Is the future of Supertram in doubt?

Since 1994 Sheffield has enjoyed the benefits of a tramway following the start of service on the Supertram network but the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) have now warned that unless £230 million worth of funding can be secured the whole system may have to close permanently. The warning has come as part of a new consultation asking residents, businesses and visitors to the area for their views on what they see as the best future for the network.

As part of Stagecoach’s current deal to operate and maintain the network – which goes until 2024 – ongoing maintenance costs are paid for but beyond this date there is no funding in place. To this end SYPTE are planning to submit a business case to the Department for Transport for funding to secure the network for a further 30 years but as part of this they say they have to consider a range of options which does include closing the system.

It has been known for some time that the time is rapidly approaching when major investment is needed to maintain the network for the future with the majority of the tram fleet being original vehicles from 1993/4; by far the oldest trams in regular service in the UK. However, it is only now that SYPTE have come out and put a figure on how much will be needed to secure the future of the line for the next 30 years – £230 million. This would not only cover new trams but also the general infrastructure.

The warning from SYPTE is stark – if they don’t manage to secure £230 million they may be forced to close the system. In the details of the consultation they state: “If we are unsuccessful in securing future funding for a mass transit solution the Supertram network may have to be closed and decommissioned, the cost of which would have to be covered by the Region. Closure would also prevent any future network extensions.” How much of this warning is to try and persuade central government of the need for the cash remains to be seen but one thing is for sure and that is that investment will be needed in the fairly near future particularly to replace the trams.

Back to the public consultation, which was launched on Monday 24th September, and this is seeking views on three options for the system:

* Maintaining Supertram as it is through ongoing essential repairs

* Renewing and modernising Supertram’s tracks, vehicles and information systems

* Exploring alternative options to Supertram

Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: “For more than 20 years the Supertram has been a fixture within Sheffield and the region and has been making more than 12 million passenger journeys a year. We are now working with South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive to establish what the future of the Supertram system might look like. We want to hear from those people who currently use the Supertram, and those who don’t, about what its future should be. I would encourage as many people as possible to have their say.”

The consultation will continue until 5th November. It can be accessed online at https://www.travelsouthyorkshire.com/futuretram/ (follow the links to the online consultation form at the bottom of the page).

 

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9 Responses to Is the future of Supertram in doubt?

  1. Nigel Pennick says:

    We have heard this before, and it is surprising that, after so much recent track renewal, that someone should suggest closure of the system. The tracks have been renewed, so mentioning that as a reason to get rid of the system is redundant. If the trams are to stop running, it would be an admission that the city of Sheffield is entering a period of terminal decline. Without the trams, Sheffield will be ‘coming like a ghost town’ as the old song says, and in an era of ‘green’ transport it is a retrograde suggestion.

  2. peter narramore says:

    It does seem crazy to even think of scrapping the system after so much has been recently spent of track renewals etc. And what about the tram train project? It sounds like the 1950′s all over again. Aberdeen and Edinburgh both invested in new trams after the war, but then changed policy and scrapped their systems. At least the Supertram fleet will have lasted longer in service than the Roberts cars of 1950/51!!!

  3. Combustible No 2 says:

    As both previous comments suggest, this sounds like a crazy idea. But what sounds most crazy so far as I’m concerned is the fact that there is an admission that nothing has been put aside from revenue earned to cover heavy overhaul of the infrastructure and replacement of the vehicles. Were the operators and SYPT seriously thinking that the trams would have unlimited lifespans?

    I recall several years ago when Stagecoach were appointed to operate the Manchester Metrolink their management described Supertram as the “Rolls Royce” of light rail whilst Metrolink was, I think, referred to as the “Lada.” Wonder if they now admit the boot is on the other foot?

  4. BigG says:

    The peak life-span of first generation tramways was about 30 years in the UK and they were superseded when the advantage/disadvantage profiles of more modern transport technology were perceived to be better. Are the second generation tramways again at this point and might not battery powered, driverless non-railed vehicles be a better option for city and suburban transport within a decade or so?

  5. Nigel Pennick says:

    Stagecoach has just failed on the East Coast rail franchise even though the trains were branded Virgin. Is there something else going on re franchising?

    • Gareth Prior says:

      I don’t think the issue here is really anything to do with Stagecoach. They are the operator of the system, funding for major improvements including new trams should come from SYPTE as the owners of the network. The fact that it has taken until now for SYPTE to start talking about funding for the future is the concern – its not as if it has snuck up on them that the trams are now the best part of 25 years old.

      Interestingly a couple of days after SYPTE’s press release the DfT announced that local authorities could bid for funding for transport projects.

      • Nigel Pennick says:

        Stagecoach must have some input into the discussion. I seem to remember noises in Blackpool about the state of everything and similar warnings just before the reconstruction and new trams were funded. Given that Tyne-Wear Metro is to have new vehicles, extensions and new trams are funded for the West Midlands and new trains for Merseyrail, too, it would be odd if Sheffield was the odd one out and the system was frced to close.

  6. John Hibbert says:

    At first it appears the lesson has not been learned from the many 1st generation systems which closed because rolling stock and/or equipment became life-expired and there was no money for renewals – but to the contrary, substantial track renewal has taken place.
    Is this complex South Yorkshire politics?

  7. snaffel1 says:

    I have just filled in a questionnaire about the future of supertram and of course one of the options was to decommission the trams and replace them with the latest state of the art buses, this it said would cost just as much money to implement as to buy new tram rolling stock and upgrade the infrastructure as needed, I agree with mr hibbert complex south Yorkshire politics, and alarm and despondency! get some new trams ordered