Overnight Train Service To Birmingham Airport
Assessing the need
Birmingham Airport is expanding. £65 million is being spent extending the runway so that direct flights to destinations such as Tokyo, Johannesburg and Singapore can be offered.
Outbound flights, at present, from Birmingham Airport are scheduled from 06.00 to 22.05. Passengers need to arrive in time for security checks at least an hour earlier. For long haul, longer is required. Occasional flyers, such as for holiday flights, tend to need the reassurance of an even longer check in allowance, so they want to arrive at the airport very early.
Inbound flights are scheduled to arrive over an even longer period. The last scheduled holiday flight is 04.35 but flight delays can mean a scheduled late evening arrival is actually well after midnight.
When a passenger’s flight is suitable for public transport in one direction but not the other, or when the return is scheduled towards the end of the day and there is a fear of missing the last train, public transport is unlikely to be used in either direction.
The airport itself is a major employer. More than 7,000 now work there. The immediate vicinity has no housing so commuting is the norm. Almost all airport activities, operational and retail, are in full swing in the early morning before public transport is available, so a high proportion is commuting by private transport.
There is also an irregular demand for very late evening flows in each direction from the NEC. Fear that a performance will finish after the last train means that people go by road for their evening out. Improved public transport availability would also allow winers and diners to avoid drink driving fears.
Rail provision now
The up service at Birmingham International finishes early with the 00.05 to Coventry [23.53 from Birmingham New Street], then there is no train until Virgin’s first London train of the day at 05.40.
Towards Birmingham city centre, Virgin has trains at 00.21 and 01.24, but then there is no train until 06.05 [05.16 from Northampton].
05.40 [up] and 06.05 [down] is too late to arrive at Birmingham International for the first 18 flights of the day from the airport.
An all night service
It is possible to provide Birmingham International with an hourly service to and from Birmingham and Coventry through the night at minimal cost, using just one multiple unit and two train crew from London Midland. Two sets now stable overnight in Coventry Yard. It is suggested that the 23.48 or the 00.15 arrival at Coventry provides an 00.42 to Birmingham New Street [in between the last two down Virgin services], then hourly via Birmingham International. An additional 05.00 from Birmingham New Street, perhaps calling at Stechford, Lea Hall and Marston Green for airport workers is also suggested. This would be formed of the 04.50 empty stock from Tyseley to Coventry, retimed a little earlier. Also the unit that has shuttled between Coventry and New Street through the night runs at 05.33 from New Street, calling at all stations [except possibly Adderley Park] to International for workers on the 06.00 shift. At present this unit runs empty at 05.38 from Coventry to form the 06.17 from Birmingham International.
The suggested timetable below shows new services in italics.
Keith Flinders, Campaign for Rail
Campaign update - January 2015
As Birmingham Airport continues to grow, the number of flyers who cannot get to their morning flight by public transport increases. This has not been helped by the bus company’s decision to withdraw the direct bus link from Solihull station to the airport.
However Campaign for Rail met with Virgin who told us of its plans to run earlier and later trains via Birmingham International. The NEC is providing some of the impetus with a new casino opening. London Midland however does not have an employment structure for drivers and train managers to work night shifts, so with limited time left for the franchise, it is more likely to be addressed by West Midlands Rail, where local awareness of public transport needs will be greater.
Campaign Update - July 2015
The campaign is gaining momentum with positive comments received, including from within the rail industry. One such was that we should include more destinations than just Coventry and Birmingham New Street. The logic, back in 2012, was that just one unit and one crew would be needed, so it would be a low cost dipping of the toe in the water.
An early suggestion was to extend from New Street in a triangular pattern to Walsall, Wolverhampton and back to New Street. In the opposite direction, extending beyond Coventry draws in another big market. Night trains already are well established from Euston to Milton Keynes and Northampton. If the 00.34 and 01.34 were extended to Birmingham, not only would Northampton and Rugby have trains for early flights, but a large population south of Northampton would have easier access to early flights from Birmingham Airport than from Heathrow or Gatwick. Their custom would also help make the financial case for more night trains to the airport.
Calls by Stansted Airport for night trains to and from London prompted Campaign for Rail to issue press releases this summer, one in conjunction with Rugby Rail Users’ Association. They produced simultaneous articles in RAIL and The Railway Magazine, local newspapers and radio interviews.
From Northampton and Rugby, the first train of the day gets to Birmingham International at 06.04, before which the first three flights of the day have taken off. On Saturdays it is 06.45. Now that security at airports takes more time than it used to, arriving at Birmingham International two hours before take off is normal, but that means the first 29 flights of the day are not accessible by public transport.
Flight arrivals are all through the night, but the last train from Birmingham International to Rugby and Northampton leaves at 23.20. After it has gone, on a typical night 17 flights are due to land.
Currently, the detail of the direct award of London Midland’s franchise extension is being discussed and West Midlands Rail is already thinking about the pattern of services it wants to see if rail devolution is successful. Now is the time for Campaign for Rail to influence those decisions.