For a government obsessed by growth, investing in the Midlands Rail Hub is a no brainer
Everyone knows about Northern Powerhouse Rail. Even if you aren’t a train planner you know it’s a line across the north, it’s become slightly totemic, like a litmus test for levelling up in the minds of some of my colleagues.
What you might not know is the Midlands has a similar scheme – it’s called the Midlands Rail Hub. Both our Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail nestled side-by-side together in the Conservative Party Manifesto in 2019.
While we hear a lot about the northern scheme and its travails, the Midlands version has slowly and steadily worked away in the background and now is going into the government for consideration. First with the Department for Transport and then the Treasury. We hope to see it popping out the other end with the yellow jacket visit and fanfare announcement.
The Midlands Rail Hub is forecast to generate over £400m in wider economic benefits and will safeguard 1,600 construction jobs
Most of those reading this will have spent time sitting outside Birmingham New Street station in a queue. The station is overcrowded, and they can’t get all the trains in at the same time – the Rail Hub will fix that by creating a Birmingham version of Kings Cross/St Pancras where you can get a HS2 train, like the Eurostar to London, and then board a local train to where you need to go. The Rail Hub will cost up to £1.3bn but for that funding Midlands Connect, the regional transport body for the Midlands and the brains behind the Rail Hub, forecast the Midlands Rail Hub will generate £80m in benefits by 2036 alone and over £2bn in total. The Midlands Rail Hub is forecast to generate over £400m in wider economic benefits and will safeguard 1,600 construction jobs.
There will be some who say, “but everyone works from home; spend this cash on x or y”. To those people I say whilst long term changes in commuting patterns have occurred following the Covid-19 pandemic, rail patronage is growing and is already back to 93 per cent pre-Covid levels. In the medium term, passenger crowding will return on services into Birmingham impacting journey quality and constraining economic growth.
For a government obsessed by growth, this feels like a no brainer.
The Midlands Rail Hub is a really important investment for the whole of the region – and it comes with my support and the support of the East Midlands. Rail has been a huge part of the Midlands’ success story, and we need this kind of investment if our network is to keep growing and supporting our economy.
Added to that, it will help us fix going east to west by improving links between Birmingham and Leicester and that is the cherry on top. It seems so easy to travel down to London but everyone knows how hard it is, going by train across the country, most people end up driving – or pulling their hair out. We need to fix that, once and for all.
Areas with 10 per cent higher rail connectivity have been shown to have wage levels 1.3 per cent higher than comparable locations with lesser rail connectivity. This could equate up to £520 per worker in higher wages if we deliver the Midlands Rail Hub.
All of these benefits and work could start in 2024. The government must be rubbing its hands with glee about this project. The title of the business case is apt – whoever named it all those months ago either had a crystal ball or liked gameshows starring Henry Kelly: it’s called going for growth. All we need now is the green light from government to get the Midlands moving.
Lord Ravensdale, crossbench peer.
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