The Birmingham Post report today (31/7/2008) tells us what our leaders don’t want to know, can’t grasp, that Birmingham’s traffic is slowing down. Out of 5 comparable metropolitan areas an AA report says that 15% drivers are caught in traffic compared to 11% in Sheffield and 10.7% in Manchester. Both these cities have tram links while Glasgow, another comparator, has, with its underground, a figure of 12.7%.
Currently it seems that Birmingham City Councillors dislike the tram intensely, but they don’t appear to have any other plans. The “big idea” is a revamp of New Street Station, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that on its own it’s a long way from supplying Birmingham and the West Midland with the public infrastructure which will be reliable, clean and modern.
Why the antipathy to the Midland Metro is beyond me. It is clean and reliable. You don’t get thrown about like you do on buses (I’ve only encountered one driver who succeeded in stopping suddenly throwing passengers about). It is know to be much more effective in getting people out of cars. It has free park and ride facilities with security cameras. Not only don’t they like it, they have no plans for a modern public transport system. How do they answer the correspondent who writes into todays Post I’ve quoted below?
In many ways New Street is the envy of many cities because of its location at the centre. Edinburgh has a similar advantage in that sense. So some of the ideas coming on board to relieve New Street appear to have some merit. If you travel to London from Snow Hill and Moor Street it is apparent that there is already room for four tracks, which would be a huge problem to provide between the Coventry – New Street route, not taking into account the tunnels feeding into the station. A high speed link I understand is being looked at here. I had high hopes at one time that the tram would go out to Eastside and then connect at Duddeston and Vauxhall. An interchange there would also relieve pressure on New Street.
Already officers with foresight have managed to get the exit route for the Midland Metro constructed at Snow Hill and this will make it possible for the tram to link with New Street. It also frees up platform 4 for heavy rail. At present light rail and heavy rail are forbidden to use common track, but I understand that the government are revisiting this question so there could be interesting developments there.
The same edition of the Post contains a letter headed “International aspirations let down by dire transport”
“Dear Editor, I read the excellent Birmingham Post property supplement with a sense of growing excitement when examining some of the detail surrounding, the proposed 10 year, £17 billion development of Birmingham city centre. The iconic V Building, the development of Park Central, the Calthorpe Estates’ proposed £40 million office development and the redevelopment of Five Ways and the A38 corridor. These proposed and planned developments will certainly place Birmingham at the forefront of international focus and generate interest from the business and commercial sectors.”
The letter continues:
“Unfortunately my enthusiasm slowly waned as I realised that yet again the one key area of focus that is always missing from these grandiose plans is the development of appropriate and suitable transport infrastructure to support the increasing urbanisation of our city.”
Our city planners are guilty of being romanced by the idea of creating a legacy, of building bigger, taller and shinier than their counterparts in other cities; and guilty of demonstrating their impressive plans at international expos and conventions while knowing that our city is lacking quality transport amenities.
The sad fact is that our transport infrastructure is outdated and badly implemented. Our gateway railway station is a national joke, our national coach and bus depot is an appalling blot on the landscape and in the wrong part of the city to be of any practical use. Our grossly overpriced and overhyped bus service fails on several counts, including cleanliness, availability, frequency and accessibility. Transportation within the city centre is non-existent and car drivers have been branded persona non-grata by redevelopments which have destroyed or severely limited vehicle access.
Someone should pitch up next to our high flying city promotions team and tell the eager international community that it can take up to 45 minute to travel four miles along the Hagley Road to the city on any given weekday, that public transport is shabby and erratic, that despite massive investment plans for New Street station’s redevelopment there will still be only two tracks in and two tracks out, that light-rail and tramway plans are being proposed, investigated and discarded in lightning fashion, and there is no appreciable long-term integrated transport proposal let alone a solution.
The incumbent city fathers, with their burning desire to create a lasting legacy, need to face reality and get our priorities right. We need fast, frequent transport within the city and surrounding districts. The West Midlands tramway is good as far as it goes (one track), but as we all now realise, it doesn’t go far enough and recent reports have suggested that it isn’t going to go any further.
The answer? Don’t waste any more time trying to shoehorn the tram into a city where it just won’t fit. Look at alternatives. We had a fantastic network of tramways and trolley-buses in and around this city. Trams and trolley buses are environmentally friendly, pollution free and are only limited by the availability of an overhead power supply or track. The cost of installing pylons and cable must be infinitesimal compared to the projected costs of a light rail extension, which would be a single line “all the way” to Five Ways if we are lucky. We should be creating a superb 21st century city centre transport system capable of providing the interconnects between Digbeth bus and coach station, Snow Hill, Moor Street and New Street stations, in conjunction with large park and ride facilities built on the city perimeter approaches. Such a system would also provide the means for city centre residents to be able to dwell in the city without the need for the ubiquitous motor car.
If second-rate towns like Sheffield can develop city-wide tram services that move local people and encourage cars to be left at home, then why can’t Birmingham? We must get the basics right before we reach for the stars. A 21st century city needs 21st century transportation.”
Why we need high-speed Gateway plan more than ever
Jul 24 2008 Letters to the Editor
Dear Editor, I would like to respond to the leader column in Monday’s paper commenting on the Gateway project at New Street and the House of Commons Transport Select Committee’s concerns over long term rail capacity at the station.
As the region’s passenger transport authority, Centro believes that the Gateway scheme is absolutely the right thing for New Street as it will increase passenger capacity and address the problem of overcrowding.
We also believe that New Street Station is in exactly the right place and that the long distance railway should not be going anywhere else in Birmingham. New Street is, in effect, the hub of the nation’s rail system and should remain so. That’s why Gateway is so important.
In the medium term, Gateway will be able to cope with much longer trains which will help us provide the extra capacity needed.
However, we agree that the growth in demand for rail is now rising far faster than previously forecasted.
This faster rate of growth justifies our ambition to build the proposed Camp Hill Chords project as soon as possible. This project involves the construction of new train tracks and points to allow certain services to be routed into Birmingham Moor Street Station thereby freeing up capacity and allowing performance improvements at New Street.
The rapid growth in demand for rail also illustrates the pressing need for extra transport capacity within Birmingham. That’s why Centro, together with its partners, is working towards providing a world class integrated public transport system incorporating rail, rapid transit and bus. This network will enable local journeys to be made in a different way and without the need to use the main platforms at New Street.
In the longer term, many local services could therefore be taken out of New Street, freeing up further capacity so that the station can cater for the anticipated growth in rail referred to in the Select Committee’s report.
For now, however, it’s important that New Street Gateway advances as fast as possible in order to solve the acute passenger capacity issues that already exist at the station and which threaten to constrain growth in the short term.
Geoff Inskip, chief executive Centro