The high-profile Sheffield Tram Train project was driven by the Department for Transport and delivered as a partnership between South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and Network Rail.

TSP Projects engineers worked with Network Rail, whose responsibility it was to design and build the new infrastructure, on the implementation of the pioneering new system.

The project will have a lasting impact on the future of public transport in the UK. It means that in principle, a person can board a tram in their local environment and stay on board right through to their place of work or leisure in the city centre, where previously they would have the inconvenience of needing to use two types of transport.

As the first of its kind, it provided a host of unique challenges for the project team.

Our Senior Project Engineer David Brown, who acted as Project Contractors’ Engineering Manager for Sheffield Tram Train, explains some of the twists and turns:

It’s been a roller-coaster ride from start to finish, we’d just finished celebrating the award of the contract when we realised we had to change the planned location of the link between the Network Rail and Supertram networks because of some previously undiscovered below ground issues.”

It was a sign of things to come. Originally the project was instructed as a year-long contract. However, four years later, TSP Project’s client and the scheme’s Principal Contractor went into liquidation just a number of months short of the commissioning stage. Due to the intricacy of the scheme, the budget also surpassed Network Rail’s initial expectations.

The work to link the existing Supertram and heavy rail network was incredibly complex and needed the involvement of every team across the business. Pilot projects by their very nature have no template of what has gone before.

“We had to develop a double junction layout and a new section of track (the Tinsley Chord) to link the systems. Network Rail did not have a 750V DC overhead system or supporting standards that could be adopted so we had to create bespoke designs to allow a mix of tram and heavy rail equipment along the chord interface point.”

Our Senior Project Manager Stephen Ware who joined David on his five year ‘journey’ with Tram Train added:

“Our track record of rail infrastructure projects meant we were well fitted to the task of making Tram Train a reality. However due to the uniqueness of the scheme and the need to incorporate it into an existing operation infrastructure, there were challenges.

 

“The Tram Train vehicle had a much larger pantograph than that of a standard heavy rail vehicle which had to fit through tight existing infrastructure. We needed to ‘squeeze’ the design, which ended up changing many times during the project.

 

“We also had to ‘backtrack’ with this project to ensure it could be completed. We needed to revisit an earlier design to retrofit a new Substation design and we also had to look at some of the earlier design submissions from the previous paperwork.”

The tram trains link Sheffield Cathedral and Meadowhall South on the Supertram network, before proceeding over the Tinsley Chord and continuing on the national rail network to Parkgate Retail Centre via Rotherham Central station.

Innovations delivered by the TSP Projects team to make this possible included:

  • Designing two low-level platforms adjoined to high-level platforms at Rotherham station to allow the tram train to stop along the route for passengers to alight or disembark.
  • Developing a crossover and turnout layout, track lowering schemes through overline structures and twin track layouts to facilitate a tram stop whilst achieving the reduced stepping tolerances required to meet the more stringently applied Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations.
  • The designs also used two types of signalling system.

Stephen concluded:

Our innovation has resulted in the design of tram train which uses both 750V DC and 25kV AC overhead line systems allowing a two-year trial running in 750V DC mode.”

“Our Track, Electrification, Structures, Geotech, Environmental, Site Services, M&E, Highways and Civils teams all had to go beyond the call of duty to get designs over the line on this high-profile project and we’re really proud of the role we played to ensure this significant milestone in the history of UK urban transport came to pass.”