Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Rail investment has been key to the renewal of the West Midlands. Unprecedented investment in HS2 is bringing significant regeneration to areas around the interchange in Solihull and Curzon Street in Birmingham, as well as supporting thousands of existing jobs in construction.

My own plan to create a world-class public transport network for our region has seen main stations in Coventry and Wolverhampton reborn, while work is underway to reopen others that have been closed since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

Alongside an extended Metro network, an innovative approach to bus travel, and better facilities for cycling and walking, rail is already delivering a transport revolution here that is changing how we get around, while also helping us achieve our net zero ambitions.

However, in this column, I want to tell you about Midlands Rail Hub, the next chapter in our rail revolution.

These are game-changing proposals that build on the ambition of HS2, driving jobs and housing, boosting business and helping to deliver Levelling Up not just here, but across the UK. Because while they are anchored here in the heart of England, the effects of the Midlands Rail Hub will stretch far beyond.

Right now, when Birmingham’s New Street station struggles with capacity, it has knock-on effects that impact on passengers from Edinburgh to London. The £1.4 billion Midlands Rail Hub proposals will sort New Street’s capacity issues once and for all, expanding the network by 14.6 million seats per year.

The plans would relieve the bottleneck by expanding Moor Street station to link up with the neighbouring HS2 station, currently under construction at Curzon Street. It would also create another cross-city line in Brum.

Of course, winning investment of this level is all about building a compelling business case. I have been talking to Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, since before Christmas about the Midlands Rail Hub, and pitched the proposals to Huw Merriman, the Rail Minister, when he visited the West Midlands.

So, what do I want? First and foremost, we need the Department for Transport to fund the detailed business case ready for final sign off – which I understand is a big commitment in itself, given the pressures on public funding.

However, the economic benefits of the proposals are there for all to see.

They will drive footfall to our centres and open up areas to business investment. They will also give 1.6 million people easier access to the benefits of HS2 – the vision for Moor Street station, for instance, includes a design connecting  passengers directly to HS2 services from Curzon Street via a new public square.

Analysis shows that, for every £1 spent on the Rail Hub plans, the economy will get £1.50 back. It will also safeguard 1,600 quality jobs in construction. It’s no wonder the Transport Select Committee endorsed the proposals last year. The figures stack up.

But it’s how the Midlands Rail Hub will help deliver Levelling Up that is perhaps most exciting. This is real levelling-up investment – dealing with our major infrastructure. While HS2 will connect our part of the country with North and South, the Rail Hub will enhance the network right here, in the heart of England.

Too often, as the nation debates the so-called North-South divide, the Midlands gets overlooked. The Midlands Rail Hub will better connect the economic powerhouses of the West and East Midlands, supercharging the economy here.

It will provide a foundational investment that will link our communities like never before. As I have said many times, when the Midlands are doing well, the UK does well.

But the Levelling Up brought by the Hub would stretch far beyond our borders. By building two new rail ‘chords’, we will deliver a massive step change in regional public transport. The West Chord will allow access to Moor Street from the South-West and Wales, while the East Chord will create an access from the East Midlands.

The result? The proposals will increase rail capacity to Worcester, Hereford, Cheltenham, Bristol and Cardiff, as well as out to Leicester and the Cambridge Line. This is why it is a gamechanger.

The pandemic saw rail passenger numbers hit, but here patronage is growing again. Rail is now the dominant method of commuting into Birmingham city centre and has never been more important. It’s vital that we keep investing.

When it comes to transport, we Conservatives have put our money where our mouth is, placing unprecedented sums on the table for HS2. The Midland Rail Hub is a relatively small investment that will not only help Level Up communities across the UK, it will also maximise the benefits of the HS2 project.

In London, Crossrail cost somewhere in the region of £14 billion. At £1.4 billion, the Midlands Rail Hub represents just a tenth of that price tag yet will improve the economic prospects of huge swathes of the UK.

When it comes to rail renewal, the West Midlands has a track record of delivering the goods. Unlocking this investment for us would mean real Levelling Up, and provide proof that Conservatives believe in the vital importance of quality public transport.

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