Monday, 7 April 2014

HS2 - West Midlands Express

HS2 phase 1 provides a new railway from London to Birmingham Curzon Street and Lichfield. In the Birmingham area, a new station is also proposed at Birmingham Interchange, north of the current Birmingham International station. This blog examines a way to make best use of the new assets.

West Midlands Express

The new Birmingham Interchange station is deeply flawed as it currently stands. It provides no interchange with any existing public transport, and will rely on a "people mover" solution to connect to the existing Birmingham International station. The practicalities of a people mover mean that passengers from the local area, notably Coventry, will be highly unlikely to use rail to access Birmingham Interchange. This will serve to increase demand on the roads in the area. Not a desirable outcome.

In addition, the new HS2 line fails to provide any real new capacity for travel between Coventry and Birmingham. The current railway is just two tracks between the two cities and carries a slow stopping service for the many intermediate stations. Providing paths for a fast non-stop service in addition to the stopping one is a challenge.

The West Midlands Express proposal is a simple change to HS2 that solves both these problems.

The proposal is to construct two new connections to HS2. The first is from Birmingham Interchange to Coventry, allowing HS2 trains from the north and Birmingham to reach Coventry (the HS2 section around Birmingham Interchange has 4 tracks, so capacity exists for this). The second is from the existing lines east of Birmingham New Street, allowing trains from New Street to reach HS2.

The current service plan for HS2 includes the following: 3tph from Birmingham Curzon Street to London, 3tph from Curzon Street to the westerly leg of phase 2 (Manchester and Glasgow), and 3tph from Curzon Street to the easterly leg of phase 2 (Leeds and Newcastle). This gives a total of 9tph on the Curzon Street branch.

The West Midlands Express proposal would add an additional 3tph service on the Curzon Street branch. Trains would run Wolverhampton - Sandwell & Dudley - Birmingham New Street - Birmingham Interchange - Coventry - Rugby (shown in red). Extensions to Telford, Shrewsbury, Northampton and Leamington would all be possible.

Services would use either classic compatible HS2 trains, or trains similar to the Javelin trains used in Kent. Note that it is likely that trains between Birmingham and Coventry would be no faster than today using this route, as it is longer. However, it is the increased connectivity that is the justification.

The benefits of this service are clear:

1) Passengers from Wolverhampton (and the western West Midlands) to London would have a quick and easy change onto HS2 at Birmingham Interchange, avoiding the long slog between New Street and Curzon Street. They would also have much better access to the North at Interchange.

2) Passengers from Coventry to the North would have a quick and easy change onto HS2 at Birmingham Interchange. This would reduce the need for driving from the Coventry area.

3) Genuine additional capacity is provided between Coventry and Birmingham, with the new HS2 tracks becoming used for regional connections. This would allow an increase in the frequency of the stopping service.

4) The Coventry link provides a location for services from the phase 2 branches to terminate if there is no free path to reach London. This could increase the number of trains using the phase 2 sections, increasing their value.

In effect, the West Midlands Express proposal is similar to ideas already put forward for express services between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and between Liverpool and Manchester. In each case, the goal is to maximise the value obtained from the new railway infrastructure. In this proposal, it is places from Wolverhampton to Coventry to Rugby that would benefit.


The West Midlands Express proposal is a simple change to HS2, consisting of just two new junctions. Yet it provides greatly enhanced connections to the spine of the West Midlands, changing Birmingham Interchange from an embarrassing car park in a field to the hub of the national and regional network. Coventry and Wolverhampton particularly benefit from the proposal.

If you like the sound of the proposal, why not add a comment!