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Shropshire & Black Country ‘rail revolution’ could power up region

Published: Tuesday 06 June 2021

  • Electrifying the route through Telford and the Black Country and extending London services to Shrewsbury could create up to £500 million of benefits for businesses and residents 

  • Midlands Connect analysed plans for a new hourly train from Shrewsbury, Wellington, Telford, Wolverhampton and Birmingham to London

  • Trains could run as fast as 90mph along the line

  • 418 jobs could be safeguarded & created to design and deliver project

  • Local MPs say the project could help level up the region as business chiefs say new link to capital could power local businesses

Today (Tuesday), regional transport body Midlands Connect has released a feasibility study that outlines nearly £500 million of benefits to the economy if the route is upgraded. Midlands Connect is proposing rail electrification, faster local trains and a new hourly train to London from Shrewsbury.

Analysis by Midlands Connect, released as part of the study, shows that time savings to passengers are valued up to £377m and the benefits of fewer cars on our roads and other environmental benefits are worth up to £145m. The report released today is entitled ‘Rails to Recovery: Building Back Stronger’.

Local MPs Jane Stevenson and Shaun Bailey will join Midlands Connect Chief Executive Maria Machancoses at an event this afternoon to outline the results of the study. They will join Midlands Connect expert Steve Fisher who has managed the investigations to date.

The ‘Rails to Recovery’ study examined a combination of faster and more frequent train services, including the potential opportunity associated with extending a future (post Phase 1 of HS2) London Euston to Wolverhampton service. As well as providing higher frequencies between Shrewsbury, Wellington, Telford and Wolverhampton, the service could provide additional links to Birmingham International (for Birmingham Interchange HS2 Station and Birmingham Airport) and destinations towards London including Coventry, Rugby and Milton Keynes for people in Shropshire and the Black Country.​ The scheme will also mean that we have improved local connectivity for commuters into Birmingham.

The study shows that trains could be running as fast as 90mph if the route were upgraded; an increase from a mix of 70 and 50 miles per hour today. Residents using stations like Smethwick Galton Bridge, Sandwell & Dudley, Dudley Port, Tipton, Coseley, Codsall, Shifnal, Bilbrook and Albrighton will also see benefits from this scheme – increased capacity on their services meaning less overcrowding at peak times and quicker journey times on improved rail infrastructure.

All this work provides the opportunity to realise the potential of the extra capacity released on the current network by HS2 for regions like the Black Country and Shropshire. Improving connectivity is critical to the post-COVID recovery and regeneration of the towns and cities on the corridor, unlocking access to labour markets and new job opportunities.​

The scheme would also help safeguard and create jobs in the engineering and construction sectors. Analysis done by NSA Research for Midlands Connect shows that 337 jobs would be safeguarded and a further 81 jobs would be created if the project was implemented.

A future scheme can be delivered in phases, with journey time improvements as a potential ‘quick win’ and eventually extending the London Euston to Wolverhampton service to Shrewsbury when HS2 Phase 1 opens.

By extending the service we also help tackle the acute over-crowding seen pre-pandemic, which is anticipated to return over time, and electrification would provide for cleaner and greener trains.  Contributing to the region’s ‘Net Zero’ challenge, Midlands Connect believes 45 million diesel train miles could be converted to carbon neutral electric, saving 130,000 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Midlands Connect plans to fund the next stage of the project development. Today’s report is just the first stage in the process and Midlands Connect will continue to build the case to a point where we can be confident in its strength and then seek capital investment from Government.

There is widespread support for the idea in the community. 800 people in and around Wolverhampton were asked about the project in February and the scheme was supported by 91% of respondents.

Commenting on the release of the ‘Rails to Recovery’ study, Midlands Connect Chief Executive Maria Machancoses said:

“This work could create a rail revolution in the Black Country and Shropshire. I know from experience, using this train every day, how overcrowded it can be. The report lays out how businesses, commuters and residents will all benefit from an upgraded route as will our economy. This is the definition of a win-win project and can help take us from rails to recovery.

“We’ve started this process but we are picking up pace, and today is a first, critical stop, on our long journey.”

Jane Stevenson, MP for Wolverhampton North East said:

“This scheme is another part of my work to level up Wolverhampton and the Black Country, and shows how we can build back better, fairer and greener. This report also highlights the need for a new train station for Oxley and Pendeford, which is something I have been campaigning for.

“In a city the size of Wolverhampton's, it cannot be right that there is only one train station to serve approximately 265,000 people. So I’m delighted that further work is being carried out by the Government on the feasibility of a new station. It would help to reduce congestion on our roads, as many people have no alternative but to travel by car to work.

“A direct, hourly train from the Black Country to London will be vital in the years ahead as the Housing Department brings hundreds of well-paid jobs to the city and we need better connections to the capital. All this shows that working with the government, in partnership, is delivering real jobs, investment and growth for our city.”

Shaun Bailey, MP for West Bromwich West said:

“For residents using Dudley Port and Tipton stations the idea of faster and more frequent trains would be welcome news. This is something I am working with Midlands Connect on to deliver. If this is all delivered it will mean residents throughout the region will see massive benefits.

“I know that there are some ‘quick wins’ here, especially the new hourly trains to London. This can only help businesses in my constituency grow and thrive.

“My constituents want faster, cleaner and greener trains and these plans will help us build back better from COVID-19.”

Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham said:

“I have long called for the line, starting at Shrewsbury, to be electrified and it is great to see Midlands Connect bringing forward proposals in this regard. At the moment, if you take the direct to train to London, it has to change engines at Birmingham because the line is not electrified. I am convinced that this has to change.

“My constituents frequently raise with me the pressing issue of climate change, and I think that an electrified line would help play a part in tackling this issue.

“Businesses, commuters and residents in Shrewsbury deserve a first-class rail service and I will work to deliver the rail infrastructure that Shropshire deserves.”