A £58million pilot scheme to extend into Sheffield's neighbouring town was given the go-ahead in 2012 and is due to run for two years from 2015 with a view to making a permenant operation.
The pilot will assess the technical issues surrounding the operation of a tram-train network to ascertain viability for other parts of the country, with services in cities such as Manchester watching closely.
Utilising existing train tracks the tram-trains will run from Meadowhall South to Rotherham and will be the first service in the country that runs on both rail and tram networks.
New platforms will be built at Meadowhall South and Rotherham Parkgate whilst the platform at Rotherham Central Station will be extended to accomodate the new services. It is envisaged the journey time will take appoximately 25 minutes to Sheffield City Centre.
Other stops to enhance the route may be considered in future.
South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive are leading the project alongside the Department for Transport, Network Rail, Northern Rail and Stagecoach Supertram.
Last year an order was placed with Spanish-based Vossloh to supply seven new tram-train vehicles to run on the system, which are expected to be ready for service in 2015.
The new format tram-trains will be future proofed to cater for any subsequent electrification of the Midland Mainline rail network in order to be capable of operating at both light and heavy rail operating voltage.
Other safety features will be built into the vehicles for the purposes of running on the heavy rail network as well as the lighter tram system.
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Cllr Mick Jameson, Chair of the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, said: “The project will provide important enhanced local connectivity and demonstrate the potential, both locally and nationally, of this new technology to deliver value for money services. We are excited to be a project partner in this ground breaking project "
Phil Verster, Route Managing Director for Network Rail, said: “We have already learned a significant amount about how a Tram-Train could benefit Britain’s rail network through the feasibility and design process. Now we can look forward to introducing the vehicles onto the network. We believe this project will bring lasting benefits to passengers in the Sheffield and Rotherham areas.”
Further plans are also being drawn up to extend the tram network to the South of Sheffield, linking Meadowhall and the City Centre with Dore, in readyness for the proposed HS2 high speed rail service.
Is the tram-train service a good idea for Sheffield and Rotherham? What do you think of the deigns for the new trams? Have your say in the comments below!