For a major railway station to be sustainable it must be an integrated transport hub. It should serve local, regional and national destinations by rail and other modes of transport. If it fails in that, everything else positive that may be said about it will be insignificant - it will not be sustainable. HS2 stations which fail the integrated transport hub test include Birmingham Curzon Street and Birmingham Interchange.
When HS2 Ltd decided on Curzon Street station for its central Birmingham terminus it did not consider the dispersal of its passengers. A location already integrated into the public transport network should have been chosen. The isolated Fazeley Street location, with hardly any rail, road, bus or tram connectivity, should not have been found suitable. Without connectivity it will be unviable and suffer a slow death, similar to the fate that befell the original Curzon Street station which operated as a major passenger station only between 1838 and 1854 when Grand Central, now New Street station, was completed. The new Curzon Street station may become known as Cursed Street station.
HS2 Ltd envisages at least 10 trains per hour (tph) both in and out of Curzon Street terminus station from 2033, more in peak hours. That is up to 12000 passengers per hour arriving and 12000 departing. Say 1500 arrivers will walk to destinations nearby. 1500 may walk 1km, 15 minutes, to catch a train at Moor Street. On a rainy morning that leaves 9000 to walk 500m, 7.5 minutes, to a tram stop below the station to queue for an hour or more for trams to New Street station. 6000 may change back to rail there, another 500m, 7.5 minutes walk. 1500 may walk to destinations near New Street and the remaining 1500 stay on the tram. The distances and transit times given here are optimistic. Network Rail recommends 12 minutes to change train at New Street.
Midland Metro plans to operate 10 trams per hour between Curzon Street and New Street, each with a capacity of 210 passengers. Assuming each tram will carry 180 passengers away from Curzon Street (30 remaining on board to stay dry, warm and seated), that is an hourly capacity of 1800 passengers. Can 180 passengers, many with luggage and/or young children, get off and 180 get on a tram at Curzon Street during the maximum 5 minute stop there? The trams will provide capacity for just 20% of the 9000 peak hour passengers who wish to use them on a rainy morning. How does HS2 Ltd imagine the remaining 80% will cope? It is clear that Curzon Street station will be unable to disperse or assemble the required number of peak time HS2 travellers. With 12 platform faces for through services, New Street station is the only West Midlands location that will have sufficient connectivity to become a sustainable central Birmingham home for HS2 services. In 2009/10, when New Street station and other locations were considered by HS2 Ltd for its use, it was considered as a terminus station for HS2 services, not as a through station as proposed below.
HS2 peak hour travellers must allow in excess of 1 hour between arriving at Curzon Street and departing from New Street and 30 minutes for a Moor Street departure. The same transit times must be allowed by HS2 peak hour travellers departing from Curzon Street. It will be quicker and more convenient for them to go to and from London and elsewhere by classic rail from New Street than by HS2 from Curzon Street. The main aim of HS2 is to cut end to end journey times. Curzon Street station, due to its lack of accessibility and connectivity, will add to those journey times, not cut them. It will neither be sustainable nor fit for purpose and will become a hugely expensive white elephant.
No coherent thought process appears to have been followed in deciding to build Curzon Street station. Having an area of derelict land that needs developing and a wish to create a piece of ‘landmark’ architecture are not reasons for locating a major item of transport infrastructure. Perhaps the inaccessible Curzon Street location was chosen to provide an excuse for building the otherwise unnecessary Birmingham Interchange? No thoughts were given to the plight of future users of Curzon Street.
This is in contrast to the process that resulted in the selection of the integrated south facing option (option 2) for the redevelopment of Leeds station for HS2 use. It is described in David Higgins’ November 2015 interim report ‘The Yorkshire Hub’. After local consultations Sir David listed five principles which would ensure the best outcome for a new station: 1. Having a common concourse for HS2 and Network Rail; 2. being a properly integrated transport hub; 3. having sufficient capacity to support the Northern Powerhouse (here Midlands Connect); 4. allowing for through trains to enhance regional and [Midlands Connect] local services; and 5. ahem, being a major national landmark.
These principles should also have been applied in choosing Birmingham’s HS2 station. Curzon Street fails to support any of the four transport related principles quoted by Sir David. The only principle met by Curzon Street is the irrelevant one of being a major national landmark. Local stakeholders should have been consulted and the real options available to Birmingham for the arrival of HS2 explored.
In the absence of such a consultation and to avoid any uncertainty, it is suggested here that the only alternative to the inaccessible Curzon Street station is close by: New Street station. Continuing to New Street will add less than a minute to HS2 journey times but save a typical peak hour traveller an hour or more of transit misery. Proposals are made below for HS2 access to New Street, and for capacity, platform length and loading gauge there. The need for Birmingham Interchange with no Curzon Street station is also questioned.
a. HS2 access to New Street station
Access to New Street should be via the planned HS2 spur from Water Orton. On its final approach this spur could either join the line from Aston or the WCML branch coming from Birmingham International and Coventry. Capacity will be available, see b below.
b. Capacity at New Street station
HS2 Ltd is planning for 10+ tph both in and out of Birmingham Curzon Street terminus from 2033. These are likely to replace a similar number of conventional national terminating services now operating in and out of New Street. In theory New Street should have the capacity to cope with a HS2 move from Curzon Street. However, there would remain little capacity for other new services to be introduced here to support HS2 and a revised Midlands Engine strategy. The key for creating capacity at New Street is for terminating services to be replaced by through ones. At through stations there are fewer conflicting moves than at terminating ones, speeding up entries and exits.
