“Birmingham hasn’t got a public transport system” – Ken Livingstone.
Birmingham is at the hub of the nation and, as a spokesperson for Virgin Rail confirms, the whole of the rail network is affected by what goes on there. However the Strategic Rail Authority has repeatedly stated that there are no resources available. One might ask what is “strategic” about this body if it is the case that it fundamentally affects the whole network? The problem is that the West Midlands, as with everywhere that is not London, is seen as a “region”. Even then this particular region is underfunded compared to others. The MPs representing the region don’t appear to be grasping this issue, even though one, Khalid Mahmood, is now PPS to Tony McNulty in the Transport Department. However Mr Mahmood is even opposing the extension of the Metro along the Walsall Road, so what hope is there?
Sir Digby Jones with the Station Master at the re-opening of Moor Street Station
While it is true that there has been a massive investment in the West Coast Main Line there is still a major problem around Birmingham, main station. At the City Region Conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne last year John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, responded to my comment about the situation in the Midlands by saying “you must do something about New Street Station”. Well New Street has two problems to do with trains and people. There is congestion in both aspects. The two tracks between Coventry and Wolverhampton are having to take Intercity, local trains and freight traffic. Somewhere something has to give.
Moor Street Station with Selfridges and the Rotunda as backdrop.
More recently the Strategic Rail Authority has said that Moor Street Station will remain unfinished. The connection between Snow Hill, Moor Street and London Marylebone is reputedly one of the best performing rail franchises in the country. Chiltern Railways who operate the service have redeveloped Moor Street as a terminus for some of their service (others go through to Kidderminster). It has been brought back into its former nineteen-thirties style and is a great credit to Birmingham. It was announced earlier in the year that a considerable investment was being put into Chiltern’s service to increase the number of trains, provide improved track and facilities for passengers with new platforms at Marylebone. Why is the Strategic Rail Authority now compromising this excellent project? I understand that Chiltern will proceed any way. Incidentally they have been chosen to take on the franchise for Midlands trains from Central Trains. Another point: there is room for four tracks along the line from Moor Street. Two of the tracks were removed some years ago, but many bridges and land still bear the evidence.
Meanwhile on the roads there has been considerable dismay about bus lane closures, particularly on the Tyburn Road. Proposals for bus lanes have been overturned by the Tory/Lib-Dem administration, including on the notorious no 11 outer circle. The Cabinet Member, Len Gregory, caved into the the Nimby factor. The Government may intervene to stop such councils undermining previous decisions to combat congestion and pollution. The Birmingham Post (9/3/2005) reported “Charlotte Atkins said passenger transport executives like Centro could be given a veto to stop long-term public transport plans being ‘scuppered’ by new and ‘obstructive’ council administrations.”
A number of Birmingham MPs have called for work to begin to replace New Street Station, but this will not in itself answer the need for congestion at the nation’s hub to be addressed.
It is far from clear how Birmingham and the Midlands are going to escape from the congestion arising from ever increasing car and falling public transport use.