One rail solution to Birmingham's transport problems?

The Birmingham Post has reported on plans for a monorail service for Birmingham ahead of the Big City Plan conference taking place on Tuesday 20th January.

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The radical plans for the £280 million monorail service which could whisk passengers from New Street Station to Birmingham International Airport in 16 minutes have been created in a study by international engineering consultants Arup and train construction company Metrail AG.

As many as 35,000 people an hour could travel at peak times in electric-powered carriages suspended on concrete stanchions above main roads, according to a development company set up by business leaders. Arup and Metrail says a monorail would be far more environmentally friendly than trams or trains and could become an “iconic tourist attraction” for Birmingham.

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For those unsure on the logistics of a monorail, the Monorail Society,, defines a monorail as "A single rail serving as a track for passenger or freight vehicles. In most cases rail is elevated, but monorails can also run at grade, below grade or in subway tunnels. Vehicles are either suspended from or straddle a narrow guideway. Monorail vehicles are WIDER than the guideway that supports them."

While being associated with and confined in some areas to amusement parks and shopping arcades, think of the now removed Merry Hill Shopping Centre monorail which ran between 1991 and 1995 and the current Alton Towers monorail, running since 1987, many forms of monorail run successfully in Asia, North America and Japan with new monorails planned for the Middle East.

Kuala Lumpur's monorail system for example is described as being the only one outside of Japan that is to be used as a regular urbal light rail transit system. The guideway structure uses elevated beams supported on pillars which sit above the median of existing roads,

The plans follow a pioneering tradition by Birmingham where in 1984 Birmingham International Airport's 620 metre long Maglev people-mover became the first commercial automated maglev system in the world linking Birmingham International Railway Station with Birmingham International Airport and the National Exhibition Centre.

The Birmingham monorail would be similar to a Metrail-designed system being built in Dubai and reflects Birmingham Business Focus (BBF) director Neil Maybury's view that we need to think out of the box to deal with the 'knife edge' of traffic and how a monorail could be delivered at a fraction of the cost of Metro extensions or an underground railway.

We have tried hard with the Metro, but that’s been running for 20 years and hasn’t really made any money. The proposed Metro extension from Snow Hill to Five Ways is going nowhere. So we have to do some thinking out of the box and come up with something else.

The plans could be a precursor to an extensive network of routes running along Birmingham's main arterial routes but Arup/Metrail AG warn issues such as the effect of the loss of traffic turning lanes would need to be considered. Perhaps that is a small price to pay for a novel traffic free solution to Birmingham's increasing traffic and a novel way to encourage greater mobility throughout the city. With the idea of Greater Birmingham underground confined to dreams and the Midland Metro not looking to expand any time soon the running of monorails which wouldn't interfere with road transport could extend the benefits of an underground to connect the city's suburbs without the prohibitive cost of going underground.


srboisvert said…
At that rate of 35,000 hour the city will be empty in just under one day. Now assuming that is a bi-directional flow rate it would take about 3 days.

The airport currently transports about 25K a day (2007 data).

Scott said…
I love the idea: fast, efficient, green and cheap - what more could we ask for?

I've been dreaming for years of an underground rail network in Birmingham, but it clearly won't happen, at least not for many, many years to come.

The thing that depresses me is the apparent apathy of this city's leaders when it comes to transport - it just seems to be way down on their list of priorities. I honestly believe it's the number one issue holding this city back and keeping it in the dark ages, but until our councillors realise this we'll be stuck with our useless old buses while Londoners whizz around on even more new tube lines and the people of Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, etc, happily cruise around on their ever-improving tram networks.

I am currently saving to move away from Birmingham, largely because it lacks the energy and excitement of many other cities (both in the UK and Europe) - something that well connected urban environments can provide - and I can only hope that I will return one day to find the council have decided to stop creating endless, money-draining 'reports', which are subsequently filed away and forgotten about, and have actually had the vision and the balls to create a transport system which is both radical and practical.
Anonymous said…
I have a suggestion to improve Birmingham's transport network. Currently, a big problem is the lack of capacity at New Street Station. I propose what the cities such as Munich have done: direct suburban trains into a tunnel under the city centre. I propose a Stammstrecke tunnel to run between a new Curzon Street station (which would be the HSR terminus) and the City Hospital, with stations at Moor Street, New Street (serving both the station and the street itself), Victoria Square, probably one by Brindleyplace and the NIA and an overground station by the City Hospital. Trains on the Redditch and Litchfield route will continue to run into mainline New Street station (which will be significantly less congested, if about 20-24tph are removed), and those passing through Moor Street/Snow Hill will be unaffected. Each suburban route will have 2tph running each way, and in the Stammstrecke these will add up to Metro style frequencies.

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