A £2 billion package of improvements to transform east-west connections on the Midlands’ rail network has been submitted to the government with a clear message from business and civic leaders: “Don’t ignore the East Midlands.”
The Midlands Rail Hub outlines plans to build 15 pieces of new and improved infrastructure to create space for 24 extra passenger trains every hour on the regional network, reducing journey times, increasing rail journeys and supercharging the economy by bringing the East and West Midlands closer together.
The plans, which can be completed in phases between 2024 and 2033, have been submitted to the government by Sub-national Transport Body Midlands Connect, in partnership with Network Rail and with the backing of 47 partner organisations including West Midlands Combined Authority, local authorities, LEPs, chambers of commerce, HS2 and East Midlands Airport.
Passenger journeys have risen in the East Midlands by 37% over the past decade1, however rail capacity can’t keep pace with this growth, leading to slow, infrequent and unreliable train services between the East Midlands and West Midlands.
Building additional capacity into the network will future proof the regional network for the next generation, with significant benefits for East Midlands passengers, freight and the economy:
· Space for 24 extra passenger trains an hour, with an estimated six million more journeys per year;
· An estimated economic benefit of £649 million a year by 2037;
· 600,000+ more people in the East Midlands will be brought within an hour of Birmingham and Coventry via public transport.
Additional trains per hour:
· Direct services between Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham reinstated for the first time since 2004, with two trains per hour in each direction (passengers must currently change at Nuneaton);
· Two extra trains per hour to and from Derby-Birmingham and Leicester-Birmingham;
· One extra train per hour to and from Nottingham-Birmingham.
Journey time improvements:
· Birmingham-Nottingham, from 72 to 59 minutes, the first time ever services would be brought under one hour;
· Leicester-Coventry, from 57 (indirect via Nuneaton) to 38 minutes (direct);
· Nottingham-Coventry (via Leicester) from 99 to 63 minutes.
Proposed interventions include:
Leicester incremental enhancement (2026-2033): freight loops and track improvements to increase speeds and capacity for extra services (estimated cost £15-25m)
Leicester Corridor (by 2026); a series of incremental improvements allowing faster new and existing services from Birmingham to Leicester (estimated cost £150-200m)
Nottingham area enhancement (2026-2033): extra track west of Nottingham to increase flexibility and capacity for additional services (estimated cost £15-25m)
Nuneaton Dive under, flyover or reversal (2026-2033): Reinstatement of a dive under or construction of a flyover of the West Coast Main Line at Nuneaton (or a reversal from Nuneaton station) to enable direct services between Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham (estimated cost of dive under/fly over £100-120m)
Integration with HS2
Midlands Connect, alongside its partners and the business community, has repeatedly made the case for the delivery of HS2 in its entirety, including Phase 2b from the West Midlands to the East Midlands and on to Leeds, alongside associated investment in the existing network.
The Midlands Rail Hub creates space for dozens of additional services from the East Midlands in to Birmingham Moor Street station each day, and is fully integrated with a vision to redevelop the historic 1909 station, led by West Midlands Rail Executive. This vision will ensure passengers can move seamlessly between the traditional and high speed networks.
Slow, indirect and infrequent rail services between big cities mean that most travellers make less environmentally friendly journeys by car instead2:
· Leicester-Coventry – 1% by train, 99% by car
· Birmingham-Leicester – 13% by train, 87% by car;
· Birmingham-Nottingham – 18% by train, 82% by car;
· Birmingham-Derby – 22% by train, 78% by car.
On equivalent routes in the north of England, rail usage is significantly higher:
· Manchester-Sheffield – 50% by train, 50% by car;
· Manchester-Newcastle – 46% by train, 54% by car;
· Liverpool-York – 51% by train, 49% by car.
Rail freight produces 76 percent less CO2 than the equivalent road haulage journey3. By making space for 36 new freight paths a day, the Midlands Rail Hub can take the equivalent of 4,320 lorries’ worth of goods off the road and on to rail every day, significantly reducing carbon emissions.
The Midlands Rail Hub comes with the backing of Midlands Connect’s 47 partnership organisations, including local authorities, chambers of commerce and LEPs, as well as Network Rail, HS2 and the region’s two airports – East Midlands and Birmingham.
Sir John Peace, Chair of Midlands Connect, said: “The Midlands Rail Hub is a cost-effective, evidence-led plan to upgrade our Victorian infrastructure to meet the demands of the future. These proposals capture the enormous economic potential of the Midlands, with 320,000 new jobs estimated by 2030, mainly in professional services firms who depend on good rail connectivity to attract skilled workers.
“This investment must happen alongside delivering HS2 in its entirety, from the West Midlands to the East Midlands and on to the north of England. The next Prime Minister of this country must not ignore the Midlands, the 10 million people who live here, or our £220 billion annual contribution to the UK economy. Now is the time for the government to prove to the Midlands it’s listening to us.”
Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “This project is a great opportunity to improve connectivity between the East and West Midlands, something which has sadly been overlooked for many years. It will provide brilliant direct rail links between Leicester and Coventry – the two biggest cities currently not connected by a direct rail service, and provide a true alternative to the car.
“The faster and more frequent trains between Leicester and Birmingham will help release the economic potential of the whole Midlands area, and will be greatly welcomed by all rail passengers.”
Councillor David Mellen, Leader of Nottingham City Council, said: “Far too many people choose to travel between Nottingham and Birmingham by car rather than by train – but that’s understandable when the train service between the two largest cities in the East and West Midlands is one of the slowest in the region.
“It’s a shameful example of under-investment in transport outside London by the Government and these Midlands Rail Hub plans provide a strong business case and a clear way forward for more direct, faster and frequent services. It will help the Midlands – and therefore national – economy while reducing congestion and air pollution. It doesn’t seem too much to ask that these two major cities less than 50 miles apart can be reached by train in under an hour and we need the Government to give these improvement plans their urgent attention.”
Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South and chair of the Transport Select Committee, said: “Our people and businesses are suffering from poor connectivity and it’s time that government took action to bring the great economic centres of the Midlands closer together. The Midlands Rail Hub is a vehicle for change, it will change where we work, where we live and who we do businesses with, it will encourage us to make greener choices and allow the network to keep pace with growing demand. We must accelerate these plans.”
Graham Botham, strategy and planning director for Network Rail, said: “When realised the Midlands Rail Hub will transform rail travel for millions more passengers every year. We share our partners’ vision for the Midlands Rail Hub which will give passengers more choice and drive economic growth by better connecting towns and cities across the East and West Midlands.”
Scott Knowles, Chief Executive at East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire), said: “East-west connectivity is every bit as important to business success as north-south links but hasn’t been given the same priority. The Midlands Rail Hub will increase the frequency of trains to Derby, Nottingham and Leicester from Birmingham and beyond, and create a direct rail path between Coventry and Leicester, something that should but doesn’t exist despite the size and proximity of the two cities.”
Giles Ellerton, BT Group regional director, Midlands & East Anglia, said: “BT employs more than 11,000 people in the Midlands, and for our business to grow we depend on transport networks to grow with us. Faster, more frequent and more reliable services also gives us the flexibility to access a wider pool of talent from across the Midlands. If these plans go ahead it could transform a lot of people’s journeys to work across the Midlands.”
Following the submission of the Midlands Rail Hub Strategic Outline Business Case to the Department for Transport, Midlands Connect has requested an additional £25 million in funding to bring the project to “Outline Business Case” stage of development, which includes specific scheme development and sequencing, a full overview of benefits, project designs, and a full risk assessment.