Malcolm Holmes on new stations for the Black Country

Source: RTM Apr/May 2019

Malcolm Holmes, executive director of the West Midlands Rail Executive, described the new stations set to be built for the Black Country region of the Midlands.

The last time the residents of Darlaston or Willenhall could board a train on their doorstep was more than 50 years ago. Since 1965, they have watched trains, most often carrying freight, trundle past without stopping on the line between Walsall and Wolverhampton.

The station closures were a symptom of the area’s industrial decline as thriving metal works factories, which once employed thousands, closed or moved on.

Now, this part of the Black Country is on the rise again. The population is growing and there is new housing, commercial, and industrial development planned. Nearby, a giant 44 acre former copper works factory site, next to the M6 motorway, will be regenerated with the newly-announced Phoenix 10 development.

So the time is right to restore passenger services and stations to Darlaston and Willenhall as part of the wider regeneration of this historic part of the Black Country. Restored stations will also give the people of Darlaston and Willenhall vastly improved access to jobs and opportunities in the centres of Wolverhampton, Walsall and Birmingham.

A trip to Birmingham city centre from either Darlaston or Willenhall currently takes about an hour, requiring passengers to change from bus to tram. With a new direct commuter rail service, the journey will take around 20 minutes.

West Midlands Rail Executive (WMRE) and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) are leading the project and in March unveiled designs for the new stations. They are being developed in close collaboration with train operator West Midlands Railway, the City of Wolverhampton Council, Walsall Council, and Network Rail.

Using an existing operational rail line means the new stations can be built and opened quickly and relatively inexpensively compared to creating a completely new line. The economic and business case is strong.

Our current plans are for the stations to be served by an hourly service between Wolverhampton and Walsall, and an hourly service between Birmingham New Street and Wolverhampton. The service will provide fast journey times compared to bus and road travel. We anticipate opening the station with a train service early in 2022.

Sustainable access to the stations will be enabled by connecting into local cycling and walking networks and close proximity to existing bus services. Stations will feature good quality lighting, wayfinding and surfacing. Both stations will have large car parks, with 300 spaces provided at Darlaston and 150 spaces at Willenhall.

Early findings from public consultation indicate strong public support for the station reopening and the design features. The appetite for community involvement is also high, with suggestions for incorporating local identity, historic features and community art into the designs.

These two stations are part of a wider investment in West Midlands transport infrastructure, much of it backed by the £4.4bn HS2 connectivity fund.

Three more stations are being planned on the Camp Hill Line in south Birmingham, restoring passenger services to the suburbs of Moseley, Kings Heath and Stirchley for the first time since the Second World War. Like Walsall to Wolverhampton, this is also an operational but little-used rail line.

We are also improving the Perry Barr and university railway stations. And, for the longer-term, plans are being drawn up and business cases developed for further rail lines, all outlined in the 30-year rail investment strategy published in January.

The reopening of Darlaston and Willenhall stations is vital for the communities they will serve. But this is not happening in isolation – it will be accompanied by investment in housing and jobs. It is a crucial part of the wider renaissance of the West Midlands.

Listen to Malcolm Holmes at TransCityRail Midlands this July >>


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