Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Birmingham Moor Street Station

In 1908, the Great Western Railway opened the North Warwickshire Line giving an improved route from Tyseley to Stratford-on-Avon. In the same year, the state-of-the-art locomotive depot at Tyseley replaced the rather primitive locomotive shed at Bordesley. To relieve the pressure on Birmingham Snow Hill Station, a new suburban terminus, Moor Street, was constructed to handle the growing commuter traffic generated by the house building to the South of the City. See Wikipedia entry.

In the 1950s, when I first visited Moor Street, the station was still very busy at peak times. 'Prairies', in black with the original British Railways 'Lion and Wheel' totem, would come and go with maroon-painted slam-door compartment stock. A particular feature of the 3-platform station was the use of traversers to release the engine of each arriving train. These saved a lot of space, compared with the usual arrangement of engine release crossovers. After the engine of an incoming train had been uncoupled, it drew forward onto the traverser table and was moved sideways onto the adjacent line, which had to be kept clear to release the locomotive to the station 'throat'. Moor Street signalbox could then signal the locomotive back onto its train, ready to form the departing service. Great Western water columns were accessible from each platform to allow the locomotive to take water. The water columns were fed from the large water tank which survives. The platform starting signals were Great Western wooden-post types, with the distinctive mechanical route indicator. Moor Street was served by Up and Down Relief Lines, which had been added alongside the original Up and Down Main lines from Snow Hill. This necessitated doubling the width of Bordesley Viaduct which lay immediately South of Moor Street and formed a backdrop to Digbeth and Deritend. So, in addition to the trains to and from Moor Street, there was a steady procession of trains in and out of Snow Hill.

With the lack of foresight which seems to be a characteristic of most governments, Snow Hill and the Great Western through Route were abandoned for years. Moor Street staggered on for a while, terminating the local diesel services but, later, these were diverted to an already-overcrowded New Street Station. As a listed building Moor Street Station survived, quietly rotting away, whilst the Moor Street Station Society tried to promote its future use. Eventually, to relieve the pressure on New Street, a new, rather cramped, Snow Hill was built and the passenger service from Stourbridge direction through Snow Hill to the South was restored. A new Moor Street Station was built with just two platforms flanking the through lines from Snow Hill. Meagre station facilities were provided in the modern, brutalist style. The original Moor Street station, with its terminal platforms, remained unused. After a runaway bus caused significant damage to the listed Moor Street station buildings, demolition was threatened.

Salvation came with the ambitious plans the re-develop the Bull Ring area. In some measure of compensation for egregious constructions like the modern Selfridges, money was provided for restoring the original Moor Street Station and incorporating the concourse and facilities so as to provide a more suitable approach to the new through platforms. At the same time, the awnings, footbridge and signage of the through platforms were modified in a semblance of how the Great Western might have done it. Accessibility needs and modern Health and Safety requirements mean that the result is a bit of a pastiche, but the overall effect is fairly satisfying. I have to admit that the cosmetically-restored locomotive 2885 standing in the old platform 3 (now platform 5) quite looks the part when viewed from the concourse, as I hope the heading picture shows. Whilst the Vintage Trains subsidiary of Birmingham Railway Museum Trust had hoped to actually restore train services to the terminal platforms, the Railtrack costs proved rather eye-watering. Let's hope that Chiltern Railways have more success in their initiative to secure re-use of the terminal platforms.

In June 2008, the centenary of Moor Street was commemorated by a 'Railway Fayre' held on the terminal platforms. At the same time, Tyseley Depot held its own event - 'Tyseley 100'.

Alan Bevan has compiled a book 'The story of the North Warwickshire Line 1908-2008' for the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group.

My pictures of Moor Street and the 'Railway Fayre'.