Centro and councils welcome investment in regional rail network

Posted: 8 January 2013 | | No comments yet

A planned £550 million upgrade to the West Midlands rail network was welcomed by the region’s councils…

A planned £550 million upgrade to the West Midlands rail network was today welcomed by the region’s councils as good for passengers and the economy.

The investment, to be made by Network Rail through its Strategic Business Plan between 2014 and 2019, will also help the region cope with soaring passenger numbers, the West Midlands Rail Members Group (WMRMG) said.

The group, made up of representatives from the seven metropolitan councils and neighbouring shire counties, said the improvements were a step in the right direction towards developing a regional network that can best connect and feed into the forthcoming high speed rail route, known as HS2.

However, the group expressed disappointment that an upgrade to the line between Birmingham and Tamworth, had not been included in Network Rail’s Strategic Business Plan.

This would have provided additional capacity and improved access to the important freight terminals at Kingsbury and Birch Coppice, near Tamworth.

Cllr John McNicholas, the chairman of WMRMG and chairman of Centro, the region’s transport authority, said: “We believe the Strategic Business Plan is good news for passengers, bringing them more frequent, reliable and faster services on a number of key routes.

“It’s also good news for our region’s economy because a well connected and efficient rail system can play a key role in supporting economic growth and job creation.

“It is vital we have a passenger and freight network which can meet the needs of the commuters and businesses of today but which can also maximise the significant economic benefits to be offered by the forthcoming HS2 high-speed rail scheme.”

Cllr McNicholas said improvements outlined in the plan would allow more trains to be run locally, helping to meet soaring demand.

The number of passengers using the West Midlands network has almost doubled over the last decade and over 42 million passengers a year now use the network in the metropolitan area alone

Some of the key projects in the Strategic Business Plan include:

  • A £255m programme of works to increase line speeds and reduce train congestion in the Stafford area.
  • £65m electrifying the Cross City Line between Barnt Green and Bromsgrove with three instead of two trains per hour between Redditch, Bromsgrove and New Street.
  • A joint Centro/Coventry City Council/Warwickshire County Council project for two new stations and an extra train per hour on the Coventry to Nuneaton line.
  • Electrification and new tracks between Coventry and Leamington boosting freight and accessibility to Birmingham Airport
  • Walsall to Rugeley electrification improving journey times and capacity for commuters heading into Birmingham.

Cllr McNicholas added: “We are particularly pleased that the electrification of the line between Walsall and Rugeley has been included as this is something that Centro and the region’s councillors had campaigned hard for.

“The one slight disappointment is that the absence of the improvements to the Tamworth line, as we felt this was important to help the cope with rising demand and prepare the network for the arrival of HS2 in 2026.

“We will however continue to work closely with Network Rail and the wider industry to get the additional passenger and freight capacity on the Tamworth line, as well as new south Birmingham commuter routes included in the following five year plan.”

Independent research has shown that the economic benefits of HS2 can be more than doubled by having the right local rail and transport network to connect with the region’s two planned stations – one at Eastside in Birmingham city centre and one near the airport/NEC.

Having such connections in place can increase the number of jobs created in the West Midlands from 10,000 to 22,000 and the boost to the economy from £600 million a year to £1.5 billion.

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