Tasked with the promotion and co-ordination of public transport in the local area, over its lifetime, Centro, the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority, has strived to transform this into a world class service. However this is not a case of transport for transport’s sake, but an acknowledgement of the critical role effective public transport plays in meeting today’s economic, social, and environmental needs.A need for speed
As such, the authority is a strong supporter of the planned new High Speed Two (HS2) rail link between London and the West Midlands. Centro’s chief executive Geoff Inskip elaborates on just some of the benefits this will bring to the region’s currently congested rail network: “The Government’s go-ahead for HS2 is tremendous news for the West Midlands. When people ask me why we need HS2 I say there are three reasons – capacity, capacity, and capacity. At the moment trains on the West Coast Mainline are full, and by 2020 many expect this situation to be even worse so we need more capacity on our intercity services.
“To date the challenge of introducing more intercity services in our existing network has lead to some local rail services being squeezed out, yet these are the links that people really want. Longer trains can only relieve the issue by so much, therefore by moving major services to HS2 we will have the opportunity to open up more train paths for local and intercity trains. The third capacity argument is freight, with current freight movements on the network expected to increase by up to 50 per cent over the next 20 years we also need to find ways of accommodating this.”
On a wider level though, the results of Centro’s work with KPMG indicates that HS2 will create 22,000 additional jobs in the West Midlands, as well as increasing the region’s economic activity by £1.5 billion a year. Now that HS2 has been given the green light, Geoff highlights the need for the wider industry to consider the implications of this early on in its investment plans: “Industry planning cycles are in five-year chunks, known as control periods, the next two of which are 2014 to 2019, and 2020 to 2025 by which time HS2 will be in Birmingham. Therefore there are just these two decision points for us to ensure that our other investment into the railway is aligned to that of HS2.
“This is about a comprehensive rail offering that encompasses intercity, local and freight services as opposed to just being about HS2. With the high levels of investment being placed into HS2, its success lies in us complementing this with the right kind of localised investment.”The right links
One important aspect in this ambition is the extension of the existing Midland Metro tram route between Wolverhampton and Birmingham Snow Hill. The scheme involves extending the Metro from Snow Hill to Birmingham New Street station, which is currently undergoing a £600 million redevelopment as part of the Gateway project.
At the same time a more frequent six minute service will be brought in on the existing line, alongside the purchase of an additional 20 vehicles. At a figure of around £127 million, this major investment is being facilitated through a £75 million Government grant with the rest of the capital being raised locally.
“Connecting the Snow Hill and New Street stations is the first part of what we want to do within Birmingham city centre. We are also upgrading the pedestrian links between the New Street and Moor Street stations. We are hoping to complete the project by 2015, and are currently out to procurement on a lot of work packages for the depot, vehicles and city centre works, with construction expected to follow final Government approval in February 2012. In the longer term we aim to bring the Metro out past the new HS2 station adjacent to Moor Street,” comments Geoff.
With passengers increasingly becoming concerned with a total journey experience, Centro has also been working with bus operators to ensure the passengers’ needs are met through investment into information, new buses, and smartcard ticketing. Mobile total journey planners and smarter technologies are also having an impact on the way that passengers receive information and interact with the public transport services. In terms of the future of local transport, Centro is currently investigating a new form of transport called ‘Sprint’, but known locally as ‘Metro’s little sister’. Designed as almost a precursor to the Midland Metro, Sprint is a rubber-tired rapid transit system, which Centro hopes to introduce from Walsall to Birmingham in 2015, but also potentially further on to Coventry as well.
Whilst these ambitions are in keeping with its guiding principle of a world class transport system, in the future Centro is hoping to zzexpand its role a step further by asking Government to devolve responsibility for the railway directly to Centro. “In effect we would have a West Midland Railway (WMR) and carry out the franchising for the railway from here, as opposed to London, so we can better understand exactly the role between transport, the railway, regeneration and planning to create a comprehensive package. It is about locally determining what is needed, and as such we will be putting a proposal to Government to give us the responsibility and accountability to do this,” explains Geoff.
He continues: “We also want the railway stations to be owned by Centro, as these are effectively community assets – they are not just railway stations but transport interchanges and places where people meet and greet. Therefore we feel under Centro’s ownership we could ensure that they receive the right levels of investment. For example we have plans to see the next phase of the Wolverhampton station development carried out. The first stage of this was completed by ourselves, Wolverhampton City Council, and the developers Neptune to create a new bus station, and therefore if we were to own the railway station then we could bring forward these plans to the benefit of the community.”
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