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Birmingham: change ‘railly’ needed

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In recent years, the local rail services serving Greater Birmingham have seen strong increases in passenger numbers, although buses and trams (Midland Metro) have seen zero or negative growth:

West Midlands transit usage by mode, to 2010 (source: Centro)

West Midlands transit usage by mode, to 2010 (source: Centro)

Rail’s performance is noteworthy, since

  • Central Trains – the main operator from 1997 to 2007 – was renowned for its ineptitude
  • Network Rail – the infrastructure owner – prioritises long distance and freight trains
  • Centro – the public transport ‘promoter’ – has done almost nothing, apart from spending £14 million on car parks at stations.

For years, marketing has been inept, with two attempts at rail-specific branding (‘Westmidrail’ and ‘Midline’) discarded. And from the bar charts, there’s no evidence that the 2005 ‘Network West Midlands‘ cross-modal branding has had any effect.

The only track electrified since Centro was set up (in 1969) is the ‘Cross City Line‘. It’s unlikely that Centro – in its current form – has the wherewithal or vision to deliver a versatile regional rail system, as opposed to the current ‘collection of lines, that run into Birmingham’. Centro’s priorities lie elsewhere. Although it’s supposed to promote local public transport in the West Midlands, it has spent £70,000 on lobbying for High Speed Two, the controversial intercity rail project.

Centro has failed to protect land and rights of way for future regional transport use. In 1972, it facilitated the closure of the passenger rail service between Birmingham, West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton Low Level  (and Birmingham and Smethwick West). In the 1990s, it spent £150 million restoring the Wolverhampton line, but as a low speed tramway (Midland Metro Line One) – whose existence is a major obstacle to creating an effective regional rail system.

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