UK: Tram-train services from Sheffield to Rotherham are to be launched on October 25, operator Stagecoach Supertram, infrastructure manager Network Rail and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive announced on October 4.

There will be three services an hour from Sheffield Cathedral to Rotherham Central station and Parkgate Retail Centre.

Confirmation of the long-delayed launch date follows extensive testing of the Vossloh (now Stadler) Citylink Class 399 tram-train vehicles and driver training on the Network Rail freight line which has been modernised, electrified and joined to the Sheffield tram network with the construction of the 160 m Tinsley Chord.

The seven tram-train vehicles meet higher crashworthiness standards than trams, and are fitted with main line standard lighting, the TPWS train protection system and GSM-R radios. The extension over the rail network has been electrified using the 750 V DC electrification used on the existing Supertram network, but the Class 399 vehicles could also operate on 25 kV 50 Hz electrification should this be installed on the main line section of the route in the future.

The government-funded tram-train pilot project has been developed by a partnership of SYPTE, Network Rail, Stagecoach Supertram and train operator Northern Rail.

It is being undertaken to gain an understanding of the costs of operating lightweight vehicles with track brakes on the national rail network; to determine the changes to technical standards required to allow inter-running of tram-train and heavy rail passenger and freight trains; to gauge passenger perception; to determine the practical and operational issues of through running from the national rail network to on-street running; and to understand the technical and operational challenges so that the concept can potentially be rolled out elsewhere.

The scheme was announced in September 2009 and approved by ministers in May 2012 with an expected infrastructure cost of £18·7m and opening envisaged for 2015, however by July 2017 the cost had increased to £75·1m.

The Rotherham service will initially run for two years while customer satisfaction, passenger numbers, reliability and costs are tested. If deemed successful, it would then continue to operate.

‘The pioneering pilot has the ability to transform travel both locally and nationally’, said SYPTE tram-train project board Member Steve Davenport. ‘Connecting the people and places in Sheffield and Rotherham marks the start of this journey.’