Two extra railway tracks need to be laid along the West Coast Main Line between Birmingham and Coventry well ahead of any opening of the proposed high speed rail link if the West Midlands is to meet ever rising demand for local rail travel, Centro, the region’s transport authority, said today.
Backed by a number of West Midlands MPs, Centro has called on train operating companies to make four tracking of the line between the two cities a key part of any bids to win the forthcoming 14-year franchise for the WCML which is due to start next year.
Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip, said: “Apart from the £1.5 billion a year boost to the West Midlands economy and the 22,000 new jobs that a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham (HS2) will bring, we have to build it because the WCML will reach full capacity by the mid 2020s.
“However, the existing stretch between Birmingham and Coventry is already a bottle neck that impacts on the reliability of the services running on it and it is extremely difficult to get any more trains through this pinch point.
“This capacity problem will only get more acute in the next few years and will reach saturation point by 2021, five years before HS2 is due to open.
Once we hit that point ten years from now some tough choices will have to be made between the inter-city and local services operating on the line.
“There is a very real risk that local services could be pushed out in favour of more profitable inter-city trains, thereby damaging local economies and stifling economic growth and job creation.
“We therefore cannot afford to wait for HS2 and are calling on train companies looking to bid for the WCML franchise to make a commitment to four tracking the line between Birmingham and Coventry. Indeed even after the proposed high speed line opens, four tracks on this stretch of railway will remain crucial to meet demand.”
Mr Inskip said that the longer, 14-year period of the next WCML franchise should give train companies the security to commit to the investment needed to lay the two extra tracks between Birmingham and Coventry. He also called for Network Rail to consider the four tracking proposal as part of its forthcoming Rail Utilisation Strategy.
A report released this week by pro-HS2 company Greengauge 21 released showed how the proposed high speed rail link between London and the West Midlands would release badly needed capacity on the classic rail network.
It said that in the West Midlands this would allow increased service frequencies to local destinations such as Lichfield, Tamworth, Nuneaton and Rugby and more regional services linking towns currently without direct services. Places like Kenilworth could also have new services such as a direct London service.
But Mr Inskip said: “Despite the benefits HS2 brings to the wider regional rail network, the issue of capacity for both passenger and freight services between Birmingham and Coventry needs to be dealt with far sooner.
“That is why we want to see the four tracking proposal included in the franchise bids that are now or about to be submitted.”
Centro this week met with seven West Midland Labour MPs at Parliament to brief them on how the region would benefit both economically and transport-wise from the proposed high speed rail link. Four tracking between Birmingham and Coventry was one of the issues that the MPs said they were keen to see addressed.
Centro, Birmingham City Council, the NEC Group, Birmingham Airport, Solihull Council, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Marketing Birmingham are all supporting the Government’s high speed rail plan which is due to go out to public consultation shortly.
Mr Inskip added: “The case for HS2 cannot be overstated, it is quite simply the biggest opportunity for wealth and job creation in a generation.”