Next PM urged to back Midlands over £2 billion railway upgrade

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Network Rail is among a group acting in partnership with Midlands Connect (Network Rail/PA)

The new prime minister has been urged to back a £2 billion plan to transform rail capacity in the Midlands and “supercharge” the region’s economy.

Transport group Midlands Connect estimates the Midlands Rail Hub plans for phased improvements from 2024 could deliver an annual economic benefit of up to £649 million by 2037.

The proposals have been submitted to the Department of Transport in partnership with Network Rail and 47 partner organisations including local authorities, business groups, and Birmingham and East Midlands airports.

A report outlining the Midlands Rail Hub plan includes 15 pieces of new and improved infrastructure in the region, including upgrades which would allow direct services between Coventry and Leicester.

Under the plans, journey times from Birmingham to Nottingham would be cut from 72 to 59 minutes, with the direct Leicester-Coventry route taking 38 minutes – compared to 57 minutes on current services via Nuneaton.

Meanwhile, journey times between Nottingham and Coventry would be slashed from 99 to 63 minutes.

With Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt battling to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, Sir John Peace, chairman 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.”

The West Midlands’ elected mayor, Andy Street, said: “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.

“At around £2 billion, the Midlands Rail Hub is genuinely a bargain when you consider some of the projects that have already happened in London. The Secretary of State for Transport must persuade the Treasury to support this project to boost the region’s connectivity and with it, the region’s economy.”

In the last two years, rail usage in the Midlands has grown faster than anywhere else in the UK, with growth in the last decade of 121% in the West Midlands and 37% in the East Midlands.

Following the submission of the Midlands Rail Hub’s outline business case to the DfT, Midlands Connect is requesting £25 million in funding to draft plans for specific scheme development and sequencing, a full overview of its benefits, and project designs.

A DfT spokesman said: “We are delighted to have supported Midlands Connect with £5 million of funding to drive forward their proposals for the Midlands Rail Hub.

“We look forward to receiving these proposals and working together to develop the business case, focusing on opening up new opportunities for businesses, jobs and housing across the Midlands Engine.”

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