Birmingham will struggle to cope with a new high speed rail line because existing stations are running out of capacity, the Minister responsible for the nation’s rail network has warned.
Lord Adonis said “considerable imagination and ingenuity” would be required to find room for more trains at the city’s existing stations.
And he warned that the long-overdue refurbishment of New Street Station would not provide the spare capacity needed to make high speed rail possible.
His comments will add further weight to claims that Birmingham needs a new station in addition to New Street.
The Minister also made a series of searing criticisms of the existing facilities at New Street, in a journal detailing a five-day tour of Britain by rail.
Lord Adonis travelled from Inverness to Cornwall, to see the state of the nation’s rail network at first hand and talk to the people who work on it.
He is currently overseeing proposals for a new high speed rail line to run from London to the West Midlands, possibly extending further north and linking directly with the channel tunnel in the south.
But following his visit to New Street, Lord Adonis wrote: “The new ‘gateway’ station will have twice the capacity of the existing station and plenty of natural light, opening up of the concourse to the city centre. The only pity is that tight space constraints limit the improvements that can be made at platform level.
“The visit also impressed on my mind the tough challenge we will face to bring new high speed trains into the centre of Birmingham, if we decide to proceed with a high speed line from London to the West Midlands once a proposal for this has been completed by High Speed Two (the company set up for this purpose in January).
“There will be precious little spare capacity even after the rebuilding of New Street, nor at the neighbouring Snow Hill and Moor Street stations. Considerable imagination and ingenuity will be required.”
He said he welcomed the £600 million rebuild planned for New Street because the station was so unpleasant at the moment.
“Whilst the staff there were incredibly helpful and accommodating, almost everything about the station is ugly, unfriendly, dark and forbidding.
“The platforms are narrow, dark and underground. The concourse has no natural light, no attractions, no large circulation area, and is far too small for the heaving throng whose only desire is to get in and out of the station as fast as possible.
“The visitor has no sense whatsoever of the station as the gateway to England’s second city, opening out to a brilliantly restored and redeveloped city centre uniting the old and the new, from Joseph Chamberlain’s Council House and the canals, to the modern gems of the Symphony Hall and the rebuilt Matthew Boulton College.”
Engineering consultancy Arup has called for the creation of a new station, which it calls Grand Central, in the heart of the city.
But Birmingham Council is very sceptical about the need for a new station and has considered alternatives including extending Moor Street in central Birmingham, extending Birmingham International at the NEC, or creating new capacity at New Street with underground platforms.
A council spokesman said: “We are working with partners including local authorities and the passenger transport authority on drawing up a rail development plan for the West Midlands.”