BIRMINGHAM NEW STREET
is the heart of the Midlands railway system, but not its best advert
due to the area's track layout, which - even after recent improvements
- is badly in need of further work to cope with the demands now
placed on it. In fairness, increasing the line capacity would cost
serious millions, be an operational nightmare at rail level, and
probably a serious pain at street level as well, while it was all
going on. But we doubt if the railway service is fixable until it
The upper levels of the station are still reasonably modern and
ritzy, but the platforms lie in a miserable concrete cave beneath
them, with too few seats for the number of passengers often waiting
there. (There are waiting rooms, but passengers hog the platform instead, probably to improve their chances of getting a seat when the train arrives.) Worse, the pressure on the station means that any delays in trains en route
to New Street can cause last-minute platform changes announced over
the public address system, and a mad scramble to get to the new departure point against a tide
of passengers who just got off the incoming train. This is compounded by relatively narrow stairways down to platform level. There are
escalators as well, but mainly for upward movement, hard to squeeze past on - and not always working.
On the positive side, you can get to almost anywhere from here; buses and taxis are adjacent to the station, and
the centre of Birmingham is just outside the doors. If you're leaving from Birmingham but not yet ready to join
the cave dwellers, train information is displayed at the right hand end, above the news/bookshop, and there are several choices
of quick if somewhat pricey food sellers. If you've really got time on your hands, you'll find the Pallasades
shopping centre just an escalator (or staircase) away.
Lifts are available just off the concourse. Go out through the exit doors either side of the bottom of the
escalators and turn under them. Two main lifts a short way apart give direct access to platforms 6/7 and 8/9,
but also drop further to a subway level that serves all platforms. You can exit there and go a short distance
in the direction of your platform, and get a lower lift up to the platform you want. It's not posh, but it's
easy, very well-lit, and the lifts are large. The only drawback is that you are at the east end of the station
platforms, and may have to go some distance to reach a train standing at the west end.
Birmingham New Street, like most large stations, operates its long platforms as two halves, 'a' and 'b' (but note a recent bay added at the west end as platform 4c). The east end is 'a', where the lifts give access. The access corridor from the concourse is roughly where 'a' becomes 'b'. Virtually the whole station is under cover. This includes the area between the passenger bridge and the access corridor, which is built over to provide building and parking space above.
Finally, there is a second ticket office in Navigation Street with several street and arcade links from New Street (the namesake city street) to Stephenson Street. This approach is also convenient for the car park entrance. The ticket office gives access via the overbridge shown at the western end of the station (though not directly to platforms 1 and 12). But this is not the best exit to use during a fire alarm, as idiot passengers bunch up against the railings outside, preventing those still on the overbridge from getting out.
Note that the station's track layout has been simplified in the main diagram, but all platform tracks are shown.