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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Closer links with Don Valley Railway

Sheffield Victoria where the Don Valley/Woodhead line terminates

Chris Bell
introduces the Don Valley Railway project and plans for closer ties with the Woodhead campaign.

The Don Valley Railway is a project, began back in September 2003, by Dave Goodison, to restore a passenger rail link along the section of the Woodhead Railway Line that runs between Sheffield and Deepcar and then on the into Stocksbridge via the route that stills serves the freight needs of Corus Steelworks there. We have created Don Valley Railway Ltd. as a not for profit company and are a registered charity.

Over the years we have looked into the possibility of introducing a commuter rail service as well as steam and heritage services onto the route.

Looking at the economics, the route appeared unlikely to meet the business case for the creation of National Rail franchised services. However we had got much local support, illustrated by a petition with 2000 signatures, and the freight line stretching towards Sheffield, which is generally only used once every night, seemed to offer a possible solution to the ever-increasing problems of commuting to Sheffield from the upper Don Valley.

So the project was set up to look at how we could make the railway happen.

We set up a fundraising function, and raised funds towards raising awareness and doing work and studies that would increase the capacity of the project. Previous efforts have included lottery bids and attempts to get funding from many public bodies and from the support of the heritage rail industry.

In late 2009, after many varied efforts to take the project forward, and discussions with Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive we commissioned Ove Arup and Partners Ltd to produce an engineering feasibility study to evaluate the potential for operating a reliable commuter rail service along the route between Sheffield and Stocksbridge which it is hoped will contribute to creating a business case for the re-opening of passenger services on the rail link.

Arup recommended that the most cost effective option is a simple shuttle between a station close to the site of the former Sheffield Victoria and Deepcar. This could operate utilising a single train vehicle offering 2 services in each direction per hour basis with no intermediate stops,. Diesel-powered rolling stock is seen as the most suitable for the operation of the line.

This option is also potentially the easiest to get into operation. Enhancements could be made in the future as funds allow to extend into the centre of Stocksbridge, additional stations at Oughtibridge and Wadsley Bridge, and extensions towards Penistone

A previous study put the cost of works required to cost £18million. Arup’s study found that that the permanent way was in very good condition and would not require a great deal of work to return the line to passenger operation. Armed with the study of the track, Arup now forecast the cost will be £4million.

At our meeting on 24th January 2011 we received unanimous support from our members to join forces in some way with the Re-Open Woodhead Campaign, after initial talks.

As a campaign you seek to open the whole route, we support you in that aim. After we’ve got passenger trains operating to Stocksbridge, it is our intention to keep going to Penistone, Woodhead and eventually Manchester.

Don Valley is a project, whereas Re-Open Woodhead is a campaign. We approach our mutual aim in different ways and as organizations we have different skills. Don Valley has set about doing what we can to get things done, where Re-Open Woodhead has succeeded at raising awareness. Don Valley could benefit from your publicity skills, and we hope your campaign could benefit from our attempt to open our bit of the route. We hope there is some synergy between the two groups.

As an initial collaboration, we are going to support yourselves in your commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the removal of the track over Woodhead this summer, and look forward to working with you successfully in the future.

We are fortunate that the landlord of our current home for meetings, the Harlequin Inn, in Sheffield, which incidentally was originally called the Manchester Railway Tavern after our railway, also runs a micro brewery. He has told me that he will produce a special ale to commemorate the 30th anniverary.

So I hope we can work together.

Chris Bell – Don Valley Railway