A Greater Birmingham CrossCity rail network

I have written previously about a West Midlands equivalent to the emerging London Crossrail route(s) or the Paris RER network – see https://alex-burrows.com/2014/01/09/why-shouldnt-west-midlands-have-a-crossrail-as-well/

Given the launch today of the OneNorth proposition and the recent HS3 discussions, perhaps it is time to revisit this and remind people of the progress being made in the West Midlands on a number of key issues.  We are seeing much improved cooperation across the West Mids region, particularly between Birmingham and the Black Country.  We are seeing transport governance being reformed with a new Integrated Transport Authority, the development of the HS2 Local Connectivity Package, the Midlands Connect work on rail across the Midlands as well as successful growth in the regional economy, an increasingly effective inward investment campaign, the Birmingham Airport runway extension connecting us directly with China, the coming of Sprint (West Midlands bus rapid transit), the huge growth of Jaguar Land Rover and their new engine plant at Wolverhampton… (not bad – and that is just for starters!!!)

So this CrossCity network?

Well a crucial element of transport investment to support wider growth, connectivity and the support of wider policy goals should have a strong focus on improving connectivity and accessibility across the West Midlands conurbation.  We have the existing CrossCity line connecting Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield in the north (and my home patch!) with the University, Longbridge and Redditch in the South (and also Bromsgrove from 2016) via Birmingham New Street.  This line is our only high frequency metro rail service and is a real success!

I referenced before the existing opportunity to build 4 underground platforms at New Street.  This would free up space on the existing 12 platforms to provide more regional services to Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Worcester, Shrewsbury and other places – something we all agree that we need!

Now where we could be cute is to focus on the building of HS2 Curzon Street station and put a matching 4 platform station underneath that station as well.  This would connect into HS2 and Midland Metro there as well.  You would then have a high frequency metro between New Street and Curzon Street providing access to both major stations.

CrossCity North could follow HS2 out of Curzon Street and then climb up and into the 2 disused platforms at Duddeston and then connect in.  This could also provide additional services to Walsall.

CrossCity South could potentially go into a new underground Five Ways station before rejoining the line into University.

The second CrossCity line, and absolutely vital to the West Midlands, is a Wolverhampton to Birmingham Interchange line.  Connecting the Black Country from the West and diving down and into New Street from the Ladywood area (with a potential new station for the NIA on the way) before going into New Street and then Curzon Street.  Heading east, the lines would bear east and come out at new outer platforms at Adderley Park which would open up 2 new fast lines (the current lines) and ideally on to Stechford again with 2 new outer platforms.  This would allow for regional and intercity services to Coventry and beyond to go unrestricted by stoppers through to Lea Hall, as well as 2 greatly improved stations at Adderley Park and Stechford with better services and improved accessibility and facilities for passengers.  A strong focus would be on access to these stations by bus, bike and foot and improve them as transport hubs supporting these well-populated areas of East Birmingham and acting as catalysts for investment, new and improved housing and better connectivity.  The CrossCity East would go on to Birmingham Airport/NEC using the existing platform 1 and a new platform 6 before diving down and across to Birmingham Interchange for HS2 and the much wider connectivity from this new major transport interchange.

In summary, the Greater Birmingham CrossCity network would be focused on the twin hubs of New Street and Curzon Street with lines going North, South, East and West connecting major commuter areas, HS2 stations, Birmingham Eastside and City Centre, the Airport and NEC, universities, major areas in need of development (where transport improvements can spur on these developments – i.e. transit oriented development) as well as major opportunities to improve the regional, intercity and freight services currently squeezed onto these lines.

Why stop here?  The Western portal could also serve Walsall and the Chase Line up to Rugeley.  The Eastern portal could serve Tamworth and new stations supporting wider development at the Fort, Castle Vale, Coleshill and Kingsbury – it could also the Camp Hill line finally bringing Moseley and Kings Heath back onto the network.

As OneNorth have argued, better trains and full electrification are must-haves.  But our focus here in the West Midlands should be on a proper regional network with a CrossCity network (equivalent to the Tube and Overground services) providing a single, consistent, identifiable network, alongside a regional network – run by the West Midlands as a truly regional rail network – see my recent piece on rail policy here http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2014/07/09/make-rail-regional/

What we need is the big vision for the West Midlands (in transport terms at least!) and the strategy for it – we then need to stand up and be counted, as we have seen the North do today.  This is only one piece of that jigsaw, a significant one, that should be part of the master plan for our region.  Now we all need to make it happen.

One thought on “A Greater Birmingham CrossCity rail network

  1. This is similar to what I drew up years before HS2. I connected Five Ways and Bordesley via a single underground North/South underground station at New Steet exiting at Snow Hill and Duddeston. The plan above is mostly an adaptation of that to handle Curzon Street.

    I do think you’d find it hard to justify 4 platforms in each underground station, 2 platforms suffices for Merseyrail and is likely to do so here as well.

    The real issue is whether the plan frees up enough capacity for extended fast services. Despite Birmingham’s backing, HS2 does not really do this. HS2 frees up seats between Birmingham and Coventry, but does not really provide additional train paths.

    I put forward this plan http://ukrail.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/hs2-west-midlands-express.html to solve that dilemma, run the fast services from Coventry to Birmingham via Interchange and down the new HS2 spur – there should be enough capacity on those sections.

    On the West side, the metro plan also does not free up addition capacity to Wolverhampton or Worcester for fast services. I believe the solution here is simple, but Birmingham needs to act to make it happen.

    Instead of building Curzon Street at surface level, build it 10m below ground. This would free up additional land for development, paying for the extra cost. Then, an additional project can build new tunnels from Curzon Street towards Wolverhampton and Worcester. Those new tunnels would have no stations, including no station at New Street. Classic compatible fast services from London could then run on to Wolverhampton or Worcester, and other fast services could run into Curzon Street, not New Street.

    The lack of stations, means the costs are low. Underground stations are expensive to build and operate (Curzon Street will always be manned, so there is little additional operational cost there). Being able to run through services to other West Midlands destinations from London is surely a very important goal that should be planned for.

    Of course, once you do the above, you no longer need your Birmingham metro tunnels and stations, – the plan frees enough capacity at New Street and on the existing lines. To provide the missing link, you simply need platforms at Moor Street / Curzon Street on the existing main line.

    I strongly suspect that building fast no-station tunnels towards Wolverhampton and Worcester will be cheaper than building two subsurface stations for a metro in central Birmingham. Especially given the total benefits will be higher (same metro frequency as your plan, but also much greater capacity for fast services).

    Building Curzon Street as a terminus will be seen in future years as Birmingham’s biggest mistake. Its not yet too late to fix that…

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