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£2bn plan to upgrade Midlands rail network submitted to DfT

Words: Laura Edgar
The Midlands / Shutterstock_160420901

Midlands Connect has submitted plans for the region’s rail network to the Department for Transport (DfT). It outlines up to £2 billion of new and improved infrastructure to be completed between 2024 and 2033.

The sub-national transport body wants to run 24 extra passenger trains every hour on the regional network, reduce journey times and make space to transfer 4,320 lorries’ worth of freight to the railway every day.

The plans were put together in partnership with Network Rail, and have the support of 47 partner organisations, including the West Midlands Combined Authority, local authorities, HS2, and Birmingham and East Midlands airports.

As rail use across the region has increased in the past 10 years (by 121 per cent in the West Midlands and 37 per cent in the East Midlands), investment is required to keep pace with demand, and to improve services between major towns and cities, which are “slow and infrequent”, said Midlands Connect.

The plan includes investment for 15 new and improvement projects, including:

  • Bordesley Chords – work to take place between 2026 and 2033: Two new viaducts to link services from the South West and East Midlands into Birmingham Moor Street station, including opening up extra platforms to provide extra fast services on those corridors, and link to HS2 at Curzon Street. The estimated cost is £900-£950 million.
  • Nuneaton dive under, flyover or reversal – work to take place from 2026 to 2033: Reinstatement of a ‘dive under’ tunnel or construction of a flyover over the West Coast Main Line at Nuneaton (or a reversal from Nuneaton station) to enable direct services between Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham. The estimated cost of a dive under or flyover is £100-120 million.
  • Leicester Corridor – to be completed by 2026: A series of incremental improvements that would allow faster new and existing services from Birmingham to Leicester. The estimated cost is £150 million to £200 million.

The plan also advocates for full integration with HS2.

Sir John Peace, chair of Midlands Connect, said: “The Midlands Rail Hub is a cost-effective, evidence-led plan to upgrade our Victorian infrastructure to meet the demands of the future. These proposals capture the enormous economic potential of the Midlands, with 320,000 new jobs estimated by 2030, mainly in professional services firms who depend on good rail connectivity to attract skilled workers.”

He added that the next prime minister “must not ignore” the Midlands, “the 10 million people who live here, or our £220 billion annual contribution to the UK economy”.

Midlands Connect has outlined the environmental benefits to its plan, stating that a slow, indirect and infrequent rail service between cities means most travellers choose to travel by car instead. It found:

  • Leicester-Coventry: 1 per cent by train, 99 per cent by car.          
  • Birmingham-Leicester: 13 per cent by train, 87 per cent by car.
  • Birmingham-Nottingham: 18 per cent by train, 82 per cent by car.

In comparison, it said more journeys in the North were made by rail than in the Midlands between cities. Between Manchester and Sheffield it is a 50-50 split for car and rail, while between Manchester and Newcastle 46 per cent of travellers used the train and 54 per cent used the car.

Rail freight produces 76 per cent less CO2 than the equivalent road haulage journey, Midlands Connect highlighted. Making space for 36 new freight paths a day would see the Midlands Rail Hub take the equivalent of 4,320 lorries’ worth of goods off the road and on to rail every day, “significantly” reducing carbon emissions.

Lindsey Durham, head of rail strategy at Freightliner Group, said: “Freightliner is backing the Midlands Rail Hub because, for the first time, we have a long-term strategy for rail infrastructure in the region. We’re moving everything from clothes and mobile phones to building supplies and industrial commodities on the railway, and by reducing bottlenecks and congestion for freight trains we can move more goods in an environmentally friendly way that supports the regional and the national economy.”

Following the submission, Midlands Connect has requested an additional £25 million in funding to bring the project to the “outline business case” stage of development.

Image credit | Shutterstock (top) and Midlands Connect (body)