Andy Clark, Senior Rail Programme Manager at Midlands Connect explains why the Midlands Rail Hub is so vital for both the region and the nation

A‘no-brainer’ is an overused phrase, but we believe we have a genuine one here.

Midlands Rail Hub is the flagship rail scheme for the Midlands. Through providing new chords and platforms in Birmingham, it provides capacity for up to ten additional trains per hour in and out of the city, to locations in the Midlands and beyond. The strategic case for making this investment is compelling – through providing excellent interchange between conventional and HS2 services at Moor Street and Curzon Street respectively; much improved links from the West to the East Midlands; and a high capacity, high performance railway with flexibility for the future.

While work on the Strategic Outline Business Case, the first of the business cases, started back in 2017, the origins of the scheme came as long ago as the 1990s with two new chords into Moor Street station identified a way of increasing capacity in central Birmingham. Birmingham New Street is full, so shoehorning more trains into that station is simply not practical.

Fast forward to the current day, and an Outline Business Case has now been prepared by Network Rail for the scheme.

The OBC provides detail on a shortlist of options:

  • Option A provides a new West Chord at Bordesley, which enables three additional regional services to operate each hour – to Hereford, Cardiff and Bristol. In addition, the soon-to-be introduced Camp Hill local services, from Kings Norton to Birmingham, can also be routed into Birmingham Moor Street. Last but by no means least, there is capacity for the busy Birmingham Cross City Line to be reinstated to its pre-Covid frequency of six (currently four) trains per hour, providing a ‘turn up and go’ service for swathes of the population in the north and south of the city.
  • Option B does everything that Option A outlines, but also provides a new East Chord at Bordesley, which enables additional Birmingham to Leicester services to operate. Crucially, it also provides capacity to go above and beyond, with additional, currently unspecified, services also able to use this chord.

It will come as no surprise that as Midlands Connect, we are firmly backing Option B, given the strong alignment with our three railway outcomes and the clear opportunity it presents.

While the headline infrastructure measures are in central Birmingham, the additional infrastructure extends far beyond. For example, we rebuild Kings Norton Station, bringing the long disused island platform back into use. Between there and Barnt Green, at the summit of the infamous Lickey Incline, we provide a fully electrified four-track railway. Further east, we are seeking additional capacity at Water Orton, a busy junction today for passengers and freight, as well as improvements east thereof, including reducing signalling headways.

We are pleased that Network Rail is a strong advocate of the scheme, placing it at the heart of the recently published West Midlands Strategic Advice. This is on the basis that Midlands Rail Hub provides the first building block to aspirations across the Midlands and beyond.

Suffice to say that the scheme has not been without its challenges, particularly from 2020 onwards. Of course, it remains to be seen what the long-term impacts on rail travel will be following the Covid-19 pandemic, but across the country we are witnessing a good return of patronage, albeit with different patterns and types of trips being made. Gone, it seems, are the Monday to Friday ‘high’ peaks, with the leisure market, including weekends, increasingly buoyant and in some cases surpassing pre-Covid levels.

Back in 2021, the Integrated Rail Plan was published, and provided an updated plan from Government for the HS2 network from the West to the East Midlands, with a new section of high-speed railway between the Birmingham Area and East Midlands Parkway. For Midlands Rail Hub, this has meant some changes – for example, we now don’t need to provide additional Birmingham to Nottingham conventional services in the way that we originally envisaged when the Strategic Outline Business Case was published.

Finally, any discussion of challenges would be incomplete without a reference to the fiscal environment facing not only rail enhancement schemes, but all areas of the rail industry. It is no secret that funding through the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) is in short supply and we have therefore had to work hard to demonstrate why this scheme is a priority for Midlands Connect and partners alike. In short, why invest at all, and why now?

So, what’s our message?
We have a compelling scheme that complements HS2 in the Midlands. We have an evidence-based value for money case and return over £1.50 for every pound invested. We have a strong strategic rationale for investing. We have support for the scheme within and beyond the Midlands. We have support from businesses and the public.

What don’t we have? Funding for the next stage – the Full Business Case – yet. Please watch this space! To finish where we began, can you think of a better ‘no-brainer’?