Monorail is an idea worth considering
Now, here’s an idea. A futuristic monorail whisking passengers from New Street Station to Birmingham Airport in little more than a quarter of an hour – and for only £280 million, which in terms of major transportation infrastructure projects is a drop in the ocean.
Is this another pipe dream, mere pie in the sky, or is it just possible that business leaders promoting the monorail may have hit on something big?
It is important to understand the basis upon which this project is being developed. Lobby group Birmingham Business Focus freely admits that its motives are being driven out of a sense of sheer frustration that something, anything, must be done to solve the city’s worsening reputation for traffic chaos.
BBF director Neil Maybury is right to pour scorn on the city centre metro tram extension, which is a non-project if ever there was one. It is becoming increasingly certain, as month follows month, that the government will not fund the Snow Hill to Five Ways metro route, nor will it accede to passenger transport authority Centro’s demands for further tram routes heading out along Birmingham’s arterial roads.
It is a pity that ministers cannot be more honest about this, and officially put the metro out of its misery, but there we are.
The result of all this is a hiatus, where nothing much can be achieved until there is certainty over the metro. Civic and business leaders meet today to discuss the Big City Plan, where views are being sought about how best to improve public transport in Birmingham, but those taking part will know all too well the difficulty of finding a big idea behind which all interested parties can unite.
Could the monorail be that big idea? Mr Maybury has taken care to back his idea with some impressive ballast – an initial assessment has been conducted by consultant engineers Arup, the company behind plans for a high-speed rail link between Birmingham and London and Grand Central Station.
We are assured that a monorail would tick all of the government’s sustainability boxes, it being cleaner and quieter than conventional trams and trains. And at an estimated £280 million, the airport route could be built for less than half the cost of rebuilding New Street Station.
And yet, the problems in the United Kingdom attached to thinking radically are legion. Two huge stumbling blocks stand in the way of the monorail. The first is funding, and the matter of government commitment, and the second is the likelihood of battles surrounding planning permission.
Running electric carriages on concrete stanchions along the A45 will not be to everyone’s liking, but the idea is worth exploring further.
Mr Mowbray deserves, at the very least, the backing of the city council and regional development agency to help fund a full feasibility study.