Wednesday, 2 April 2014



Twenty years ago on the 21st March 1994 Supertram, a Light Rail System, opened its first section to the general public between central Sheffield and the huge Meadowhall shopping complex in the Don Valley near to the M1 Motorway. The infrastructure is owned and operated by the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), whilst the trams are run and maintained by Stagecoach.
Following a parliamentary act in 1985 authorising the scheme, the system was built by SYPTE at a cost of £240 million, and opened in stages between 1994 and 1995. It was initially operated by South Yorkshire Supertram Ltd (SYSL), a wholly owned subsidiary company of SYPTE. However, after lower than expected passenger revenue, SYSL was sold to Stagecoach for £1.15 million at the end of 1997. With the sale of SYSL, Stagecoach gained the concession to maintain and operate the Supertram trams until 2024. There were 7.8 million passenger journeys in 1996/7, growing to 15.0 million in 2011/12. 

The early years

Launched in an initial light grey livery, following the takeover by Stagecoach the trams wore the Stagecoach corporate livery from 1997.

The two images above illustrate the initial livery worn by the trams and the fleet number system that commenced at 01. Number 04 (upper) swings around a curve adjacent to the Crystal Peaks shopping complex in July 1995, whilst number 10 (lower) negotiates one of the single track sections beneath the Tinsley Viaduct in February 1998.

The nationwide corporate livery of Stagecoach later adorned the trams which were re-numbered from 101 upwards. Number 105 (upper) also swings around the curve at Crystal Peaks in the revised livery and fleet numbering system in September 1998. 124 (middle) in the same livery and 112 (lower) in a slightly revised corporate livery pass through Sheffield city centre near to Fitzalan Square respectively in May 1999 and September 2007.  

Into the new Millennium

From 2006 the trams were refurbished, and a new dedicated Supertram blue based livery was launched and eventually rolled out by 2008. Ticketing is integrated with the Stagecoach Sheffield bus operations, purchased by Stagecoach in 2005.

The network with a total length of 18-miles (29-kilometres) over three lines with 48 stops, runs from Sheffield City Centre north west to Middlewood and Malin Bridge via the University of Sheffield and Hillsborough; north east to Meadowhall Interchange via Attercliffe; and south east to Halfway and Herdings Park via Norfolk Park, Manor and Gleadless. Construction began in 1991 and the first section to open was along former heavy rail alignment to Meadowhall on 21st March 1994.

The system consists of a mix of on-street running, reserved right-of-way and former railway alignment. The Middlewood line runs mainly on the street up to the City Centre; the Meadowhall line runs totally on reserved track, and from Attercliffe to Meadowhall on former railway lines alongside a freight line to Tinsley Yard and the main line at Rotherham Central. The inner part of the Halfway and Herdings Park lines consist of on-street running, with the exception of the viaduct at Granville Road.

The Herdings line then runs on reserved track, and the Halfway line crosses the county border briefly into and out of Derbyshire on reserved lines in the countryside. This line also serves the Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre.

The three main City Centre stops are located on one side of a former dual carriageway, now a single lane and reserved for buses only making for good interchange facilities. These three stops are served by all routes at Cathedral, Castle Square and Fitzalan Square/Ponds Forge.

The tram network is organised around Park Square and comprises three lines. The lines, with termini at Meadowhall, Halfway and Hillsborough, all serve Sheffield City Centre and meet at Park Square where a triangular junction was constructed to provide interchange between lines and operational flexibility. Two small branches serving Malin Bridge, from Hillsborough Interchange and the Herdings Park branch out from two of the main lines.

The Supertram track at Park Square where a triangular junction allows trams to be turned. Overhead infrastructure and track is illustrated, along with tram number 111 in allover livery for East Midlands Trains. Stagecoach has a strong influence in the city with the tram system and a network of far reaching bus services. It also operates the Midland Mainline railway to/from London via Derby and Leicester and another route from Norwich to Liverpool via Peterborough, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester.

SupertramLink bus services

Three special bus services connect with the tram, providing additional journey opportunities:

SL1 runs from Stocksbridge to Middlewood, the north-western terminus of the yellow route and is run with a dedicated fleet of new Alexander Dennis Enviro200 midibuses supplied by Stagecoach Yorkshire.

SL2 runs from Stannington to Malin Bridge, the northern terminus of the blue route. Optare Solo buses are also supplied by Stagecoach Yorkshire.

SL3 is the most recent of the services to be introduced. It runs from Crystal Peaks to Killamarsh and is also operated by a dedicated fleet of slightly older Optare Solos courtesy of Stagecoach Yorkshire.

A fine example of integrated transport, with a tram on the Blue Route and one of the Stagecoach Yorkshire Optare Solos on the SL3. They are both shown at the Crystal Peaks tram stop, and yes, the bus did wait for the lady.

Through tickets are available to allow travel on Supertram and SupertramLink services.

The fleet

The system currently operates a fleet of 25 three car trams built by the German firm of  Siemens-Duewag based in Dusseldorf in 1992. The trams are capable of carrying 88 seated and 155 standing passengers and are 40% low floor design, and were specially designed for gradients as steep as 10%. In the 1980s a design choice was taken to create the longest possible vehicle to avoiding multiple working, which resulted in a 34.8 meter long design, the third-longest tram design in operation in Europe at the time and the longest in service in the UK until the 42.8 metre long trams introduced on the much delayed Edinburgh Network.

