West Midlands transport chiefs have warned that cutting the number of inter-city trains at stations in the region would make it ‘almost impossible’ to commute between some of its key cities.
The West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (WMITA) said the Department for Transport (DfT’s) recent consultation on the next InterCity West Coast franchise suggests reducing services at Wolverhampton and Coventry, as well as at Birmingham International and at Sandwell and Dudley.
Services on InterCity West Coast are run by Virgin
It said the consultation also includes an option to restrict use of inter-city services in the region to just long distance passengers.
WMITA said it is ‘strongly opposing any reduction’, and has warned this would hit local commuters and the regional economy.
Cllr Roger Lawrence, chair of WMITA, said: ‘It is wholly unacceptable that non-Birmingham passengers could lose their direct services to London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, purely to save a few minutes on journey times.
‘The inter-city West Coast services play a crucial role in supporting our regional economy so any move to restrict their use to purely long distance passengers would make it almost impossible to commute between Birmingham and Coventry and be wholly unworkable from both a practical and economic point of view.’
He added: 'If anything, the Department for Transport needs to be looking at ways to improve services at key interchanges such as Wolverhampton and Birmingham International rather than seeking to reduce access to inter-city rail services.'
The current franchise, which is held by Virgin Trains, expires in 2018.
The DfT consultation raises the possibility of ‘reducing the number of stops required at intermediate stations’ and prioritising capacity for long distance passengers.
WMITA said thousands of people rely on inter-city services for their daily commute, with Virgin providing more than 40% of the train services - and over half the peak-time commuter capacity - on the Birmingham to Coventry line.
It said it recognised the challenge of meeting rising passenger numbers until extra capacity is released with the opening of the HS2 high speed rail line in 2026.
WMITA will be replaced by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) on 10 June.
Its powers and those of delivery body Centro will be transferred to TfWM, which will be the transport arm of the new West Midlands Combined Authority.