Perhaps the biggest change to Brum’s urban landscape in the past few years has been the overhaul of New Street Station.
The Gateway Plus project has really gathered steam this past year. What started as a few irritating road closures, has now become an obstacle course and wild goose chase with travellers having to contend with half of New Street’s concourse being shut down whilst the other half of the new concourse is now open to the public.
Every week seems to bring alterations and the development has allegedly been staggered in order to minimize disruption to rail users.
Yet in some respects, I feel that not enough attention has been paid to the needs of commuters. Comfort and speed have been left wanting despite their fundamental importance to rail journeys. Haven’t commuters in this country got enough to put up with from our rail services?
As a regular train user, I have twice contended with out of order toilets on my commute during the past month (thanks London Midland). Imagine that senario if you will, coupled with the present lack of toilet facilities at New Street. Commuters have to roam the increasingly rabbit-warren-like interior of the new concourse, past the old (yet still working) bathrooms (oh the agony) without the promise of directions until they alight at The Pallisades and their porta-johns. Which you have to pay for by the way (another terrible aspect of British railway stations).
Yet the spacious interior of the new concourse could surely accommodate such a temporary set up?
The outside of the new entrance looks like Marvin the Paranoid Android, the inside is, as many have commented, not unlike an airport terminal. Decide for yourself if that is a compliment Gateway Plus…
I’m not saying that New Street didn’t need this overhaul. The evidence to the contrary is stark; New Street earned the dubious honor of 2nd worst eyesore in Britain according to readers of Country Life in 2003, it is the worst station for customer service in the entire UK according to a BBC poll.
Need I mention the lack of an entrance on John Bright Street (the side of the city centre where most of its local commuting population are living), the subterranean fumes and darkness, the bottle-necking of trains entering and leaving the station. At least some of these concerns are being tackled, although mostly the aesthetic points rather than the structural.
Yet for all the shiny arrows, the snake-like pedestrian diversions add minutes onto the average daily journey. The two lines trudging in and out resemble the dystopian vision of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis for sheer dispirited spectacle.
All we can ask is that this difficult phase of the renovation process is swift.
I wish all the commuters out there zen-calmness this week.