SYPTE bid for money for essential Supertram track replacement

The South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) have recently put a bid in to the Department for Transport to fund the replacement of a large amount of street track which is said to be approaching the end of its safe working life. The bid makes the stark warning that without the replacement of the track it would be necessary to either close parts of or all of the Supertram network as it wouldn’t be safe for continued operation. The replacement of the track would take place between July 2013 and April 2015 and the chance would also be taken to bring sections up to the standard required for tram-trains.

The bid is for the renewal of “embedded track” across the system which is made up of a grooved rail held in a slot in a reinforced concrete track slab by a polymer and is exclusively used on paved sections in pedestrianised areas and also where the tramway runs along the road. This makes up 56% of the current Supertram network. It is feared that if this track is not replaced soon – cracks have started to appear in some areas – there will be the added risk of derailment and as a result the report bidding for the funding says that substantial sections of the network will have to close in summer 2013. All new tracks to be laid will be to the Tram-Train profile to “future proof” the network.

Two contracts are being offered by tender: Contract 1 is for urgent works which need to take place in summer 2013 with an estimated value of £3.9m. Tender documents were issued to five shortlisted contractors in November 2012 and these are currently being evaluated. This contract would see the replacement of track in Granville Road and Park Grange Road in the period between July and September 2013.

The second contract is the balance of works and has the estimated value of £10.5m. This contract will be procured by competitive tender in line with EU regulation using the restricted route as there is more time than for the first contract. A large amount of track is due to be replaced as part of this contract and this will include some relaying being part funded by the Tram-Train project (they will only fund sections of track where the Tram-Train service will operate). The first relaying is scheduled to start in August 2013 and  should be completed by end of April 2015. The following areas are due to be relayed:

Ridgeway Road (August 2013)

Shalesmoor (August 2013)

City Hall – Tram-Train (August 2013)

Albert Terrace (September 2013)

Ripley Street (September 2013)

Wood Street (March/April 2014)

Capel Street (March/April 2014)

Infirmary Road (March/April 2014)

Cuthbert Bank Road (March/April 2014)

Hillsborough TS (March/April 2014)

Hillsborough Corner (March/April 2014)

Malin Bridge (May 2014)

White Lane/Fox Lane (May 2014)

City Road (June/July 2014)

Birley Moor Road (June/July 2014)

Sheffield Road (June/July 2014)

Donetsk Way (June/July 2014)

Cathedral-Netherthorpe Road – Tram-Train (July-September 2014)

Delta-Cathedral – Tram-Train (March-April 2015)

Railway Station-Tinsley (March-April 2015)

Hollinsend Road (March-April 2015)

Herdings (March-April 2015)

It can only be hoped that the SYPTE were trying to shock the DfT into giving them the money in the report as it certainly makes rather disturbing reading with apparent discussions taking place which would have seen either the closure of sections of the tramway (the southern section of the blue route was apparently considered) or even the whole system. The “Supertram Rail Replacement Pinch Point Bid” was officially submitted to the DfT on 21st February 2013.

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12 Responses to SYPTE bid for money for essential Supertram track replacement

  1. WatcherZero says:

    Its a bit disturbing that Stagecoach havent budgeted for renewal of an asset their supposedly responsible for maintaining and returning in the same condition. Sadly brings back memories of Serco’s performance in Manchester.

  2. Ken walker says:

    Why does tram track need replacement after such a short time? Railway track lasts25 years or more and relatively lightweight trams are supposed to be easier on track wear.

    • freel07 says:

      I think it’s generally driven by side wear on the tight curves. This is something that isn’t such a problem on railways with their gentle curves. The Manchester problem was that the side wear on the outer rail became so bad that the keep (or check) on the inner rail of the curves started to wear and break up. It sounds as though SYPTE have decided to take action before this happens.

      As for the public/private debate from this news item it sounds as though the major renewals are SYPTE’s responsibility rather than Stagecoach. This wouldn’t be unusual for these type of contracts and so isn’t a result of privatisation as the contract would be drafted and agreed by SYPTE a public body. Short term patching up is probably Stagecoach’s job.

  3. David Holt says:

    The City of Steel (Sheffield) used to have a Permanent Way Department which constantly monitored track condition and did any repairs or renewals progressively, not all at once. But all that good practice was thrown away in 1960, some of the expertise (and materials) being directly passed on to the emerging PWay team at Crich. Now they just seem to chuck money at it.

  4. Aidan Croft says:

    The rail was predicted to expire in 2024 – when the SYS contract is due to come up for renewal. However, some “miscalculations” when the system was being constructed coupled partially with higher than initially projected use has caused what we see today.

    Kind regards,


  5. Nev Sloper says:

    This just highlights what a complete scam privatisation of public assets is. Happy to take the profits, then run crying to the taxpayer when money is needed for renewals.

  6. Nigel Pennick says:

    Histoically, this sort of thing, not budgeting for long-tem maintenance and track replacement, led to many abandonments. The company-owned routes in London were a case in point. If the funding is not forthcoming to re-lay the track, then iky is clear that the govenment’s “Green Light For Light Rail” policy document for promoting tramways will have been abandoned in only two years.

  7. Nigel Pennick says:

    Sorry for the typos! Let’s hope that talk of closure is like the dire predictions of what would happen at Blackpool if the track wasn’t re-laid. It was and now it is in fine shape for decades to come.

  8. The Eye says:

    And here lies the problem with SY Supertram! Stagecoach take all the money out of the system and have no obligation to fund the hardware! Heaven knows what will happen in 10 yrs time when the vehicles are life expired! The Govt will be unwilling to fund new vehicles as the contract SYPTE awarded to Stagecoach made no allowances for funding new vehicles!

    • roger woodhead says:

      The trams are owned by SYPTE not Stagecoach as is the infostructure which includes the track. As Freel07 states above major repairs/replacement of track and vehicles will be SYPTE’s responsibility as it is on Metrolink

  9. John Stewart says:

    Two things occur to me.
    (1) It seems, from the request made for Government funding, that this renewal is treated as a capital rather than a revenue item. Irrespective of ownership of the track, routine renewals should have been provided for in a sinking fund.
    (2) As others have commented, the affected sections of track have not lasted as long as they should. Various theories are put forward but could the explanation be simply that the rails were not of the required metallurgical standard? Whether they were or not, I think that this problem shows the inadvisability of layouts that use the minimum possible radius of curvature. My rough approach would be that, if the trams will negotiate 25m, don’t make curves under 50m!

  10. Bob Hall says:

    Can we forget idealism and face reality? Financing major renewals to track, overhead line, other infrastructure or life expired trams must be from sources other than revenue. Simple mental arithmetic proves that a fare structure covering more than routine maintenance will render any proposed tramway so uneconomic that it will not reach preliminary planning, let along construction and commissioning. It is the situation throughout the world, the difference in this country being an obsession with treating all forms of rail development at as cost burdens whereas new roads are investments. Balance sheets take no cognisance of improvements to local living standards.
    Having said that, a competent operator (or others involved) should long since have been aware of and warned of these apparently major track defects. It is reasonable to assume that Sheffield is like any other tramway in that curves wear more than straight sections and hence why apparently does so much suddenly need renewing? Announcing them without warning, with threats about the consequences of not immediately jumping to its tune, infers that no lessons have been learned from the Manchester fiasco.
    Why, after more than two decades of operational experience (that British engineers could have short-circuited by asking for advice from experienced operators abroad) are we still in the situation of “O-M-G, there’s no way we could have seen see this coming”? Someone needs to get a grip or roll some heads. Bob.

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