Which line to take on the region’s latest transport dilemma?

September 17, 2009 at 2:08 pm Leave a comment

So the region faces another transport opportunity that could transform not only our movements but our connectivity and integration nationally and internationally and yet we are poised to pull ourselves apart over it.

For a city and region that is steeped in the history of transport, home of the motor car and motorcycle, home to the very centre of the motorway network and famous for the manufacture of train carriages, taxis and vans, we seem to be very good at making heavy weather of transportation issues.

We only have to look at the debacle that was the process and disagreement that surrounded the plan to refurbish New Street Station. The debate appeared to make the region appear to be at odds with itself and without any coherent strategy and leadership.

We are now in the midst of yet more dangerous transport related territory. The opportunity to ensure that Birmingham and the West Midlands region takes advantage of securing a high speed rail link connecting us to London and possible on to the north and Scotland.

The transport case is strong. The business case is robust. The benefits are beyond doubt. And yet we may fall into the New Street trap once again by arguing among ourselves about locations and infrastructures and as a consequence look to national government like a region who could not agree on what day of the week it is.

High Speed Rail is long overdue. The rest of Europe are well ahead of the game as usual and this will not come as any great revelation that the UK is at the bottom of the league table when it comes to the number of high speed rail miles either committed to or existing by 2025. Countries such as Belgium and Morocco are ahead of us by some margin and thee are no prizes to learn that China heads the list.

Our one entry in to High Speed Rail, the connection between London to the Channel Tunnel is beginning to demonstrate the benefits are obvious and significant. Faster rail travel to the continent, of course, but the wider economic benefits are emerging too.

High Speed Rail will be expensive and challenging to work through but is potentially one of the most significant, exciting and transforming projects for our region in decades.

It is vital, therefore, we don’t turn it- as we can so easily do – into another argument amongst ourselves.

So, where do the potential banana skins lie?

Quite simply it is about stations. And where they should be located. City Centre or the Airport/NEC site. Both is the primary option and a realistic aim. If we are clear about the function of each station. Achieving both will satisfy all of our political and economic objectives.

Location of the city centre station is going to be a challenge in terms of connections to existing lines and finding the requisite space. High Speed trains are not only faster but longer too.

But there is a plan that can work and it is one that as a region we must all back.

All of the logistical and infrastructure arguments make it a clear cut solution. The main station should be located at the Airport/NEC site with a spur leading to a city centre terminus.

This results in a significantly enhanced Airport with greater connections nationally and internationally, the station will support the NEC’s ambitions to further develop its offers as a major destination for exhibitions, hospitality and entertainment and importantly provides easy access to high speed travel to the people Coventry and to the south of the region.

So let’s put any ego and political posturing aside. Achieving an agreement to High Speed Rail 2 from London to Birmingham is the first step. Let’s make our case for the two station option in a clear, coordinated and coherent voice. We have a logistical and business case that stands up for this option.

At the recent Solihull Chamber event organized to highlight this opportunity Paul Kehoe, Managing Director of BIA, made a simple and yet powerful comment in his presentation, as a region we need to get objective one achieved first – commitment to High Speed Rail 2 – the details can come later.

Tim Rudman is Client Services Director at Urban Communications.

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