THE WEST Midlands region surrounding Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city after London, has been selected for the first network capacity review to be undertaken by the ’shadow’ Strategic Rail Authority. Pending legislation to establish the SRA formally, staff of the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and the British Railways Board have been merged to form the SSRA.

The most pressing conflict in the West Midlands is the inability of the two-track Birmingham - Coventry line to accommodate 15min interval inter-city trains planned by Virgin from 2002 as well as an expanded local service. Both are half-hourly at present, with the local trains operated by Central Trains on behalf of Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive. The solution currently envisaged is quadrupling of a section in the middle to permit overtaking without delaying either train.

Also planned is a revival of little used, mothballed or abandoned lines to form freight routes across the region that are largely segregated from passengers.

SSRA Chairman Sir Alastair Morton, describing the ’Birmingham bottleneck’ as ’a major strategic issue’, said ’we have to find a way not only to ease current problems, but also to build in the capacity needed in the future as long distance, regional and local traffic all expand.’