`

Government go-ahead to increase rail capacity through Hope Valley

An express service at Chinley running along the Hope Valley line.
An express service at Chinley running along the Hope Valley line.

Plans to increase rail capacity along the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield have been given the go-ahead.

There could soon be three fast trains an hour running between the two cities, compared with two at present, and one stopping train an hour, compared with one every two hours.

That means the number of trains running every two hours would increase from five to eight - a hike of more than 60 per cent.

The increased service would be made possible by long-awaited alterations to the Hope Valley line, enabling passenger trains to more easily pass freight carriages using the route.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling this week approved the Transport and Works Act order, needed to enable the work, following a public inquiry held in 2016.

Network Rail said that, subject to funding, work on the upgrade is due to begin next year and is expected to take up to three years.

When consultation took place in 2015, it was envisaged the project would get underway in the summer of 2017 and be completed this year.

The Hope Valley Railway Users Group, which has been pushing for the changes for years, welcomed the announcement.

Kath Aspinwall, who chairs the group, said: "We're pleased the capacity is going to be increased, even it it will obviously happen later than it should have done.

"We still don't know what priority Network Rail will give this work. Obviously we would encourage them to start as soon as possible, as it seems like a relatively small amount of work for a big gain."

Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, which has been another big supporter of the improvements, also welcomed the news.

Martin McKervey, the partnership's lead member for transport, said improved rail connections to Manchester were one of its key priorities, which it had been pushing very hard for, and it was glad Mr Grayling 'has been listening'.

He added: "However, having had this breakthrough we will now be working with Network Rail to make sure the scheme happens."

Mr Grayling's approval paves the way for a 1,100-metre passing loop to be created between Bamford and Hathersage, the Dore South Curve to be extended and a second track through Dore & Totley station to be added.

Objectors had raised concerns about the additional noise people living near the new Bamford loop might experience, and the appearance of a proposed footbridge at Hathersage West.

The planning inspector had recommended the application be rejected, after CHL Pipeline Systems complained about the potential impact on one of its oil pipelines, but the firm subsequently withdrew its objection.

The project forms part of Network Rail's Northern Hub programme.

Thomas Drury, sponsor at Network Rail, said: "This major upgrade will remove a bottleneck and allow faster passenger services to overtake slower moving freight and stopping services.

"It's another key scheme that forms part of the Great North Rail Project, which is transforming passenger journeys across the north."

Once the infrastructure is complete, the introduction of extra services would be a decision for the Department for Transport, Rail North and the train operators.