A train arriving at a terminus will normally occupy its platform for 20 to 30 minutes before departing. A through train will occupy its platform for less than 5 minutes, saving 10 to 20 minutes of platform capacity for each terminating/departing service replaced by a pair of through ones. If HS2 Ltd and other service providers would use New Street as a through station its capacity would be greatly increased. More through services mean fewer passengers need to change train, leading to a less crowded New Street station and an improved travel experience for passengers. Fewer terminating diesel services and more through ones would also lead to lower levels of air pollution at New Street.
HS2 services in and out of New Street would not commence or terminate here, but arrive from or continue to Shrewsbury on an upgraded and electrified line, or to Stafford, all via Wolverhampton. Reasons for Stafford's HS2 services to run via Birmingham are given in section 4 Handsacre Link and Stafford, here.
c. Capacity of the HS2 core sector south of Birmingham and Platform lengths at New Street Station
In order to squeeze the maximum number of seats through the core sector between West Midlands and London HS2 Ltd plans to use only 400m train sets there. That means that after the commissioning of phase 2b in 2033 no additional services to London will be possible. Therefore all HS2 services from New Street to London, and to other destinations too, must consist of 400m train sets.
HS2 Ltd will operate 2 types of high speed train sets, both 200m long: The smaller ‘classic compatible’ train sets which can run on both classic UK gauge rail lines and the new HS2 lines; and the larger ‘captive’ train sets which can only run on the new HS2 lines. Both types can be joined up to make 400m units of one or both types. HS2 Ltd has specified 415m long platforms for 400m long train units. The recent development of New Street station has left platform lengths unchanged. 400m train units can not currently be accommodated at New Street.
The future success of HS2 will depend on the ability of New Street to handle the HS2 services intended for the inaccessible Curzon Street. Funds must be taken from the Curzon Street budget to provide one double faced 415m platform at New Street. This should be capable of handling all anticipated through HS2 services. The 2009/10 HS2 reports on New Street considered platforms 1 and 2 as the most suitable for extension. Platform 4C is a terminus for local services from the west. If these local services into platform 4C are changed to through services continuing, say, to Birmingham International or Coventry, platforms 4 and 5 may also be capable of being extended to 415m.
d. Loading gauge at New Street station and beyond to the west
To allow not only Birmingham but also Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury and Stafford to be served by the larger, more comfortable and less expensive standard ‘captive’ train sets, the UK gauge lines from New Street to Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury and Stafford should be upgraded to the larger GC gauge with suitable new electrification and signalling. A pair of 415m platforms should be provided at Wolverhampton where 400m train sets to New Street should be joined up/divided: 200m sets from Wolverhampton to London being joined up with 200m sets arriving from Shrewsbury or Stafford, and similarly divided there on their return from London. Using 'captive' train sets here could also help to ensure that HS2 Ltd will be left with fewer surplus ‘classic compatible’ train sets when phase 2b is completed in 2033.
e. Why Birmingham Interchange?
HS2 Ltd says that almost half of passengers from the West Midlands to London would travel from Birmingham Interchange. Building that station was a sound choice: Not because Birmingham Interchange would be located close to Birmingham Airport, the National Exhibition Centre, Solihull or Coventry, but because passengers from anywhere in the West Midlands would suffer transit misery to access or egress Curzon Street station. With the proposal above to use the well connected New Street station as the sustainable West Midlands home for HS2, it now appears to be an unsound decision to build Birmingham Interchange and for HS2 services to stop there.
Why would HS2 services between New Street and London call at Birmingham Interchange? Not to service passengers from the West Midlands area: They will have excellent access from/to HS2 services at New Street. Not to service passengers from Birmingham Airport or the National Exhibition Centre: They will continue to have excellent services from/to New Street from there. It seems perfectly feasible now to cut the journey time between New Street and London by 8 minutes to 42, by cutting the unnecessary call at Birmingham Interchange.
Why would HS2 services between other towns and cities and London loose 8 minutes to call at Birmingham Interchange? To squeeze the maximum number of seats through the HS2 bottleneck between West Midlands and London. Every hour several 400m 'classic compatible' train sets must be made up or split at Birmingham Interchange from or to 200m units so that the 400m sets can use single precious paths between there and London. The 200m services could be from Macclesfield (via Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford), from Liverpool (via Runcorn, Crewe and Stafford) or from Scotland (via Preston and Crewe). But the 200m train set from Macclesfield could join a 200m set waiting for it in Stoke-on-Trent. In Crewe the Liverpool service could join a service arriving from Chester or Preston. Many permutations are possible.
Transferring HS2 services from Curzon Street to New Street removes rail related reasons for HS2 services to call at Birmingham Interchange. That station will become an expensive white elephant, like Curzon Street station will be. HS2 Ltd should remove both from its program. Removing Birmingham Interchange from the HS2 bottleneck between West Midlands and London may, perhaps in combination with a reduction in service speed, enable HS2's vision of 18 paths per hour on that sector to become a reality. On top of that would come sizeable financial and environmental savings, together with an 8 minute cut in journey time for all services that must call at the Interchange: 42 minutes Euston to New Street at 360kph, a little longer at 300kph.
This section last revised 30 January 2019