Thursday 18 August 2011

Improving HS2 - Birmingham central

While my previous blogs have discussed alternatives to HS2 that I believe are better, I also want to write about options to make the current proposal more palatable. This blog focuses on Birmingham central.

One of my main criticisms of HS2 is that it doesn't meet the government's remit of a line from London to the West Midlands. The central Birmingham station of Fazeley Street only serves Birmingham city centre. It is completely disconnected from all other local railway lines, 5 minutes walk from Moor Street and 10 minutes walk from New Street. As such, there is no ability to travel on by train to the rest of the West Midlands, hence my claim that the remit has not been met.

The main issue in Birmingham is that New Street station is beyond capacity already. There is currently a large investment going into the station, but appallingly that investment will provide no new track-level facilities. As a result, Birmingham is going to face issues whether HS2 arrives or not.

HS2 Ltd's choice of Fazely Street just to the East of the city centre on a brownfield site is not by itself a bad choice. However, HS2 Ltd has had a failure of imagination by proposing it on its own. It is also a huge failure by being designed as a terminus with no possibility of future conversion to a through station.

View Larger Map

The Fazely Street site is the empty land on the right. Moor Street is centre right, New Street centre left and Snow Hill top left.

The distance to Moor Street is actually fairly small, so the first thing that must be done is to create a single station concourse that unites Moor Street and Fazely Street. This should also be under a single station name, say Birmingham Central. However, most trains in Birmingham serve New Street, and that is significantly further away. This is where imagination is needed...

Step 1 - lower the HS2 platforms into the ground. As the ground is undeveloped, digging a big hole and putting the station in it isn't nearly as expensive as building a tunnelled underground station. By being below ground level, it provides the ability for future generations to convert the station into a through station by building tunnels onwards under the city centre, perhaps to serve Wolverhampton or the main line to the Bristol. A terminus station is incredibly short sighted and will never permit future generations that option.

Step 2 - build a new station at ground level on the current lines into New Street. Now that the HS2 platforms are below ground, there is plenty of room for a ground level station on the current lines from New Street to Coventry and Tamworth. This station will need lots of platforms to be effective, due to step 4.

Step 3 - integrate Moor Street, the HS2 platforms from step 1 and the classic platforms from step 2 into a single station with a single concourse. The concourse would run South West to North East effectively along Park Street. All platforms would be served by escalators from this single concourse level built to the highest modern standards. This unified station would be known as Birmingham Central.

Step 4 - all services that currently serve New Street would serve Central. Some long distance services would only serve Central and would no longer serve New Street. This last point is critical, as it will provide the space in New Street (which cannot be expanded) for future growth in local services.

In summary, this is an imaginative proposal to create a new Birmingham Central station integrating Moor Street, new platforms on the New Street lines and new sub-surface HS2 platforms. Express services would only serve Central, while local services would serve New Street as well. This fully integrates HS2 with the local network and makes a huge difference to the viability of HS2 as a West Midlands service rather than a Birmingham city centre one.

Overall, I oppose HS2 because I think there are better alternatives. However, if HS2 does go ahead, this is one change that I believe to be absolutely essential.

Update: This proposal is similar to this Arup proposal "Grand Central", suggesting it is feasible and practical.