Is the West Midlands Rail on track for economic growth?
By Dan Griffiths, Director – Transport
Following a consultation period last year, the West Midlands Rail Executive published their 30-year Rail Investment Strategy 2018-2047 at the start of this year. This represents a significant investment of over £1.7 billion in the rail network across the Midlands, improving connectivity by opening new stations, reducing journey times and increasing the access to the High-Speed network.
In summary, it proposes 13 new rail stations in the West Midlands, from the much-anticipated reopening of the Camp Hill line, to extending rail services to Aldridge and Alrewas, and opening new stations along existing lines. This is combined with increasing the number of services operating along existing lines, which in some cases quadruples the frequency of passenger train services towards Birmingham.
This all helps to create economic opportunities and is a welcomed investment in the West Midlands rail network. But the question is where next… and what else could be done?
Recent housing market reviews identify there is still a significant shortage of housing being delivered in the West Midlands. With the changes to the NPPF and the way housing need is calculated, I am reliably informed that this number only seems to be increasing further. Published documentation shows 12 broad areas of development across the West Midlands where a high proportion of housing growth can be located by 2036, but the Rail Investment Strategy focuses on existing demand and doesn’t reference future demand generated in these places. It is important to consider how rail can be a core mode of transport for new developments, particularly with the NPPF indicating that density should be higher around transport nodes.
The increased frequency of passenger services into Birmingham may also put strain on the commuter stations. Car parking provision has already been increased on many of the lines as Park & Ride stations are busier – those that are busiest are also in part influenced by the zonal pricing structure too. The next step is therefore to improve consideration of the whole journey, with better cycle access and secure parking at stations to help people make the first part of their trip by non-car modes – this aligns with Sustrans Bike Life: Transforming Cities and helps to unlock significant health benefits. Whilst this is outside the railway boundary itself, it is imperative that it’s considered to create a coherent and integrated transport network.
With the implementation of 5G technology across Birmingham and the West Midlands, the increased ability for data transfer is significant. And so, this is a fantastic opportunity to utilise this data to create seamless multi-modal transport systems to make public transport easier and more reliable than travelling by car.
The introduction of Whim (MaaS) last year has provided the foundation for this transformation and extending the range of the smart-ticketing through Swift is a helpful addition to this market.
The investment in rail infrastructure is critical to continued growth in Birmingham and the West Midlands, but as a profession we must continue to invest to create healthy, liveable and inclusive communities.