Birmingham Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with three other major chambers to demand an improvement in services on the West Coast Main Line railway.
Birmingham, along with chambers in Manchester, Liverpool and London, says industry cannot afford another maintenance fiasco like the one over New Year that left Network Rail with a £14 million fine.
They have sent a joint letter to Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher, warning of the damaging impact of engineering works on businesses and the UK economy.
Work has been going on on the West Coast Main Line at weekends throughout this year, but it is set to bleed into the week as Network Rail tries to finish an upgrade by the end of the year.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham chamber, said: “Businesses from across the chamber network are looking for assurances from Network Rail that engineering work along the West Coast Main Line will be scheduled to minimise any damage to the economy.
“The competitiveness of UK businesses and their ability to succeed in the current economic climate depends heavily on reliable transport links, particularly rail links.
“The Chambers by working together are seeking to encourage Network Rail to commit to creating a sympathetic scheduling for what are no doubt vital upgrades that benefit the economy rather than damaging it.
“In Birmingham and the West Midlands, we will be looking for Network Rail to avoid a repeat of the New Year fiasco at Rugby Station.
“Birmingham’s businesses, particularly our professional service firms, are very concerned at the prospect of engineering works being carried out on weekdays, limiting access to and from London and Manchester. We will also be looking for any work to be delivered on time and to budget.”
Together, the four chambers represent some 13,000 businesses along the West Coast Main Line, many of which rely on train services along the route.
They asked Network Rail to reconsider its plans to carry over engineering work into the week, saying it would have a terrible effect on businesses in the already challenging economic conditions.
Network Rail delays are responsible for about 80 per cent of the late arrivals on the West Coast Main Line.
Denise Craig, the West Midlands policy manager for the Federation of Small Businesses said firms in the tourism sector were particularly vulnerable to train delays that could have an impact on customers’ travelling patterns.
She added: “Our concerns are that because of the very rigid timetable laid down in order to meet those deadlines it’s having a massive impact and we would wonder whether some relaxation of the deadline couldn’t have been introduced.”
Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham agreed keeping visitors to the city moving was critical, saying: “ At weekends in particular, people travel into Birmingham to shop and visit attractions, spending some £4.4 billion each year.
“It is essential that we make that journey as simple and convenient as possible in order to support the visitor economy.
“The rail maintenance programme aims to be finished by the end of the year, which means inconvenience for passengers during the key Christmas period with people travelling to Birmingham for shopping and celebrations.
“I would urge Network Rail to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum and a clear timetable for completion is adhered to.”
Network Rail defended the ‘significant’ changes that would be happening to the timetable over the coming fortnight, saying the improved service the upgraded line would bring would be worth the inconvenience.
Route director Peter Strachan said: “Next year will see a massive increase in services along the west coast main line and a dramatic cut in journey times. Our work continues over the August bank holiday weekend, and the days that follow, and it is vital for the successful conclusion of the improvement programme.”