Back in 2007, Birmingham Friends of the Earth (BFoE) ran a campaign calling for the re-opening of railway stations at Kings Heath, Moseley, Balsall Heath and Hazelwell on the Camp Hill line. Although the line is used by freight trains and express passenger trains, it does not have a local train service. The only way to reach these parts of Birmingham is by heavily congested roads such as the Alcester Road where the 50 and 35 buses are routinely delayed in traffic. By plugging these suburbs into the local rail network, they become more accessible by train so that locals and visitors alike have an alternative to driving. This can then reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.
BFoE collected over 1500 signed letters from members of the public in support of the campaign and presented these to the city council. At around the same time, the city council produced a feasibility study in 2007 which showed a positive business case for a service every 20 minutes into Moor Street via a proposed short curve or chord linking the Camp Hill line with the Leamington Spa to Moor Street line (see map). There was optimism that things would start moving soon. Fast forward to 2018 and we are still waiting!
So what happened? The financial meltdown in 2008 followed in 2010 by the start of a period of austerity which persists to the present day certainly did not help. In such a climate, many public transport projects were shelved. Since there was some expectation that the scheme would eventually go ahead following the positive outcome of the feasibility study, campaign pressure waned and attention turned elsewhere, while the city council had bigger fish to fry.
Then came the West Midlands mayoral election of May 2017 in which the successful candidate, Andy Street included the reopening of the Camp Hill line stations as one of his key election pledges. However following his election, little seemed to happen. In March 2018, he made a press announcement where he explained his proposal to reroute the existing Hereford to Birmingham New Street service that calls at Selly Oak and University to serve the reopened stations on the Camp Hill line, although Balsall Heath was not included. Many people questioned whether his plan was possible or even desirable given that the train service could only be hourly or, at most, half hourly at peak time. The 2007 feasibility study and all other previous studies had consistently indicated that a service into Birmingham New Street would not be possible given the lack of capacity on the station approaches. Despite all the publicity, there was no sign of a concrete commitment from the Department for Transport which stated only that it would ‘carefully consider the proposals’.
Frustrated with the ongoing media hype and the complete lack of any commitment by the Department for Transport, a small group of local residents got together to form Friends of Kings Heath Station (FOKHS) in April 2018 to focus on the reopening of Kings Heath station.
In June 2018, FOKHS held its first public meeting attended by around 70 people, posing the question: ‘What is the Future for Kings Heath Station’? That question was quickly answered when Councillor Lisa Trickett publicly announced at the meeting that the stations now had a target opening in 2021 and that notices had already been served on landowners occupying the station sites. This announcement took many people by surprise. There then followed a riveting question and answer session with Councillor Trickett. The main points to emerge were:
the station would not be a park and ride site, so there would be minimal parking provision. Measures would have to be taken to ensure that the surrounding streets would not form a de facto park and ride site;
the main means of access to the station would be by foot, bus and taxi;
the service would initially be hourly (half hourly at peak times) and run into New Street;
a higher frequency of up to every 20 minutes would only be possible once a curve had been constructed (sometime around 2026) enabling the service to run into Moor Street.
Even though the plans for reopening the stations are now progressing, there is still a need for FOKHS to keep the pressure up and ensure that:
The scheme still happens as soon as possible and is not side-lined;
the Camp Hill chord is built as soon as possible to enable the train service to be frequent enough for a congested urban area;
the layout and design of the station is what the community wants.
If you would like to be updated on the progress of the campaign and the stations, you can sign up to the Friends of Kings Heath Station email list at FriendsofKHstation@gmail.com or check out the Facebook group ‘Re-open Kings Heath Station’.