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Sheffield World Cup referee Howard Webb today (Monday 9 December) visited Sheffield station to help blow the starter whistle for faster journeys to London.
The Yorkshire-born referee, who is widely rated as one of the best in the world, assisted East Midlands Trains, Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) with the dispatch of the 08.29 service from Sheffield which is one of the 68 trains to be improved in the new timetable. From today, passengers using this service benefit from a journey time of 2 hours 1 minute to London - a six minute improvement on the previous journey time.
The fastest train to London will now take just two hours, whilst the average journey time has reduced by seven minutes to 2 hours 10 minutes.
The launch of the new faster train journeys comes on the back of a £70 million investment programme being delivered by Network Rail in partnership with East Midlands Trains. The programme of work includes the upgrade of almost 160 miles of track, with trains able to run at 125 mph on parts of the Midland Main Line route for the first time ever. Other work carried out as part of the investment package includes the replacement of a number of level crossings with bridges, minor re-signalling and work to realign parts of the track.
Howard Webb joined Clare Burles, HR Director for East Midlands Trains; Julie Hurley, Interim Director of Strategy for the SYPTE and Councillor Leigh Bramall, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and Environment, to blow the starter whistle on 125 mph journeys to London for the very first time.
Clare Burles, HR Director for East Midlands Trains, said: “Over 13 million passengers now use our services to travel to London and the route provides a vital artery for the South Yorkshire region.
“These latest improvements to our timetable highlight just how much service levels have improved since we launched our franchise in 2007. The launch of our December 2008 timetable was the first stage in delivering faster journey times, then through a successful partnership with SYPTE, we brought two trains an hour to the Sheffield-London route in 2009. The launch of today’s timetable will see a further seven minutes knocked off the average journey time to London, which is a great step forward for our passengers.
“We understand the crucial role that faster journeys play in economic growth and we’re therefore very pleased to be launching this new timetable with trains able to run at 125 mph for the very first time, marking the start of the next exciting chapter for this route.”
Julie Hurley, SYPTE Interim Director of Strategy, said: “We are delighted to work in partnership with East Midlands Trains and Network Rail to provide these latest improvements, which has not only brought much needed investment to the Midland Main Line and rail in the North, but will see even faster journey times to London.
“Connections between London and South Yorkshire are so important to our local economy and so we continue to press the case very strongly for increased frequencies, which in turn will benefit customers.”
Cllr Leigh Bramall, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet member for Business, Skills and Development said: “A Sheffield to London journey time of 2 hours has long been something we have been aiming for, it is therefore significant that this is now achievable. Faster journey times not only help businesses and travellers, but a journey time of 2 hours makes us more attractive for inward investment.”
Phil Verster, Route Managing Director for Network Rail, added: "The Midland Main Line is an important railway as it connects communities in the East Midlands and provides a key commuter route to London. Our £70million investment will allow trains to run up to 125 miles an hour on sections of the route, bringing significant social and economic benefits to the region through faster journeys and improved reliability. We are working closely with East Midlands Trains to complete the final stages of this programme of investment.”
In addition to the improvements for Sheffield, passengers in Chesterfield, Derby, Nottingham, Loughborough and Leicester will also benefit from faster journeys to London.
Copies of the new timetable are now available at East Midlands Trains stations and online at eastmidlandstrains.co.uk. In addition to the improved journey times, there will also be changes to many of the departure times and connection times. Passengers are therefore strongly advised to check the new timetable in advance of travel.