Birmingham New Street is the hub of Britain’s inter-city rail network. Not many people know that …

D1053 Western Patriarch Birmingham New Street Station Spring 1975

By the early 1990s, it was clear that New Street, the hub of Britain’s inter-city network was becoming ever more of a bottleneck. British Rail considered something needed to be done to create additional capacity at track level at New Street.

Birmingham New Street is handling more traffic than that for which it was originally designed in the early 1960s when two parallel stations were combined into one, but not wholly into one.

Birmingham New Street Station looking west up Queens Drive towards Hill Street with the MR station on the left and the LNWR station on the right

As part of a rational exercise as to how to proceed ie not coming up with a solution and then casting around for grounds to justify it, Your Honour, BR undertook a traffic survey of passengers using the station. They discovered that most inter-city passengers did not start or end their journeys at New Street. When not passing through by train, they were changing trains. For them, an inter-change station outside of Birmingham city centre would be perfectly acceptable and might even prove more passenger friendly than the existing station.

Passengers travelling between London and Birmingham by inter-city were the exceptional group, but even they might not be inconvenienced by a service that whilst still stopping at New Street would also stop at a new station (in the Heartlands of East Birmingham).

Obviously, moving the bulk of the inter-city services out of New Street would create the opportunity to increase the number of regional and local services using the station.

The Birmingham Post and Mail took the view that the main station for Birmingham should be in the city centre. That view, shared more widely, and privatisation put the kibosh on the project.

A decade or so later, when the Birmingham terminus for HS2 was under discussion, the BPM argued for a new central station for Birmingham, but not at the heart of the city!

We now have the bright and shiny, much more passenger friendly Grand Central at surface level; an essentially unchanged Birmingham New Street at track level and the HS2 terminus being built on the site of the original terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway (outside of the core of the city centre).

The HS2 terminus is not integrated into Birmingham New Street (and Birmingham Moor Street), but you will, if changing stations in Birmingham be presented with the chance to really stretch your legs.

When folk consider the value of HS2 or alternative uses for the money committed to it, rarely does seeking an answer to the New Street Question come up. But then when you consider that many do not see Birmingham, the city furthest from the sea in any direction I gather, as a major destination in itself then may be that is not so surprising.

As with assessing the value of a national flagship, stakeholder analysis, despite what Dominic Cummings thinks, is a very important part of any appraisal process.

By the foregoing, you will see that there is a credible case for arguing that the iconic HS2 Birmingham terminus has not just been located in the wrong place, but has definitely not been integrated effectively into the inter-city, regional and local rail networks at the heart of which Birmingham sits.

“In 1976, BR commissioned a study which concluded that rail closures had a significant adverse effect on the quality of life of many former passengers. Only a third of people who had travelled beyond their line’s junction with the main line on a reasonably regular basis continued to do so and those without cars tended to abandon non-essential travel altogether.”

Last Trains: Dr Beeching and the death of rural England, Charles Loft.

There had prior to 1976, it seems, been an assumption that folk who travelled by a branch line to a junction and then took a train from there would continue to do so, if the branch line closed. They would travel to the junction by another form of transport and then catch a train from there. In reality, in such a scenario, most once they had got into their cars drove to their ultimate destination.

When the location of stations for HS2 was under consideration, did the planners take into account the reasonable assumption that maximising integration into the existing rail network would increase the return on the proposed investment by encouraging greater passenger travel across that existing network?

To put it in the language a Boris Johnson might understand, were they looking to get the biggest bang for our pound?


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