The planned £600 million refurbishment of New Street Station is “cosmetic” and the Government needs to consider alternatives now, a hard-hitting Commons inquiry has warned.
The cross-party Transport Select Committee said the Gateway project would not be enough to cope with the dramatic increase in passenger numbers over the next three decades. And calls for a major new railway station in Birmingham received a significant boost as the committee called for alternatives to New Street to be considered.
The report comes just days after the city council started sending compulsory purchase orders to businesses affected by the redevelopment of the 14-acre site, including the Pallasades shopping centre, in the largest operation of its kind for nearly a decade.
And, dismissing the MPs’ claims, deputy council leader Paul Tilsley said: “There is no Plan B,” while Network Rail spokesman Dominic Pendry said it was too early to say if Birmingham needed a second major station.
The committee report welcomes the redevelopment of the station, designed to relieve passenger overcrowding, but highlights concerns that improvements were “cosmetic” and would not allow more trains to pass through the city. Virgin Trains and Network Rail had both warned that demand for rail travel was growing much faster than the Government realised, the committee said.
Today’s report, which follows a seven-month inquiry, makes a number of damning criticisms of the Government and Network Rail. The MPs said:
* engineering work at Rugby over the New Year period which caused chaos on the West Coast Main Line exposed “serious management failures”;
* Network Rail’s decision to pay senior staff bonuses of £55 million “adds insult to injury for the long suffering passengers”;
* the Government’s failure to make a decision about possible new high speed rail lines is “deeply disappointing”;
* ministers are failing to act on warnings that the West Coast Main Line could run out of capacity within five years.
The Government gave the green light in February to the refurbishment of New Street, which will cost taxpayers about £400 million with the rest expected from the private sector. But although plans to lengthen platforms will allow more coaches to be added to trains and increase passenger capacity, the refurbishment does not address the need to increase the number of trains coming into Birmingham.
The report warns: “We acknowledge the importance of improving the serious passenger overcrowding at Birmingham New Street Station, but we are not convinced that the current project is adequate.
“The Government must address the issue of whether Birmingham New Street is ever going to be able to accommodate the throughput of trains required in two or three decades, when the number of services might have doubled. If the station cannot be adapted to such throughputs, then the Government must look for alternative solutions now.”
The findings will come as a huge boost to those calling for a new station, which has been dubbed Birmingham Grand Central.
Engineering consultancy Arup is promoting plans for a new station to the East of Selfridges, which would allow many more existing train tracks to enter Birmingham.
Supporters of the scheme include Peter Snape, the former chairman of Travel West Midlands and Black Country MP, now a Labour peer in the House of Lords.
The committee also criticises the Government for failing to make a decision in last year’s Rail White Paper on a new high-speed line, which is expected to run from London to Birmingham and Manchester if it goes ahead.
The MPs said: “The time frames for the planning, procurement and construction of high-speed rail links are measured in decades rather than years. Hesitation now will mean years of avoidable misery and overcrowding on the network.”
And in scathing comments about Network Rail, they said: “It is quite extraordinary for Network Rail to reward its senior managers with huge financial bonuses in a year where passengers have been humiliated and inconvenienced by three separate major engineering fiascos.”