Councillor Phil Bateman said “When I read this news I was mad and then indignant and then very mad again! The West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority not only has to voice its concern, it really needs to mobilise MP’s and business to get the Government to destroy their own plan to kill our West Midlands direct rail services to London.
Cutting the number of inter-city trains at stations like Wolverhampton and Coventry would make it almost impossible to commute between some of the region’s key cities, transport chiefs have warned. The idea to reduce services at the two stations, as well as at Birmingham International and Sandwell and Dudley, has been suggested in a Department for Transport consultation on the replacement of the West Coast Main Line franchise.
But the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) is strongly opposing any reduction, warning it would hit local commuters and the regional economy.
The reductions have been suggested by the Department for Transport as a way of improving the region’s inter-city train services to London and Scotland after the existing franchise, which is held by Virgin Trains, expires in 2018.
The Inter-City West Coast rail franchise consultation also includes an option to restrict use of inter-city services in the region to purely long distance passengers.
The ITA is concerned that such reductions and restrictions would not only hit long distance travellers wanting to start their journeys from stations like Wolverhampton and Coventry but also local commuters travelling within the West Midlands. Thousands already rely on the inter-city Virgin Trains services for their daily commute. On the Birmingham to Coventry line, Virgin provides more than 40 per cent of the train services and over half the peak-time commuter capacity. Cllr Roger Lawrence, chair of the ITA, said: “It is wholly unacceptable that non-Birmingham passengers could lose their direct services to London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, purely to save a few minutes on journey times.
“The inter-city West Coast services play a crucial role in supporting our regional economy so any move to restrict their use to purely long distance passengers would make it almost impossible to commute between Birmingham and Coventry and be wholly unworkable from both a practical and economic point of view.” The ITA said it recognised the challenge of meeting rising passenger numbers until extra capacity is released with the opening of the HS2 high speed rail line in 2026.
But the authority believes the focus should be on replacing services currently running nine or even as few as five carriages with 11 or 12 car trains, rather than reducing services at intermediate stations like Wolverhampton and Coventry.
Cllr Lawrence added: “If anything, the Department for Transport needs to be looking at ways to improve services at key interchanges such as Wolverhampton and Birmingham International rather than seeking to reduce access to inter-city rail services. “We will be writing to the Government expressing our concerns but will also put forward our own suggestions on how best to provide the extra capacity needed before HS2 opens.”