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This is spinal gap

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To support Monday’s government announcement on the “electric spine“, environment secretary (and Meriden gap MP) Caroline Spelman was made available to media in the Midlands, but things didn’t quite go to plan. In his Talking Politics column, the Coventry Telegraph’s Les Reid explored the departmental muddle and reality gap that was exposed.

IT was supposed to be the day the coalition government got back “on track” – and other cheesy train metaphors quoted by David Cameron.

Yet it seemed to come off the rails at Coventry station (groan) – before the cabinet arrived in Birmingham, where the PM and Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg staged a press conference.

Conservative environment secretary Caroline Spelman had stopped off en route, arriving by car at Coventry station at 9.30am on Monday.

She sought to explain how a major national announcement designed to turn around the coalition’s faltering fortunes – £9.4 billion investment in rail – would benefit Coventry and Warwickshire. What followed raised more questions than answers – as she partly read briefing notes from Department for Transport officials.

Journalists were told to check details with that department. Tory transport secretary Justine Greening’s department eventually got back to me shortly before 6pm.

What followed was straight out of the political satire spoof-documentary The Thick Of It.

The air turned blue, as a senior government press officer made the TV comedy’s famously sweary not-so-fictional spin doctor Malcolm Tucker seem like the Pope. He added: “It is not her (Mrs Spelman’s) fault.

“It was an inept briefing on the part of our team.”

Mrs Spelman said that £140million of the £4.2 billion newly-anounced investment was to improve linkage to HS2, but she didn’t know how the money was going to be raised.

“I know that’s very important to people in Coventry in particular. They want to make sure they’ve got a fast link to High Speed 2 in the same way Birmingham city centre is going to have a spur to High Speed 2. It’s to make sure the two big cities are connected to that electric spine.”

Well not quite, it seems. Our senior government press officer told me the £140 million would, in fact, be a national funding pot for rail industry bids for “innovative” schemes.

Rail companies and organisations could, if they wished, bid for a slice of funding to improve links to HS2 from anywhere along the route. He added bidding was more likely to come for the Birmingham area. Whether or not Coventry would get better links to HS2, he said, would be decided in the bidding process. Rail experts say it could include a people-mover as a connecting service from Birmingham International.

Getting to the Bickenhill high speed station from Coventry by train would entail travelling via Birmingham International, nearly 2 km away, so there would have to be some kind of people mover or tram. Yet funding for one is apparently not guaranteed, but subject to some kind of competitive bidding process.

Disconnectivity with local transport is not just limited to Birmingham and Coventry, it’s a recurring problem in the Y network concept. And the muddle which resulted in Hull’s exclusion from the HLOS electrification can also be seen in the electric spine’s wiring gaps, Birmingham — Solihull — Leamington Spa being particularly restrictive.

Written by beleben

July 19, 2012 at 9:07 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2, Politics

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4 Responses

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  1. How many more times, HS2 is NOT inclusive. Coventry is NOT a major city whereas Birmingham IS. I’m from Rugby and I couldn’t care less if Birmingham got a faster connection to London.

    It’s as if you think that all the Pendos will just suddenly stop running and there won’t be any more fast services running from Cov to London, which is wrong. There will be more room for passengers as the Birmingham traffic will be on HS2. Current Manchester trains don’t call at Birmingham now anyway, why should they?

    Any right-minded entrepreneur would start buying up all the property around Bickenhill and Balsall Common as this will end up becoming prime real estate as Brum and Cov merge into one giant clusterf*** of a city. My friend lives right next to Cov station and commutes frequently into London


    July 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm

  2. According to Network Rail’s July 2011 document West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy (Table 3.9 on page 47) the number of passengers boarding and alighting at Birmingham New Street for trips to and from London Euston for the survey year spanning 2009/10 was 2,320,000. The same table gives the figure for Coventry as 980,000. So not as many passengers use Coventry as Birmingham NS admittedly, but Coventry is, nonetheless, a major station on the WCML, and the same table shows that Coventry has more London passengers than Birmingham International (800,000). Incidentally, Table 3.10 on the same page shows that passenger numbers at Milton Keynes (3,000,000) exceeds Birmingham NS by some margin.
    I don’t think that anybody is claiming that the classic services will cease when HS2 opens, certainly not me, and I expect that whoever the TOP is then it will give HS2 a good run for its money by competing on price. However, the question that has to be addressed is what impact the Government’s prediction of passenger number decrease on the classic services will have on the viability and, thus, frequency of services. I raised this issue in an earlier comment on this site, where I quoted from page 91 of the High Speed Rail Command Paper (Cm 7827). There we are told that the passenger level on the London-West Midlands section of the WCML, current at 45,000 passengers per day, will drop to 20,000 in 2033, due to the impact of HS2.
    I think that your vision of a future for Coventry merged into Birmingham will appal many people. Unfortunately, I also think that you are probably right in your prediction, and I said much the same myself in my blog Mind the gap at

    Peter Delow

    July 20, 2012 at 9:29 am

  3. […] Coventry and Leamington Spa route is also part of the coalition government’s proposed ‘Electric Spine‘ railfreight connection to Southampton, but I have my doubts about the viability of the […]

  4. […] left-field threat to capacity between Birmingham, Coventry and Rugby is the half-baked ‘Electric Spine‘ proposal to route freight trains via Leamington Spa and Nuneaton. Such trains would traverse […]

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