COVENTRY could get new direct trains to Leicester and Nottingham and better links to other cities despite HS2 bypassing it, city leaders say.
But it would need Prime Minister Boris Johnson to back a £3.5billion Midlands Engine Rail project, they add.
Civic leaders claim improvements would increase the speed and frequency of existing services and reintroduce direct link between Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham for the first time in two decades, with new links from Coventry to Derby, Sheffield and Newcastle.
The first phase of the high speed HS2 project between London and Birmingham – subject to delays of up to five years to 2031 – is partly intended to free up capacity for other services on existing mainlines including the West Coast Mainline through Coventry.
But the government recently called a ‘go-ahead or cancel’ review of HS2, amid delays and expected costs rising to up to £88billion.
Coventry leaders have also long feared a reduction in services to and from London if HS2 goes ahead.
HS2 phase two, to Manchester and Leeds, is now expected to be delayed up to potentially 2040.
Coventry City Council claimed today: “Designed to be delivered in stages from 2022 to the completion of HS2 Phase Two, Midlands Engine Rail will provide a much-needed capacity boost for national, local and regional rail services, creating space for 736 more passenger trains on the network each day – 128 of these services will run in to and out of Coventry city centre.
“Coventry is one of up to 60 locations that could benefit from improved services, including Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Shrewsbury, Lincoln, Worcester and Wolverhampton.”
The Midlands Engine Rail project, launched today by Sub-national Transport Body Midlands Connect, comprises seven projects spanning the East and West Midlands.
George Duggins, Coventry City Council leader, said: “Coventry station is the fastest growing outside London and we recognise its strategic importance for our residents, visitors and businesses.
“It’s right that we campaign for more trains, more routes and more frequent services. In Coventry we will also continue to demand that we maintain three express trains an hour between Coventry and London.
“If Coventry is going to continue to grow, then direct rail links to the major cities of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Newcastle will be really important. The fact that we don’t have these connections already is a major gap in our transport network. Midlands Engine Rail will provide a step change in rail connectivity; it must go ahead.”
Over the past two years, rail passenger numbers have risen faster in the Midlands than anywhere else in the UK, the project claims.
Civic and business leaders are now calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to back Midlands Engine Rail, fund the next stage of its development (£45.5 million over the next three years), and to display the same enthusiasm for infrastructure investment in the Midlands as he has in the North.
Sir John Peace, chair of Midlands Connect and Midlands Engine said: “My message to the Prime Minister is clear; it’s time you made a long-overdue commitment to the future of our rail network. Ten million Midlanders are counting on you; invest in their futures, turn our vision into reality, back Midlands Engine Rail.”