Birmingham needs a major new city centre rail station to cope with high speed services which will revolutionise the region’s transport network, according to Network Rail.
Commuters would enjoy four services an hour between Birmingham and London at speeds of 200mph, under ambitious plans drawn up by the body responsible for overseeing the national rail network.
There would also be two services an hour from the city centre north to Manchester, Preston and Glasgow.
And the new £34 billion line would allow a major expansion of local services - because the West Coast Main Line, used by Virgin Trains to run Pendolino services to the capital, would no longer be dominated by trains running to and from London.
A 132-page report by Network Rail suggests that towns and cities such as Sandwell, Dudley, Nuneaton, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury would benefit from new services linking them with destinations across Britain.
Examples include a possible new direct route from Shrewsbury to Blackpool, and services from the Black Country to Crewe.
But Birmingham would need a large new city centre station to cope with thousands of passengers using high speed services, said Network Rail.
Chief executive Iain Coucher said New Street did not have the capacity to cope with high speed services, despite the £550 million redevelopment which is due to be completed in 2015.
He said: “Birmingham would need a new station. New Street wouldn’t be able to cope with any new trains.
“We don’t know where that would be.”
The High Speed Two inquiry set up by the Government to examine how a new rail line could be built was considering the options, he said.
The Network Rail study suggests that a new station could be built “at, or near, New Street, Snow Hill or Moor Street”.
Both the Government and the Conservative opposition have committed themselves to building a high speed rail line, but Network Rail’s detailed report gives the clearest indication so far of how new train services might operate in practice.
Its findings follow years of sometimes bad-tempered debate about rail services in the city, with critics accusing Birmingham City Council of focusing all its energy on winning funding for the refurbishment of News Street and ignoring the need for a new station.
They are a setback for Birmingham International Airport’s campaign to ensure it is included on the proposed high speed line. Network Rail’s study proposes high speed trains should stop only in Birmingham city centre, while conventional rail services to Birmingham International, the rail station which serves the airport, will be increased.
Birmingham Airport spokesman John Morris said: “It is incredibly disappointing that they don’t mention the airport and the National Exhibition Centre as economic drivers for the region, or mention the need for high speed rail to serve them.”
Paul Tilsley, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, welcomed the report. He said: “The proposed high speed rail link is great news and a vote of confidence for Birmingham; it will be a tremendous spur for businesses and our future.”
The study was also backed by business leaders. Bridget Blow, president of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said rail was fundamental to the economic success of Birmingham and the West Midlands.
She said: “The development of a high speed transport network with Birmingham at its crux has the potential to transform our regional economy, driving commerce and productivity forward.”
But campaigners Friends of the Earth said the Government must prove that new rail services would help the environment.
West Midlands spokesman Chris Crean said: “The environmental impact of building new rail lines must be properly assessed to minimise the impact on the countryside and local people - and demonstrate it will lead to an overall cut in carbon emissions from transport”.