Over the more recent years several trams have provided the basis for various overall advertising. The East Midlands Trains liveried tram has already been illustrated and below are a couple of others. One is for Thomson Holidays and the other (probably the best of the bunch), adorned in a celebratory livery for Sheffield Trams.

The track

The network is 18-miles (29-kilometres) long, with 37-miles (60-kilometres) of track. It features two types of track; tramway track where either pedestrians or road traffic share the right of way and ballasted railway track when there are no such requirements. Tramway track consists of a grooved tramway rail set into a concrete base with troughs into which the rails are laid. Most of the track is on-street using 35G-section grooved tram rail, with BS11-80A 80 lb/yd (39.7 kg/m) flat-bottom rail elsewhere. The railway track was supplied by British Steel Track Products of Workington and laid on sleepers consisting of concrete blocks with steel ties which gives a spring feeling when travelling on these sections. The track is laid on a bed of ballast which in turn rests on a prepared formation. Street crossings are usually laid with grooved tramway rails.

The overhead wiring

Supertram is powered through twelve electric substations and fed through 1.07cm diameter overhead line equipment (OHLE) wire. The substations convert the 11 kV AC supply into 750 V DC supply into the overhead. The 12 substations are situated as follows:
  • Blackburn Meadows
  • Carbrook
  • Nunnery Square
  • Park Square
  • Arbourthorne
  • Gleadless Townend
  • Birley
  • Crystal Peaks, Ochre Dyke Lane
  • Halfway, Eckington Way
  • University, Brook Hill
  • Langsett Road, Capel Street
  • Middlewood
The overhead line equipment depends on the location. If the tracks are close together, central poles with 'steady' arms on each side are used. If the tracks are further apart, poles on either side with span wire are used. With aesthetics in mind a minimum number of traction poles are used and whenever possible the wire is anchored onto neighbouring buildings. Supertram, Sheffield City Council and landlords were in talks to try and hide anchor points as much as possible and blend them into the structures.
The contact wires are twin cadmium copper ones, twin wires being necessary because of the high installed power rating of the trams (1 megawatt). The regenerative braking on the tram feeds current back into the wires.


The rules of operation of the Stagecoach Supertram are similar to those of a traditional railway. The system was operated by South Yorkshire Supertram Operating Company, who employed the staff and operated the depot and signalling and now by Stagecoach Supertram. Unlike normal trains, tramways can be operated without signalling, although block signalling is sometimes necessary on single-line sections. The trams are driven on a line-of-sight basis, so that the tram can be stopped if an obstruction is spotted ahead.
Signals, however, are used to give indications to tram drivers when running on-street and at street crossings. As trams have priority at many places, it was necessary to give them different traffic light phases from motor traffic and therefore different types of indication have to be used from those applicable to motor vehicles. Signal phases for the tramway are specifically modified to account for the length of the tram. The tram signals are usually operated alongside and in conjunction with traffic signals. Signals consist of white lights arranged vertically (for go), horizontally (for stop) and a cross (for caution). Two other light arrangement indicate a point direction at junctions. The five white lights are distinct from those of the standard road traffic lights or railway line-side signals.
Points indicators are provided at junctions to indicate the route which is set through the points. At junctions, where Supertram and train movements can conflict with road traffic, fixed signals are provided in addition to points indicators. A points indicator may only be passed if it displays the correct route indication for the tram concerned and, where fixed signals are provided, if both points indicators and fixed signals are set for the correct route.
Line-side signals give instructions or warnings to tram drivers. To distinguish them from normal road signs, they are diamond-shaped. The most common are speed restrictions which are in miles per hour. These are particularly necessary on road-running where trams travel along with road traffic.
The route a tram is to take is computer-controlled. The route is set on a device in the tram before a journey is started, and on approach to junctions, a signal is sent from the tram to a device known as a VIS loop buried beneath the track. This automatically sets the points in the correct direction.

Opening dates
  • 21 March 1994: Fitzalan Square to Meadowhall

  • 22 August 1994: Fitzalan Square to Spring Lane
  • 5 December 1994: Spring Lane to Gleadless Townend
  • 18 February 1995: Fitzalan Square to Cathedral
  • 17 February 1995: Cathedral to Shalesmoor
  • 27 March 1995: Gleadless Townend to Halfway
  • 3 April 1995: Gleadless Townend to Herdings Park
  • 23 October 1995: Shalesmoor to Middlewood/Malin Bridge

Future Plans

Proposals were made to extend the network to Rotherham, Dore, Fulwood and Hellaby. However, a reduced scheme with extensions to Rotherham and Broomhill failed to gain government funding in 2004.
A tram-train pilot project will connect Supertram to Rotherham from 2015 using an existing heavy rail line which will be electrified. Although initially not funded, a Supertram extension from Meadowhall to Dore has now been confirmed to improve connections with the upcoming High Speed railway station to be established at Sheffield Meadowhall. 
Another firm Vossloh, is to supply seven tram-train vehicles for use from 2015, for the new route from Sheffield to Rotherham. 

And finally. Of course as is so often said in the media today, other tram systems are available.

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