When a much delayed and over budget project finally launches you hope for a smooth start to show everyone that it has been worth waiting for – unfortunately for the UK’s Tram-Train pilot between Sheffield and Rotherham that isn’t what happened after a collision between a Tram-Train and a lorry led to the service being temporarily suspended a few hours after the high profile launch. Even though the collision didn’t really have anything to do with the Tram-Train service per se the publicity it caused in the media will have been the last thing that the pilot needed.
Before the drama of the collision the Tram-Train service had started as planned at the start of Thursday 25th October. Ahead of the first advertised public departure from Cathedral at 0939 a special service for dignitaries and the media left Nunnery Depot to officially launch the service. This special trip was operated by 399 204 which ran directly between the depot and Rotherham Parkgate. It was at the new Parkgate terminus that Jo Johnson, Minister for Transport, and Dan Jarvis, Sheffield City Region Mayor, unveiled a plaque which officially marked the start of the service.
After returning to Cathedral 399 204 was then one of three Citylink vehicles to be used in service on the Tram-Train service on that first day. It was joined by 399 203 – which operated the first public service from Cathedral to Rotherham Parkgate and return – 399 201 and 399 202.
Originally due to start in 2015 the project has been beset with delays and has also cost more than £60 million above the original budget. It was also described as how not to run a major project by the National Audit Office with fears at one time that the Department for Transport would pull the plug on it but in the end the decision was made to plough ahead. Major infrastructure constructed to enable the Tram-Trains to operate on Network Rail metals has seen the construction of the Tinsley Chord which links the tram and train networks (located just beyond Meadowhall South) whilst a completely new stop has been built at Parkgate (a single platform terminus) with new lower level platforms added to the railway platforms at Rotherham Central. Overhead also had to be installed along the line between the Tinsley Chord and Rotherham Parkgate.
The service is part of a two year pilot which will judge how successful Tram-Trains can be in the UK. The two year period will look at customer satisfaction, passenger numbers, reliability and costs to help decisions be made on whether to extend the idea to other areas of the country. The pilot is being funded by the government and is a partnership between SYPTE, Network Rail, Stagecoach Supertram and Northern Rail. If at the end of the two years the service is considered a success it will continue to operate as part of the Supertram network.
Unfortunately the first day of operations came to a halt shortly after 1500 when there was a collision between 399 204 and a lorry carrying gas canisters. This happened at the road crossing between Attercliffe and Woodbourn Road as the tram-train was returning from Parkgate to Cathedral. The front section of 204 was derailed in the collision with the Citylink vehicle suffering significant damage. The first articulated section ended up approximately 6 metres off the tracks following the impact. Four people were reported as injured on board the tram-train with one requiring hospital treatment. An investigation into the collision was immediately launched.
Following the collision the Tram-Train service was suspended in its entirety for the remainder of Thursday 25th October and up until lunchtime the next day. Meanwhile, the Yellow route was also affected with no trams able to run between Cricket Inn Road and Meadowhall Interchange during the same time period.
399 204 was removed from the scene overnight and returned to Nunnery Depot where – following the conclusion of the investigation into the collision – it will be assessed ahead of repairs to bring it back into service. In the meantime the Tram-Train service will be one vehicle down after just one day (seven Citylink vehicles are in Sheffield of which four were originally due to be allocated to the Tram-Train service, three for service and one spare, with the others being used on other parts of the network – it remains to be seen whether this situation now changes). After the removal of the tram-train it was necessary for the track to be repaired which was done ahead of services resuming.
With the service now back underway it is hoped that there will be no further dramas which will allow the service to settle down into a reliable operation. Even though the collision had nothing to do with the Tram-Train pilot – with the exception of the fact that it was a tram-train involved – that didn’t stop the usual “Tram-Train crashes on first day in service” headlines across local media. The headlines may not have been totally accurate but unfortunately news like that does tend to stick so lets hope that it is an altogether calmer two years ahead for the pilot.
* We will be bringing you photos from the start of the Tram-Train service in the next main site update of British Trams Online, currently likely to be Sunday 4th November.