Thursday, 21 February 2019 13:50

Sheffield's aborted monorail plans

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Sheffield Minitram monorail mockup Sheffield Minitram monorail mockup

Long before the Supertram system was introduced, Sheffield had plans for a Minitram monorail system.

Way back in the 1970s, Sheffield Council and the Transport Department were looking for a way to connect various parts of the city centre and upgrade the public transportation system which was viewed to be increasingly strained since the 'old' trams stopped running in the 1960s.

At the same time as Sheffield wished to address its own problems, the government were looking to build a public demonstration project aimed at improving metropolitan transport.

Initial proposals were put forward to introduce an extended minicab system with taxis getting their own 'stations' in and around the city. A political storm ensued around the intricacies of the system as well as the location and designs of the actual stations so the project was abondoned in favour of other more unconventional services.

The fashion of the time saw a number of airports and expos worldwide served by unconventional systems such as Minitrams and Monorails so it was decided to conduct a study on such a system in the centre of Sheffield

Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall completed a report, which was exhibited on the third floor of Cole Brothers department store, in 1974. The system proposed was a 'minitram' monorail running on 2.5km of track. British Rail were also provided with government funding to study a 'Maglev' (magnetic levitation) solution on the same route proposed.

Placed on tracks running above the exising streets (many of which have had traffic restrictions or been pedestrianised since) the Minitram system would have run from the bottom of The Moor up to Pinstone Street past the Town Hall, down Fargate and High Street before zooming over the infamous 'Hole in the Road' roundabout. From there the service would have turned onto Waingate, stopping by Castle Market before looping back round by Victoria Quays up to Pond Street and finishing its journey at Sheffield Station.

Sheffield Minitram monorail plans
Sheffield minitram monorail plans

The route would have had nine stops along the way and had a peak capacity of 5,400 passengers per hour if running with three train cars.

Before the system could be accepted for construction the Minister for Transport officially cancelled the proposals on 22 May 1975 stating that the city should consider other transportation options.

It took a further twenty years for the plans to be revised into a suitable construction project, which eventually took shape in the form of Sheffield Supertram.

Sheffield's Minitram proposals caught the eye of several other boroughs though. Notably Greater London Council were said to have been jealous that such a scheme should be proposed outside the capital and commissioned a feasibility study to build a similar system in Croydon.

However, the only similar system that was eventually built in the UK was a Maglev solution which ran in Birmingham between 1984-1995. The service was the world's first low-speed Maglev shuttle and operated along a 600 metre route from Birmingham International Airport to Birmingham International Railway Station.

The Sheffield Supertram system eventually opened on 21 March 1994 but failed to hit passenger number targets, leading to the operating company's eventual privatisation with a sale to the international transport company Stagecoach in 1997.

A version of this article was originally written for and published at Social Sheffield / We Love Sheffield magazine.

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