Birmingham Moor Street Station has a special place in the story of Birmingham city centre and the growth of railways over the last 100 years. Neil Elkes talks to Chiltern Railways’ Ian Baxter who has written a book on the station’s rich history.
Ian Baxter is a genuine train buff. Not only is he a senior manager at Chiltern Railways, but he is a rail historian having written histories of two of Birmingham’s most famous stations – Snow Hill and Moor Street.
The Moor Street history, written with Richard Harper, covers the period from the station’s opening by GWR in 1909 to the present day, including its restoration as part of the Bullring development in 2003.
It also highlights the contribution of great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to the city scape of Birmingham.
As GWR’s chief engineer he brought the Snow Hill rail line into Birmingham in 1852. Mr Baxter explained: “That Brunel was the engineer of the route is surprisingly little-known and largely uncelebrated.
“Brunel’s engineering not only responded directly to the landscape but was characteristically ambitious and bold, leaving an indelible mark on today’s city.”
This included what would be the Snow Hill tunnel and the approach to the city centre along the Bordesley viaduct.
This would eventually become key to the siting and opening of Moor Street Station in 1909.
Constrained by the two tracks running through the tunnel, Snow Hill Station could no longer cope with the explosion in rail travel around the turn of the century.
So GWR decided to open Moor Street to the south of the tunnel to accommodate more lines and more trains from Solihull and the south into the city centre.
After opening as a passenger station with three platforms in July 1909, land next door became available and the railway bosses saw an opportunity to branch out into freight.
Moor Street’s location next to the Bull Ring market made it an ideal freight destination, and certainly more convenient than its existing freight depot in Hockley.
The station survived the Dr Beeching cuts in the 1960s, however, with the closure of Snow Hill in 1967 it was severely downgraded.
But with the decision to reopen Snow Hill Station and tunnel in 1987, Moor Street services were moved to new platforms and a building a few yards along the Queensway.
With the gradual upgrading of the Chiltern Line from the mid-1990s onwards, following privatisation, and the opportunity presented by the redevelopment of the Bullring, the original Moor Street Station was restored with spin-off cash from the Bullring developer Birmingham Alliance.
Chiltern Railways was created in 1996 to run services between Snow Hill and London, via Solihull, Warwick, Banbury and High Wycombe.
The tracks were rebuilt between 1998 and 2002 and a single line into Marylebone, with a passing point, was upgraded to two tracks.
Further key investment saw the creation of Warwick Parkway station in 2000, and then the redevelopment of the Bullring shopping centre allowed the historic Moor Street Station to be restored to its Edwardian glory.
There are few who believe that the rail industry has thrived since privatisation. Prices have risen at almost as fast a rate as taxpayer subsidies. Confusing ticketing, and the Railtrack debacle have also added to the impression that things were better under British Rail.
But the Chiltern Railway line seems to buck that trend, having quietly and steadily grown.
It has almost taken a step back 100 years to a time when rival rail companies served the same cities on different lines and brought genuine choice and competition for those on the Birmingham to London route.
Competing with Virgin’s and London Midland’s New Street to Euston services, the Snow Hill to Marylebone line mirrors the old rivalry between London North West and The Great Western Railway.
And the high speed rail link, which if agreed, is scheduled to launch in 15 years, will make a fourth route.
Mr Baxter said: “The Great Western and London NW were almost always in competition. The only time they were not was in the first 20 years after they electrified the New Street to Euston route in 1967.
“Now commuters between Birmingham and London have fantastic choice. There’s no other city that has got three inter-city routes to London.”
Late last year Chiltern launched its Mainline, taking journey times down to just 90 minutes between Moor Street and London, just six minutes slower than the standard Virgin service.
Mr Baxter said: “In the mid-90s there was a train every two hours to Marylebone, now it is every half hour. There has been a 140 per cent increase since privatisation.
“We haven’t had to go to Government for money and this is something we are very proud of.
“We have invested £150 million in the Mainline and none of that is a taxpayer subsidy. The West Coast main line cost the taxpayer £9 billion.
“There was a great risk, but we are now getting more passengers.”
* Birmingham Moor Street Station: A Century of Enterprise by Ian Baxter and Richard Harper is published by KRM Publishing and available from Kidderminster Rail Museum.