Dear Editor, Coun Mullaney (Post Letters) may be an excellent councillor and a great mechanical engineer – but he shows himself to be wanting when it comes to train planning – an area apparently well outside of his expertise on his CV.
This is not surprising as there is an element of the “King’s New Clothes” about the whole New St scheme, which the great and the good of Birmingham have inadvertently found themselves not only championing, but encouraging others to unconditionally support as well. Having started the process, they don’t seem to stop without losing face.
There is so much ‘tit for tat’ (and vested interest) in all of this that the sensible solution is for an independent body to scrutinise if the station really will be fit for purpose much beyond anotherf ive years, even if rebuilt.
I have a long history/experience as a train planner including the Birmingham area. For that reason I have to ask for anonymity to prevent reprisals. I’d like to make a few observations, with relation to Coun Mullaney’s letter :
1. “Myth 1” Let’s be transparent and see the costs/land take plans for Grand Central. Certainly what I have seen of Arup’s proposals do not reconcile with Coun Mullaney’s claims. If he cares to consult railway operators familiar with the area (rather than Network Rail land developers), he’d understand that the method of operation of Grand Central would create far more flexibility, and minimal disruption during the build phase as most of it would – literally – be constructed ‘off line’.
2. “Myth 2 and 3” The gateway project is just cosmetic. There’s nothing wrong in wanting civic pride in appearance but why noth ave the balls to admit it? Taxpayers are paying for much of it; they should know what they will get for their money. There are no plans for changing the track/platform level layout, other than artist’s impressions of a ‘tart-up job’. Although he is not an expert on New Street, even Network Rail’s Chris Rowley (a champion of the scheme) has conceded that the plans will not lead to an increase in maximum trains per hour. And beware of those who make claims over longer trains being a solution – it is simply not possible ,for a number of very tedious and complex reasons, based on platform lengths, signalling, and safety (this is the point at which many people switch off, and do not ask searching questions – perhaps you could do so). At a recent presentation, Rowley conceded that growth is outstripping even the most ambitious projections – meaning that the crunch will come much, much earlier than many believe. I am not sure who is kidding who on the issue of increased passenger capacity. The facts are that, when 50 per cent capacity is quoted, it refers to the waiting areas – there will be more space at concourse level for people to wait for increasingly unreliable trains which will be shoe-horned in. Implying that it means more trains, or the ability to move more people, is disingenuous.
(a) Mullaney’s big idea to link the Camp Hill line to the Moor Street line would use spare space on the viaduct into Moor Street. If Grand Central is dead then this formation may be the only option remaining for a high speed rail link into the city centre (The space for two extra tracks is available all the way to Lapworth so providing a very cost-effective high-speed corridor through congested areas at a fraction of the cost of new build). So, it’s Moor Street for the continent and the region, or Moor Street for Kings Heath and Coun Mullaney’s constituents
(b) Converting Midland Metro to heavy rail would be laughably expensive (eg replacing all of the bridges)– and running heavy and light rail on the same tracks has serious safety implications. Non-starter.
(c) The Moor Street viaduct is not wide enough for a ‘substantial’ number of platforms – and the amount of load that it would take is unknown. You cannot just slap concrete on top of 150 year old structures.
3. “Myth 4” Coun Mullaney makes sweeping statements over ‘increasing utilisation’. In other words,he waves a wand and it all gets better. Sounds great – but how is he going to do it? Again, this demonstrates a lack of understanding as to the very real constraints of the site. Ask the real operations people that work with New Street.
In conclusion, the Gateway scheme will have a real cosmetic benefit for a City that is reinventing itself. As the logical development of a transport hub though, it has run out of puff.
Of course I am as biased as everyone else. The sides are now so polarised that there should be a special commission to investigate the solution, and avoid any short-term fixes that will prolong the misery of travellers, and ultimately tarnish its reputation. To push ahead as if it is ‘the only show in town’ would be irresponsible. Perhaps The Post could be instrumental in calling for some clarity, and strip off the hype and spin?
Name and address withheld.
Labour is in denial about its chances
Dear Editor, As a former Labour Party member I feel present Labour Party activists are in denial about the demise of their party and the fate of New Labour at the 2010 General Election.
It is time for a change and that is NOW apparent from the election in Glasgow East.
If the Party keep Gordon Brown and keep their pathetic policies, I predict melt-down at the next general election.
The Labour Party has nobody to blame except itself. Every Midlands MP at this present moment should be concerned about their seat in 18 months time.
Bishops preach poverty sermon
Dear Editor, Almost seven hundred bishops and their wives, together with other religious leaders, marched in London yesterday to Make Poverty History. They reminded us that the world is falling behind in its promise to halve poverty by 2015.
As some one who once worked in Africa and met people who would not be alive today without the efforts of aid agencies, I have been delighted to learn about positive changes that have been taking place. For example in Uganda debt cancellation has enabled the government to abolish fees for primary schools, so doubling school enrolments and decreasing inequality between girls and boys; before there were 20 per cent fewer girls than boys in school and now numbers are almost even.
The Lambeth bishops remind us that we need more of the same. So, thanks, Birmingham Post, for being ready to report anti-poverty events and to support the cause.
John Nightingale (Canon),
Jubilee Debt Campaign,