Published: 11th December 2014
Birmingham New Street (BNS) is often considered to be at the heart of the UK rail network and is the only non-London station to be in the top ten so far as passenger numbers is concerned.
Regular users know that the station is being transformed in a £750million project which will be completed in September 2015. At the moment, over 140,000 passengers use BNS daily but in the last two weeks, this figure has over doubled with a maximum of 330,000 passengers on the busiest day.
The station is phenomenally busy at the moment due to the Birmingham German Market (the largest outside Germany) which runs until December 22 and this, combined with the adjacent shopping centre is doubling the average use most days with 233,000 passengers on 29th November and over 300,000 passengers in one day a week later.
This caused queues of an hour just to get into the platform and lengthy delays exiting the station. So Network Rail has issued a warning that if you are using the station this Christmas, allow plenty of extra time for your train.
The station is in two sections at the moment with the first section opening in April 2013 while the other section is being built over, around and under the operating railway.
The station was built in the 1840s and was replaced in 1967 with a modernist concrete construction with all its platforms in the dark under the building. This meant that the station was later designated, so far as fire regulations are concerned, as a Section 12 station in the same way as other stations that are underground. Just a couple of small sections of the Victorian building remains on and is on Platforms 1 and 2.
Given that the station is the gateway to the England’s second city, it was decided that it was not the welcoming place that it should be, so a partnership with Network Rail, the Department for Transport and local authorities was formed to rebuild the station.
The complete station makeover is being carried out to the background that it is the busiest station outside London and the UK’s busiest interchange station. The 1170 trains a day brings a departure every 37 seconds serving 275 destinations averaging 160,000 passengers a day. The work is being carried out by a workforce of 1500 working round the clock and managing this without train disruption is a major achievement. The project sees 36 new escalators and 15 new lifts being installed servicing every platform for the first time.
The upgrade was initially designed to accommodate forecast increases in passenger to 2034 but the even larger growth means that the new station might become too small again in a decade. But passengers will benefit from the huge atrium being created over the station which has self-cleaning glass.
There will also be a large public square and a new shopping centre called Grand Central while the new concourse will be five times larger than Eustons. John Lewis is the flagship store and will be the largest one outside London.
Every platform is being refurbished and uncluttered as they are mostly narrow and cannot be widened. This has been made possible with the provision of the new concourse and waiting areas above the station.
The station is in a city centre location and so moving in building supplies and removing rubble is done by two trains a week saving an estimated 10,000 lorry movements annually.
The new flooring is a non-slip granite which even when wet does not create a slippery floor as with many other stations. The only drawback is that chewing gum and food sticks to it making cleaning expensive and this is to be used as a lesson for HS2 and Euston when it is rebuilt.
The concrete rooftop has had to be removed and this weighed 4,000 tons and was removed using a special concrete muncher designed by JCB which is remote controlled. The workforce also found that the station had been completely lagged with asbestos in the 1960s and removing this had added millions of pounds to the cost.
The south facing part of the station is being covered in a stainless steel reflective façade and this was tested for reflecting the sun into train driving cabs and other buildings. Some panels have had to be slightly re-angled to avoid glare creating danger.
When the final 2,000-tonne layer of concrete is demolished, the new atrium will become visible flooding the station with natural light. The station has been equipped with three ‘Media Eyes’ which are focal points for getting information to passengers and shoppers.
The Birmingham tram system is being built and will connect New Street with the rest of Birmingham and Curzon Street where HS2 will run to. Birmingham’s transport is getting better and may well be brought under a West Midlands franchise in a few years time.