Transport Secretary Alistair Darling yesterday pledged proposals to relieve the West Midlands track capacity crisis - potentially including a new Birmingham station - would be revealed this year.

He refused to rule out a major new city hub on a brownfield site, although he said preliminary studies had shown it would not be a "straightforward" option.

The Department for Transport study is not thought to involve the closure of New Street or threaten its planned £350 million redevelopment.

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Mr Darling said: "Both pieces of work are important. New Street is dealing with a number of passengers that nobody expected in the 1960s.

"There's a need to address capacity in terms of the volume of passengers we expect to see over the next 30 years.

"But equally, the facilities at the station need to be improved."

The prospect of a new hub to relieve the critically congested New Street is being considered by officials in the DfT's major projects division.

It had been progressing in secret until December, when Virgin West Coast managing director Charles Belcher told The Birmingham Post he was concerned separate plans for a £350 million revamp of passenger facilities and the physical appearance of New Street did nothing to address serious capacity constraints expected within five years.

Mr Belcher said: "Many think, and the DfT are now openly looking at this, that it could be cheaper and more beneficial on all counts to build a new station."

Mr Darling - who was in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, yesterday to launch a national scheme offering advanced driving classes to van drivers - added that the ongoing West Midlands rail study was being carried out ahead of an investment announcement this year.

"A plan for a new station in Birmingham was put forward in the past and we need to look at all the options before we decide how we are going to move forward," he said.

"I might add that preliminary work on a new station show it is not straightforward but nevertheless I am ruling nothing out at this stage.

"I do hope to make announcement at some point this year."

Proposals for a new city station called Birmingham Grand Central - sponsored by engineering giant Arup and one of the original Bullring architects Murray Rayner - first appeared in 2002.

Rather than building a new complex, the West Midlands public transport executive Centro favours a £1 billion tunnel under New Street station to take commuter services away from the existing platforms to increase capacity for both local and intercity services.

The redevelopment blueprints have been worked up to allow the introduction of the tunnel at a later date.

The finalised design for New Street's redevelopment, first revealed almost four years ago, will be announced by Birmingham City Council and its rail industry partners within weeks.

Local politicians are still keen to see firm funding commitments from the Government, with about a third of the total bill still to be secured.

Meanwhile, a DfT spokesman said Mr Darling also held a "constructive" meeting with local authorities and West Midlands business leaders yesterday to discuss progress towards the region piloting road pricing.

A feasibility study, paid for by the Government, is under-way ahead of the region bid-ding to become the test-bed for the proposed pay-as-you-drive scheme.

In return, Mr Darling is promising the "guinea pig" region substantial amounts of public money, through the new Transport Innovation Fund, to improve public transport and roads.