has progressed further forward than ever before. The day before the announcement I thought it could be dead in the water.”

We asked DfT for an exact timetable on this project, but this was not provided.

Sheffield to Hull

The government's announcement said that trains between Hull and Sheffield "will be doubled, to two per hour, with capacity also doubled."

But the full announcement was unclear, promising to "bring Hull into Northern Powerhouse Rail, electrifying and improving the line speed between Hull to Leeds and Hull to Sheffield."

We asked the DfT, who confirmed that this meant both the Hull to Leeds and the Hull to Sheffield lines would be electrified.

Government by press release

Mayor Coppard described the extensive list of schemes as being "new promises with very little clarity about how or when money will be made available."


The government say the line between Sheffield and Hull will be electrified.

Bernard Sharp on Wikimedia Commons.

"The precedent is that the government don’t deliver for the North," he added. "How can we trust this new plan?"

Coppard has posted a list of ten questions for the government, emphasising the lack of consultation or detail on the plans for South Yorkshire.

Many will see this as another example of a tactic that some have dubbed "government by press release" – where a project is announced to positive headlines, and is then quietly dropped or scaled back months or years later.

“The new announcement on rail from the government quickly unravelled as it was found many announced projects had already been completed or were merely ‘examples’ and were deleted from the government's website,” Green councillor Alexi Dimond, who sometimes sits on Sheffield’s Transport Committee, told Now Then.

“What the UK needs is full electrification of existing lines, a reversal of the Beeching cuts and an increase in capacity. We also need public ownership of rail. That is the only way we can ensure that investment goes into improving the network and not into shareholders’ pockets.”

“The UK needs rail to be a viable alternative to cars and flights if we are to address the climate emergency."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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