Proposals to cut the number of inter-city trains at stations like Wolverhampton and Coventry are ‘wholly unacceptable’ West Midlands transport chiefs have told the Government.
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 (DfT) consultation on how the next franchise for the West Coast Main Line could operate.
The reduced services are among options put forward in the DfT’s Inter City West Coast (ICWC) franchise consultation. They are aimed at increasing capacity on the line, speeding up journey times for long distance passengers and improving the region’s services to London and Scotland after the existing franchise, which is held by Virgin Trains, expires in 2018.
But Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), has now sent a formal response to Government opposing the option and setting out its own suggestions for meeting ever rising passenger demand.
TfWM warns that reducing inter-city services to the stations would damage the West Midlands economy and make it almost impossible to commute between some of the region’s key cities.
Cllr Roger Lawrence, transport lead on the WMCA, said: “While we recognise the pressing need to squeeze more capacity out of the existing line it should not come at the expense of fewer inter-city services at key West Midlands stations. That would be wholly unacceptable.
“Nevertheless, we need to meet rising passenger numbers and support economic growth until the arrival of HS2 can relieve the pressure and that’s why we have suggested a number of alternative options.”
Cllr Lawrence said options put forward by TfWM in its response included:
- Longer 10, 11 or even 12 car trains to replace or extend the existing five and nine car services
- Better management of on-train capacity to avoid passengers standing in the middle of the train when there are seats available nearer the front or back
- Consideration of further changes to the balance of first and standard class allocation without damaging the core business travel market
- Changes to the fare structure to address the significant difference between peak and off-peak fares and make more effective use of available train capacity
The response also calls for the existing three trains per hour service between the West Midlands and London Euston to be retained with no restrictions to existing calling patterns.
Recently introduced direct services from Milton Keynes, Coventry and Birmingham International to the North West and Scotland must also be retained as these have provided opportunities for new national connections including better access to Birmingham Airport.
The response also points out that Walsall, which has a population greater than Plymouth, is one of the largest towns in the UK without a direct service to London and the forthcoming franchises need to address this.
Cllr Lawrence added: “Thousands of people in the West Midlands rely on the inter-city services currently provided by Virgin Trains 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 so any cut would hit commuters and the economy.
“As things stand the West Coast main line is effectively full with limited scope for further additional services until HS2 arrives in 2026 but we need to make the most of the existing line to generate extra capacity without reducing inter-city services at stations like Coventry and Wolverhampton.”