Rail services across Birmingham and the West Midlands are to benefit from a record-breaking #1 billion investment in new track and longer platforms.
The package, part of Network Rail's biggest ever investment in infrastructure, will allow longer trains to travel faster, while also providing hundreds of additional parking spaces at stations.
Most of the work will concentrate on improving the West Coast Main Line, including a #300 million plan to double track capacity between Lichfield and Tamworth.
New tracks will put an end to a bottleneck between the two towns and allow fast inter-city trains to run without being impeded by slower goods trains. And in the Black Country, the level crossing at Tipton is to be replaced by an underpass. The #22 million scheme will put paid to the last level crossing on the West Coast Main Line between Euston and Crewe, while also easing traffic congestion on the roads around Tipton station.
More than #350 million is earmarked for remodelling junctions and improving platforms at Nuneaton and Rugby.
Seventeen station car parks on the West Coast Main Line will be extended, including a major scheme to add 800 additional spaces at Birmingham International – bringing car parking there up to 2,000 spaces.
A Network Rail spokesman in Birmingham said the intention was to make the infrastructure "fit for purpose" to cope with additional services to be introduced with the new December 2008 timetable. The number of trains running between Birmingham and Euston will be increased to one service every 20 minutes.
Network Rail is also planning to make provision for longer trains in response to growing customer demand to use the railways.
Platforms on busy commuter lines will be made longer, with work to be targeted at Berkeswell and Tile Hill stations, between Coventry and Birmingham, and at Bromsgrove.
Other schemes include:
-- #1.5 million in track and signal improvements between Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury;
-- #600,000 to be spent on improving the Birmingham cross-city line;
-- Improvements of #1.7 million on the Cannock line between Wolverhampton and Rugeley, increasing train speed to 60mph.
The West Midlands package is part of a #2.4 billion Network Rail national spending plan to be undertaken by March 2009.
NR chief executive John Armitt said the programme was a response by the company to the rising demand for rail travel.
NR will fund #1.73 billion of the schemes, with the rest of the money coming from other stakeholders in the railways, including the Department for Transport and local authorities. At #1.2 billion a year, the total is more than double the average annual spending on enhancements.
Mr Armitt said: "The railway is thriving. Demand for rail continues to grow and this news outlines Network Rail’s response to those demands.
"Three million people use the railways each day, more than at any time in the past 60 years, and we’re not standing still waiting for the big infrastructure projects to be delivered.
"We are doing something about it now by moving forward with hundreds of small schemes dotted around the country that will add capacity and ease crowding."
He went on: "For the first time on record, over #1 billion per year will be spent on expanding and growing the railway network. This shows how the needs of today’s railway are shifting."
Anthony Smith, chief executive of customer watchdog body Passenger Focus, said: "At last we’ve broken free from simply maintaining and replacing track and signals and are moving towards expanding the network to make space to run more and longer trains."