Next month, writes Richard Lutz, Network Rail takes a firm step towards re-opening train services through Moseley and Kings Heath. It is the strongest hint yet that the old line will be used once again for passengers
A week doesn’t go by without someone on the 50 bus or in a car jammed onto the Alcester Rd ratrun asking why people can’t use a train on that existing track that runs through part of the south Birmingham suburbs.
That rail route is the Camp Hill Line. It snakes through Highgate, Balsall Heath, Moseley, Kings Heath and hasn’t seen a local passenger train for the past 75 years.
But now the group representing seven local authorities (The West Midlands Integrated Transit Authority) has said it hopes commuter trains to be running by 2026. That is because the HS2 high speed project has guaranteed financial backing for local rail connections.
So, in a decade’s time, there’s a good chance that you will be able to step onto a train at a new Moseley or Kings Health station and zip into Moor Street and maybe on to Snow Hill.
This good news comes as Network Rail itself prepares a draft report into the region’s train service. Next month it will table a plan that recommends the Camp Hill line as one of the ‘recommended options’ for added funders who will back train expansion into the city.
Some may groan and see this as another paper exercise. Others may question the actual need for local trains. But experts in the field are optimistic that the line, now only used by freight, is vital and will be in use for passengers, ready for HS2.
But there are two major hurdles to overcome.
One is a missing rail junction, called the Camp Hill Chords, which is a proposed new crossroads near the present Camp Hill roundabout. It needs an extra track to accommodate the Camp Hill line from the south and a track coming in from the north from Castle Vale. Once this is built there will a new shorter way to travel into city centre termini from the unused Camp Hill tracks.
Another hurdle, of course, is money.
Experts now estimate reopening the line will cost in the region of £200m. The Chords will face a bill of about £150 million, according to 2010 prices. Re building at least three new stations in Moseley and Kings Heath could face a bill of up to £40m while advanced Network Rail infrastructure will take the rest up to the £200m mark.
Mark Langford, speaking for the WMITA, said: “We are reasonably confident that this will happen. All documents are with the government and Network Rail.”
On top of the two main hurdles, there are still a handful of unknowns.
It is unknown what the new Camp Hill route would be from Moor Street heading south. In the least, trains would stop at the re-built stations at Moseley’s St Mary’s Row, another at the bottom of Kings Heath High Street near where the Home Base depot currently sits and possibly re-birth of a station near Cartland Rd in Kings Heath.
After that, the hook up could carry on to Kings Norton where it would link up with other routes.
Another unknown is what ticket prices will be (it is ten years away) and a third is whether it will be electric or diesel.
A fourth unknown is which operator will actually run the service. Interested companies will simply want to know if it’ll turn a profit.
And a fifth unknown is how fast the service will be. A reasonable estimate is it will be a ten minute run from Moseley to Moor Street.
One added problem will be to move all freight services to another route though there are no concrete plans to do that. “But if that happens,” lobbyist Martin Mullaney said, “there could be a train every fifteen minutes.”
So, still a lot of conjecture. But since the HS2 project is inextricably tied to investment in expanding local rail, there is a cautious belief that within a decade, passengers will board trains on the Camp Hill line for the first time since 1941.
It is good news for people who want to use urban trains and, of course, with the northbound line to Castle Vale and The Fort also being helped by a new Camp Hill Chords project, it will mean better links for many to the city centre.
So, put a note in the diary for 2026. And… all aboard.