A new report by Midlands Connect highlights the ‘massive’ benefits to major universities throughout the region if the rail link between Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham is delivered. Academics said it would facilitate growth at the universities and help collaboration.

The report chronicles a series of in-depth interviews with senior managers and academics at five major universities who all welcomed the proposals and saw benefits to their institution, staff and student recruitment.

Alongside this report consumer research conducted by Censuswide for Midands Connect shows that 85% of students surveyed struggled to get to or from university because of delayed trains or missed train connections, nearly 78% believed A stronger local rail network in the Midlands would have made their university a more appealing option and 72% would be more likely to travel by rail more if local services were more frequent, faster, and involved less changes.

This research highlights the impact of better rail connections could make. Currently, just 3% of trips between Coventry and Leicester are made by train; compared to 30% of journeys made between Coventry and Birmingham and average speeds for trains between Coventry and Leicester are currently around 30mph, compared to average speeds of over 100mph for trains from Coventry to London.

The scheme could bring benefits of over £170million to the local economy and journey times along the route will be cut significantly, with trips from Coventry to Leicester falling from 54 to as low as 30 minutes, with trips from Coventry to Nottingham falling to below 60 minutes. Loughborough and East Midlands Parkway could also have new, direct and more frequent links to Coventry.

Some of the observations made by the universities during the interviews were:

 

William Rossiter, Nottingham Trent University said:

“I think investment in the rail corridor between Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham would facilitate growth at the university. Without a doubt, it would facilitate the kind of cross university collaborations that are increasingly essential if you’re going to attract public funding for research.

“Connectivity does make a difference to the to the quality of the student experience. 

“We tend to operate on quite large catchment areas, particularly for academic staff because of the need to fill roles that are very specialized. I would argue for universities, intra and interregional transport connectivity is more important than the average employer.

“While transport connections are important for students, it is also critical in supporting research collaboration across different institutions.”

 

Ian Dunn, Coventry University added: “I think any university of our type these days is significantly a commuting institution. It’s just the way things have gone, and the pandemic has certainly accelerated those moves.” 

 

Stephanie Whitehead at University of Warwick added there could be wellbeing benefits too saying:

“Anything that reduces that travel time and makes it easier for staff to get here would be good for wellbeing of the faculty.”  

Poor public transport affects universities being able to hire staff according to William Wells, University of Leicester who stated:

“The poor quality of West-East transport links is having a negative impact on the labour market. Even in professional and senior researcher roles it is unreasonable to expect to be able to recruit from the West Midlands -unless you are prepared to move house.

“Leicester and Coventry are the two largest cities in Europe that are not directly connected by a rail service. We’ve got an economic geography that just doesn’t function effectively because of our basically, broken transport links”.

 

Commenting on the new report and research, Andy Clark Integrated Transport Programme Lead at Midlands Connect said:

“Coventry and Leicester are two great cities – only a mere 20 miles apart as the crow flies. But getting a train from one to the other takes nearly an hour, and requires a change of train halfway, at Nuneaton.

“It is great to see yet more evidence that improving this link could make a massive difference, this time, to our great universities, the jewel in the crowns of the great towns and cities of the Midlands. It is also heartening to see the massive support from students for the rail upgrades; it shows what an impact we could make, not only to the economy but also to people’s quality of life too.

“We at Midlands Connect have a firm plan to do something about this and have a credible proposal to seek regular, direct, trains services not just linking Coventry and Leicester, but going through Loughborough and East Midlands Parkway to unlock the benefits of the Freeport and then continuing to Nottingham. This scheme is the definition of a win-win project.”

 

Shadow Rail Minister Stephen Morgan MP added:

”Labour will work with local leaders, businesses, unions and industry experts in the West Midlands to deliver a credible and transformative programme of rail and transport infrastructure investment.”