Dave Woodhall makes an obvious, and unflattering, comparison.
I went to Manchester earlier in the week. I haven’t been to their city centre for a few years and it gave me a chance to quickly compare it with ours.
First, a minor quibble. Why do the London Midland trains I use invariably arrive a few minutes late? In this case six, which meant the walk from Moor Street to New Street was more hurried than I’d have liked.
Moor Street’s great. All stations should be like this. Maybe that’s why the signs to New Street are so difficult to spot; they want passengers to stay in the good bit. But if you do need to get to New Street here’s a blink-and-you’d-miss-it signpost and that’s it. If you’re local there’s no problem but first-time visitors to the city can be forgiven for getting hopelessly lost while making their connection. Even if you do know where you’re doing the choice of route includes either a lot of steps, an awkward ramp or walking along a dimly-lit and unwelcoming pavement underneath the Bullring. As a first impression of Birmingham it’s appalling.
I’ve not used the partly-refurbished New Street very often but already I hate it. I appreciate that it‘s not finished but I can’t see how the completed article will be anything but a very long, claustrophobic tunnel with shops and ticket barriers hidden out sight. It’s also difficult to find out where your train departs from without knowledge of British geography and the rail network. There’s a WH Smith where I try to buy a newspaper. The tills aren’t working.
It says a lot about the anesthetising effect of rail privatisation that a fare of £34.20 for a journey of less than 1 ½ hours doesn’t seem too bad. Charging extra for wi fi access is a step too far , though. If Chiltern can provide it free, so should everyone else be able to.
Manchester, on time, and even to a repeat visitor the contrast is incredible. Piccadilly station is bright, airy, clean, everything that New Street isn’t. There’s a range of shops and the food options spread from top-quality Italian to budget sandwiches. There are plenty of signposts, a bonus which continues throughout the city centre. It’s a place that puts the first-time traveller immediately at ease. If I was thinking of doing business in either city, arriving by train would make me believe that Manchester is a city worthy of my time, and think of leaving Birmingham as soon as possible.