Birmingham Moor Street Station: Marylebone of the Midlands

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I had my first encounter with Birmingham’s Moor Street Station in the early 1970s when, as a very green junior civil engineer with British Rail, I was given the job of gauging its terminal platforms in preparation for the royal train’s arrival – not the current one, its predecessor: a motley collection of veteran coaches, some of which were well outside standard gauge. Alongside a more experienced lad, I had the responsibility of ensuring BR did not disgrace itself by allowing the train to hit the platform copings. We felt some trepidation come the day of the important personage’s arrival. I don’t recall their identity but the train pulled in safely, without mishap, and my nerves were able to settle again.

My latest visit brought back memories of that experience and the chequered history Moor Street has endured since. In the 1980s of course, the three dead-end platforms were closed to traffic; trains only paused at one of the station’s two through platforms before continuing on to the reopened Snow Hill. I returned to Moor Street to learn more about its renaissance – a process that has been ongoing for the past decade or so.

Halting the decline

Chiltern Railways – seen by many as the most progressive of the post-privatisation train operators – has recently completed a third phase in the station’s restoration, facilities that opened to the public on 11th December. Chiltern intends to make this ‘the Marylebone of the Midlands’ and has introduced ‘the new main line to Birmingham’ with its winter timetable.

Two previous steps have been taken with Moor Street’s rebirth. The first came with the Birmingham Alliance’s renewal of the nearby Bull Ring, part of which saw the place substantially restored in the guise of a 1930s Great Western station. Still just the two through platforms remained in use when completion came in 2003. The whole area was tidied up and the buildings fully renovated. The walls of the three terminal platforms were rebuilt in traditional style but the brickwork was raised to bring the surfaces up to the height expected today. But no track was installed at this stage. An underbridge taking Park Street beneath the bays was found to be in poor condition so this was reconstructed before the platform works were started. Steelway, a specialist firm from Wolverhampton, was brought in to restore much of the steelwork – a job it regularly undertakes on heritage projects.

Unusually, a decision was taken at this time to provide a water tank and the associated facilities needed to water steam locomotives at the station. This is significant given the celebrations organised for the opening of the latest remodelling works. A good example of how a little foresight can ultimately pay dividends.

And in 2005, Chiltern undertook an important second phase which brought a renewed footbridge with public lifts, together with a collection of other smaller improvements.

Marylebone of the Midlands track
Work continues in preparation for the reopening

Evergreen overview

But the most recent developments at the station have brought the changes of greatest significance – these have been carried out in conjunction with Chiltern’s Evergreen 3 project. The task of leading that work was placed on the shoulders of its Managing Director, Vic Michel, who had also been responsible for overseeing the first phase of Moor Street’s restoration in the early Noughties when he was with Hammerson, leading the Birmingham Alliance Bull Ring project. He was invited back by Adrian Shooter to head up Evergreen 3 and found Moor Street back on his agenda once again. When we met, Vic was jubilant as the extensive works at and around the station had been completed, tested and commissioned two days before, on 3rd December.

the rail engineer has covered aspects of Evergreen 3 in previous editions but, to refresh the memory, it has two main stages besides the Moor Street works. First there are the main line improvements between Marylebone and Aynho. Junction remodelling and track slews through this section will bring a reduction in journey times of about ten minutes. Other enhancements such as a turn-back facility at Gerrards Cross will not directly shorten journeys but will benefit services and operations. Stage 2 is the new route between Bicester and Oxford which was covered in Issue 62, December 2009.

But to deliver a typical and very competitive 100-minute trip from London on ‘the new main line to Birmingham’, a further ten minutes must be cut from the journey. This is being achieved by taking out excessive station dwell times – features of the old timetable – and removing altogether the local intermediate stops north of Aynho. Service levels for these stations are though being maintained through Chiltern’s introduction of a regular Moor Street-Leamington Spa shuttle as part of the new timetable.

Marylebone of the Midlands workers
The track alongside platform 3 receives its ballast

Time for consolidation

The Moor Street works involved returning to operational use two of the terminal platforms which, in future, will be used by the majority of London trains. There will be three hourly services to the capital, only one of which will serve Snow Hill. Chiltern is gathering together all its assets at Moor Street – installing on site the facilities to service and stable 32 cars of its fleet, instead of continuing to use its current facilities at Tyseley. This has not been straightforward – the so-called Wing Yip bridge saw to that.

This structure – the only metal part of the viaduct that leads into Moor Street from the south – had to be rebuilt as a result of corrosion. The viaduct as a whole is Grade II listed and, added to this, there were ambiguities about the ownership of the Wing Yip section. Once that issue had been resolved, it was still necessary to get listed building consent before the reconstruction, in reinforced concrete, could proceed. It was a requirement of this consent that the original appearance should be maintained on the visible elevations so steel facades were provided to achieve this. The work was undertaken on behalf of the project by Carillion whilst Steelway returned to provide and install the facades – the high standard of their previous work justifying their re-employment.

Carillion was also responsible for the other works associated with this phase of the Moor Street story. Track was installed to serve two of the three terminal platforms and connected into the existing through lines, the Up & Down Snow Hills. The third platform remains trackless for the time being, though Chiltern is confident that it will also be brought back into service in due course, assuming the initiative is as successful as it deserves to be.

Two stabling roads were needed for Chiltern’s rolling stock facility. These were established alongside the main lines, on the viaduct to the south of the station. It was their provision that necessitated the reconstruction of Wing Yip bridge which had lain unused and neglected for years. All this additional trackwork naturally brought a need to alter the area’s signalling which Carillion also fulfilled, completely resignalling the station and its approaches.

Marylebone of the Midlands ballast
Ballast is loaded onto a hand trolley

All aboard

Moor Street’s regeneration has cost close on £15 million. The Secretary of State signed off the Evergreen 3 project in January 2010 and the overall funding for its northern section provided funds for the work there. Network Rail has borrowed the necessary ‘mezzanine finance’ commercially, with the cost being added to its regulatory asset base and repaid by Chiltern Railways through additional access charges over the next 30 years.

When I met Vic, Chiltern was finalising preparations for the formal opening of Moor Street’s new facilities. Following a business launch the previous day, a public event was planned for Saturday 11th December. The last train to depart the terminal platforms when they closed in 1987 was hauled by Great Western Railway Castle Class locomotive ‘Clun Castle’, so its sister engine was brought in to haul the day’s special trains. 5043 ‘Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’, supplied by Vintage Trains of Tyseley, ably performed this duty. A pannier tank engine was also in attendance.

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