Birmingham is leading the race to build Britain’s second high speed rail line, with an £11 billion plan to run 180mph services to St Pancras in London.
The new route, probably from Moor Street Station, would link to the Channel Tunnel, enabling passengers to travel from Birmingham to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam in three hours, and would offer express services to London and Heathrow in less than 50 minutes.
The ambitious project depends entirely on Government approval and is being championed by city council leaders who believe the economic benefit to Birmingham and the West Midlands could amount to billions.
Research by the council suggests it would be relatively easy to lay new track next to the Chiltern Line, from Moor Street to London via Warwick Parkway.
A separate spur line to Birmingham International Airport and the NEC is planned.
The scheme received enthusiastic backing at a seminar in Birmingham yesterday by the Railway Forum and attended by representatives from Eurostar, Network Rail, and Bechtel, one of the companies responsible for building the high-speed rail links between the Channel Tunnel and St Pancras which opened last year.
The launch coincided with a critical report by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, accusing the Department for Transport of dragging its feet over the development of high speed services. MPs hit out after the Transport Minister questioned the sustainability of 180mph trains.
Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes said: “The West Midlands Rail Capacity Study has shown the critically important West Coast Main Line runs out of capacity within 20 years. It is vital we start planning for high speed rail services linking London and the continent with Birmingham International and the city centre.
“The study suggests economic benefits to the city will amount to over £1 billion, particularly benefitting the financial and business services sectors, but also construction, hotels and restaurants, real estate and other businesses.
“Our announcement will give a message to the Government this city is ready and willing to play its part in addressing transport capacity and the needs of a growing region”.
Mr Hughes said the proposal would have the additional benefit for Birmingham of releasing track capacity for local and regional services.
But the idea received lukewarm support from business organisations which questioned the economic benefits.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said arguments for a new rail link were far from straightforward.
He added: “While the speed would be beneficial, there are other concerns such as its ability to integrate with the wider West Midlands transport infrastructure, ability to gain central Government support and whether a link to Heathrow would be compatible with Government aviation policy, as well as the impact on the environment.
“As with all significant projects, businesses will be expecting the city to be rigorous in examining whether the proposals pass important principles and there is still a great deal of work to do.
“We need to see thorough, evidence-based research that explores the extensive costs and benefits. We need to have an objective understanding of the impact any development will have on the region’s economy. “It is right we explore any reasonable options that could potentially improve the connectivity of our region and improve economic performance.
However, as exciting as any novel propositions are, the city must be rigorous in assessing whether a high speed rail option really represents the best option.”