Thursday, 4 February 2016

Grand Central and Birmingham New Street Station

Saturday, 3rd January 2016 was overcast and wet but I decided to made a trip to the rebuilt Birmingham New Street Station now that work was complete and the associated 'Grand Central' shopping centre was open.

Preparatory work on this major project was started in September 2009 and three and a half years later some of the the facilities were brought into use. With temporarily-narrowed platforms and limited access between the platforms and concourse level, I found passing through the station uncomfortable, as I reported in an earlier report here.

Birmingham New Street half-rebuilt in 2013. All the services are in but the false ceiling is still to be fitted.

After a further two years of relative misery, the station was fully opened on 24th September 2015, after an expenditure some sources estimate at 750 million Pounds Sterling. Incidentally, when they did put all the false ceilings in, it's in the form of a series of vertical panels with 'wavy' edges. It appears that "modern architects abhor a straight line".

Grand Central, soon after fully opening, showing the 'wavy' false ceiling.

Birmingham City Council funded the rebuilding as part of the 'Gateway Plus' project but, in the meantime, a settlement of 1,100 million Pounds Sterling was awarded against the Council for equal pay claims. The National Exhibition Centre Group had already been sold for 307 million Pounds Sterling and now Grand Central is for sale.

Lead designer was Haskoll Architects and the site's 'Unique Selling Points' appear to be a reflective steel facade, a bigger concourse and, especially, 450,000 sq ft of shops. Back in 2012, the more modest claim was that the 'Pallasades' (the old shopping centre dating from when the line was being electrified) was being 'renamed'.

Grand Central, Birmingham New Street: The much-vaunted atrium over the main shopping area.

The railway station

The various street entrances now available and the larger concourse with escalators, lifts and stairs provided to the subterranean platforms are a distinct improvement but the 12 through platform lines are substantially unchanged. Since the station was rebuilt in the 1960s, there has been only one alteration to platforms - the creation of a short bay at the Wolverhampton end of platform 4 called platform 4c which is used by London Midland services.

Birmingham New Street: North end of platform 4 with bay 4c (used by 'London Midland' trains) on the left.

The main platforms are as uninviting as before, apart from the escalators, lifts and stairs plus somewhat better lighting and a 'paint job'

Birmingham New Street: Platform 4 looking south after the opening of Grand Central.

Perhaps I didn't see the outside of the station at its best (it continued to rain). The reflective steel facade is certainly striking in a 'gosh - an alien space-ship has just landed' sort of way, but it certainly didn't make me think "here's an exciting place to travel from - and I can shop, too!".

Grand Central, Birmingham New Street: The pedestrian entrance coming from the Bull Ring direction.

I also looked at the Hill Street pedestrian entrance. Plenty of shiny metal embraces the station but the retricted sight-lines give a rather muddled appearance.

Grand Central, Birmingham New Street: View from Hill Street.

There's a little more on Wikipedia about Grand Central here. The history of Birmingham New Street Station is also outlined on Wikipedia here.

There's a typically 'bullish' report from Network Rail here about the redevelopment and their information pages on the station are here.

The 'Midland Metro'

The railway station will be accessible from 'Midland Metro' trams once the line is extended from the present terminus at Snow Hill, along Corporation Street to New Street station. The 127 million Pounds Sterling project should have opened in 2015 but February 2016 is currently being mooted. The tram line will then be extended past the Town Hall to Centenary Square.

Grand Central, Birmingham New Street: The new tram lines in Stephenson Place, with the shiny cladding of the station on the right.

The real Grand Central

I couldn't resist this picture of the REAL Grand Central in New York, taken on my visit in 2007. There's a short report, with a link to my pictures, here, plus a bit on platform numbering here.

The Concourse at Grand Central Terminal, New York.

Related posts on this website

Walsall by Rail ( when the station was 'half-rebuilt')
9:17 a.m. to Birmingham

My pictures

West Midland Railways.
Grand Central, Birmingham New Street.

Book references

[01] ‘Birmingham New Street - Background and Beginnings’ by Richard Foster (Wild Swan Publications) ISBN 0 906867 78 9.
[02] ‘Birmingham New Street - Expansion & Improvement’ by Richard Foster (Wild Swan Publications) ISBN 0 906867 79 7.
[03] ‘Birmingham Railway Scene’ by C. C. Dorman (Town & Country Press).
[04] ‘Birmingham Railways in Old Photographs’ by Mike Hitches (Alan Sutton Publishing) ISBN 0-7509-0027-X.
[05] ‘New Street Remembered’ by Donald J. Smith (Barbryn Press Limited) ISBN 0 906160 05 7.