Missed connections

There is much to commend in the design of HS2. The stations in Manchester and Leeds are well connected and the line has the potential to relieve the existing network of capacity constraints, but its connections in the Midlands are needlessly poor. It could be so much better. Curzon Street Station in Birmingham will be adjacent to the current West Coast Main Line running into New Street, half a mile further on, but there will be no interchange. Despite pressing transport ministers on the issue during my time as a West Midlands MEP during the consultation and after, my idea of including 2 island platforms to serve the four tracks heading into New Street was rejected. Admittedly the proposal was not the easiest in engineering terms, but it was possible and would have brought much additional benefit.

My Railfuture colleague and former Northfield MP Roger King shares my view that this looks like an opportunity missed. He is particularly sceptical about the logistics of getting potential passengers to the Curzon Street site. It will certainly work well for getting London-based passengers to a meeting in central Birmingham, but not for getting passengers from Birmingham and its hinterland to London. The Metro trams will run to Curzon Street and connections with Moor Street station, the city’s secondary hub, will work well but the main commuter hub in Birmingham is New Street, half a mile distant.

Three trains an hour with a capacity of 1000 seats each will be leaving for London. The tram just does not have the capacity to deliver these numbers of passengers. The busy Cross City Line with a train every 15 minutes serving Lichfield, Sutton Coldfield, University, Redditch and southern suburbs such as Northfield runs through New Street, as do trains from the Black Country authorities of Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell as well as services from the wider West Midlands Region. Only services from Stratford, Leamington and Solihull, some travelling onwards to Stourbridge and beyond currently use Moor Street. Of the 20million annual footfall at the 2 main stations, two thirds use New Street.

My own fear is that the lack of an interchange with the main network will result in disappointing demand for the HS2 trains. Will a passenger arriving at New Street bother to walk half a mile, often with luggage and sometimes in bad weather, to catch a train with a 34 minute faster journey time? They will lose 15 minutes of this time-saving making the transfer, so the time advantage will be less than 20 minutes for a significant increase in hassle and effort.

An Interchange still Feasible

Despite the best efforts of the City Council in getting Curzon Street station moved south tight up to the current mainline to maximise development land to the north, it is still possible to deliver a single island platform as an Interchange with HS2. Fortunately the two lines that this could serve run into platforms 7-12 at New Street and include Cross City Line services. The bad news is that the “engineering difficulties” are now amplified.

The West Midlands Railfuture Committee visited the site to assess the feasibility of the scheme. Splaying south immediately after Proof House Junction with a new bridge over New Canal Street and Fazeley Street could provide a 200 metre platform if the eastern end of New Bartholomew Street were closed for the purpose. The cutting into the tunnel would need to be widened as the track tapered back to its original alignment before entering the tunnel into New Street. A factory building and the Polish Club would need to be compulsorily purchased along with the adult cinema in Park Street.

The Interchange would not only bring additional passengers to HS2, thereby enabling it to fulfil its function in releasing capacity on the conventional network, it would have the additional benefit of linking the two commuter networks in the city. Passengers could then travel from Sutton Coldfield to Solihull without walking between stations in the city centre. Escalators at the eastern end of the proposed island platform could take passengers directly into Moor Street. At the western end of the platform the escalators could lift passengers directly into the Curzon Street Concourse.

Our key priority would be for all Cross City line trains to call, but Cross Country services also use the high numbered platforms at New Street, so they would also run into New Street along the new island platform and could stop if the operator so wished. Walsall trains could be diverted to the high numbered platforms but trains from Wolverhampton to International have to use the two tracks that are not served.

This is a project that is worth pushing. It is not easy in engineering terms or cheap, but it can bring huge benefits to the viability of HS2 and to the commuters of the West Midlands.

HS2 connectivity article