Birmingham International

Comprising five platform faces over 1000-feet in length and located eight route miles from New Street, this is a comparatively recent station. Birmingham International formed part of a major development project in the Parish of Bickenhill - located on the south eastern outskirts of the city - which included the opening of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), expansion of Birmingham Airport, and commissioning of the first section of the M42 motorway.

In the House of Commons’ Sessional Papers from 1976, the following was remarked:

On 26th January 1976, Birmingham International — the first new railway station to be built since early this century — became operational to serve the National Exhibition Centre. The station was formally opened on 27th September 1976.

The station was constructed at a cost of £6,000,000 (£43,500,000 at 2019 prices) upon what was a stretch of double-track line linking Birmingham and Coventry. The NEC was located on the eastern side of the station, sandwiched in-between the railway and the M42; it was opened by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd February 1976. The complex originally comprised seven exhibition halls totalling an area of 90,000 square metres, and in the year of the NEC’s opening 35% of visitors arrived by rail. At the time, it was reported that the area was 80 minutes from London Euston by the quickest train.

The station’s concourse was housed in a “high level” main building, measuring 180-feet by 215-feet, straddling the tracks midway down the platforms. The latter were each linked to the concourse by a series of escalators, lifts, and staircases, and a direct connection between the concourse and NEC was achieved through a fully enclosed footbridge.

Birmingham Airport resided on the western side of the railway, having opened as long ago as 8th July 1939. However, no direct link with the station was in evidence when the platforms were commissioned in 1976. This connection later came as part of the airport’s expansion - the NEC being a catalyst in a push to increase traffic at the site - and in 1980 a new terminal building was approved at a cost of £62,000,000 (£267,800,000 at 2019 prices). As part of the terminal project, a £3,000,000 Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) system was authorised, which would connect the airport with the railway station. The proposed Maglev was described in detail in the New Scientist’s issue of 14th July 1983:

Maglev vehicles sit on top of a concrete guideway. A magnetic levitation motor lifts the train clear of the central rail. On either side of the vehicle, two struts are also in magnetic contact with the underside of the track. These contacts balance the train and make it stable in high winds.

The Birmingham airport maglev will cost £3 million. It is a joint venture, involving BR, the People Mover Group, a private consortium, the West Midlands County Council and the Department of Trade and Industry. BR developed the maglev system, and is acting as technical consultant to the People Mover Group.

The People Mover Group is an off-shoot of GEC. It is paying about half the cost of the project, less a £325,000 grant from the Department of Trade and Industry. The People Mover Group is building the vehicles and control equipment. West Midlands County Council and BR are putting up the rest of the money.

Each vehicle will carry 20 passengers. The Birmingham route will have two tracks, with vehicles shuttling back and forth. The journey time for the 600-metre route is 90 seconds. West Midlands County Council hopes to test the maglev later this year.

The Maglev link opened to the general public on 16th August 1984. The system had little over a decade of use, Birmingham International Airport Ltd permanently closing it in July 1995. The high cost of maintenance and repair was given as a reason for abandoning the Maglev, and a House of Commons debate from 26th May 1999 mentioned that the redundant vehicles were still in store at the airport. After closure, a bus service maintained a connection between the station and airport, but by the end of the decade, the concept of another fixed link between the two had been floated. In the December 2000 issue of Air Pictorial, mention was made of the development of a cable shuttle between the railway and airport terminal:

Shuttle set for launch. Tests continue apace with the two unmanned people-mover (cable-liner) shuttle vehicles which will link Birmingham International station and Birmingham Airport from March 2003.

Austrian firm “Doppelmayr” was awarded the contract to supply the system, which comprised a double-track route of 585-metres in length. It followed the course of the defunct Maglev and was equipped with fully automated twin-car units. As per its predecessor, the journey time over the route was of 90 seconds duration, and it formally opened to the public on 7th March 2003. It was reported in the May 2003 edition of the Railway Magazine that the system had been branded “Sky Rail”, cost £11,000,000 to build, and was commissioned in conjunction with a £7,000,000 transport interchange at the railway station.

April 1985

Class 58 No. 58008, wearing Railfreight colours, is seen heading away from the camera in the New Street direction. At that time the Maglev connected to the "high-level" station building on the left-hand side of this photograph, where the glazed burgundy section is seen extending outwards. The latter was completely rebuilt as part of the commissioning of the replacement cable system, but otherwise the station remains little changed from the north westward view above. © David Glasspool Collection

21st March 1991

Class 87 No. 87029 "Earl Marischal", wearing InterCity "Executive" livery (minus brand name) and with BR Mk2 air-conditioned carriages in tow, had arrived from Euston. Next stop: Birmingham New Street. The concrete guideway of the Maglev system is evident in the background, on the right. In May 2009, No. 87029 was dragged to the continent via the Channel Tunnel to start a new railway career in Bulgaria. © David Glasspool Collection

12th June 2001

A two-day convention and exhibition for "The Institute of Logistics and Transport" at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, NEC (about 700-yards from the station), saw Class 92 No. 92031 marooned upon a short section of track in the hotel's car park. The conference took place on 13th and 14th June 2001, No. 92031 being named "The Institute of Logistics and Transport" on the first day to mark the event. Nos. 92001 and 92031 were the only members of the Class 92 fleet to receive EWS' red and gold livery. © David Glasspool Collection