Dear Editor, There are a million people in Birmingham but only one of that million really understands how high-speed rail can deliver real benefits for Birmingham and the West Midlands. Your public affairs correspondent, Paul Dale, hits the nail on the head with his truly excellent article on July 13.
There has been much discussion on whether the Birmingham station for the high-speed line should be in the city centre or at Birmingham International station in Solihull.
To put this in perspective, Birmingham International serves about the same number of passengers as cities the size of Coventry, Wolverhampton or Stoke on Trent. So if it is to be considered as the site of the Birmingham station for a high-speed rail link, why not have the station at Coventry or Wolverhampton which both have the advantage of being easier to reach without a car.
By contrast, a station in Birmingham city centre could expect to attract at least four times the number of passengers for the high-speed services.
When you consider that the high-speed trains will have a very high capacity, serving stations with a large passenger volume such as New Street, or whatever city-centre station is chosen to replace it, is essential for the economic success of the high-speed train operation.
If an off-peak train left Liverpool or Manchester for London with 30 per cent of seats taken, a stop at Birmingham International would see the train arrive at London less than half full. If the same train called at a Birmingham city centre station, it would reach Birmingham almost half-full and arrive at London with very few empty seats. That is why the high-speed line from London to the north should go through Birmingham city centre, not around it.
Birmingham International benefits as a parkway station, not only from the nearby airport but also from being close to the National Exhibition Centre. Being on a high-speed line would not really benefit Birmingham Airport because its catchment area is roughly over a 50-mile radius and high-speed trains cannot be expected to stop at intervals of less than 100 miles.
Being on a high-speed line would be of more benefit to the NEC, but only a small fraction of the total attendance at the centre could be expected to come from over 100 miles away and the high-speed line would offer only fairly limited time savings over the current Pendolino services from London.
Birmingham and the West Midlands would lose out seriously if the high-speed line from the north-west to London were routed around the city via Birmingham International rather than via the city centre. For business leaders from the north of England, having to change at Birmingham International to catch a slower train to the city centre would be a serious discouragement to investment in the city.
In short, a Birmingham city-centre station on the high-speed line is essential for the growth of the West Midlands. The facility for some trains to call at Birmingham International is the icing on the cake but no cake at all means no economic growth and no reduction in the north-south economic divide.
For Birmingham to prosper from high-speed rail, the main route from London to the north must go via the city centre.
The challenge we have is to find politicians and business leaders who can identify a suitable route for the high-speed line through the city centre, identify the best site for the city-centre station and make a positive business case to support it.
Colwell Drive, Derby.