Transport in and around Birmingham
Birmingham used to be the city of the car, to the extent that pedestrians in the city centre came a poor second. This is no longer true, Birmingham has inner and outer ring roads that keep traffic out of the way, an orbital motorway system so that passing traffic doesn’t even have to be near the city and a fully pedestrianised shopping zone. A combination of elevated highways and underground tunnels speedily carries traffic that does have to pass through the city centre away from the shopping and business areas. With its central location in the heart of England Birmingham is well served by road, rail, air and canal.
The city of Birmingham is ringed by a network of motorways, from which the city centre can be accessed. These are the M42 – to the east and south, the M5 - to the west and the M6 to the north. The junction of the M5 and M6 heading north had for many years been a cause of major delays as the motorways were carrying twice the volume of traffic they were designed for. The M6 Toll Road was opened in 2003 to relieve this congestion; it is the only toll motorway in The UK and runs for 43km (27 miles) from the M42 at Coleshill to the M6 at Cheslyn Hay. The main route connecting Birmingham and London is by using the M6 which joins the M1 near Rugby. Heading north the M6 continues on to Carlisle. The Gravelly Hill interchange is a route by which traffic on the M6 accesses the city. The interchange is known affectionately as Spaghetti Junction, due to the tangle of elevated roads and underpasses that make up the junction. Motorists new to Birmingham can be confused by the A38(M) at Gravelly Hill. It has seven lanes and operates a ‘tidal’ system in the middle-lane. If you have to travel through the city from north to south, using the Queensway tunnel system makes it an easy journey. A series of three inter-connected tunnels means you can avoid a whole lot of traffic trouble.
The main railway station for Birmingham is New Street, in the heart of the city. With a footfall of 35 million passengers a year it is the busiest railway station outside of London. Many train operators use the station, but Central and Virgin Trains are the two main users. Virgin operate the lucrative express London-Birmingham mainline route, the fastest journey time for this is 1 hour 21 minutes. Virgin also operates the main south-west to the north routes, many of which pass through and stop at Birmingham New Street. As well as operating local commuter trains Central run many other services such as those between Liverpool & Norwich and Nottingham & Cardiff. There are two other stations in the city centre; Moor Street (at the east of the city centre) and Snow Hill (at the north of the city centre) which are connected by a railway tunnel. The main train operators from these stations are Central and Chiltern Railways. Central Trains again run local commuter services, as far as Worcester, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Wolverhampton. Chilton Railways operate a service that runs to London Marylebone; this is a service that stops frequently with a fastest journey time of 2 hours 7 minutes. Most journeys begin at Snow Hill with the option of joining the train at Moor Street.
The main coach station in Birmingham is Digbeth, to the south of the city centre. The main coach operator from Digbeth is National Coaches who offer services to all other major towns and cities. whose main operator is National Coaches. The fastest journey time to London Victoria Coach station is 2 hours 50 minutes, but can cost less than £10 one way. Megabus, which operates from the city centre, offers a similar service.
Birmingham Airport is to the east of the city and is the fifth largest airport in the UK. 50 airlines operate out of it to over 100 destinations daily. The airport does handle inter-continental flights, however most flights are to and from European destinations. The airport also used by freight carriers and charter flight operators.
Birmingham has an excellent public transport system operated by Network West Midlands, which integrates public transport across the region. The city has a modern fleet of buses operated by Travel West Midlands that are able to utilise ‘bus only’ lanes on the main arterial routes, an excellent local commuter railway network that befits the second city and is only surpassed by London’s. Centro is the current operator of this franchise. The rail network is fully integrated with the bus services and many of the railway stations have free park-and-ride facilities. Midland Metro is a light rail/tram system that operates from Birmingham Snow Hill and Wolverhampton city centre, via Wednesbury.
It is a fact that Birmingham has more canals than Venice. Whilst still used to transport some freight around the country, they are now more likely to be used by leisure craft. Once the transport highway of the nation, Birmingham is at the confluence of 4 major canals; the Dudley & Stourbridge, the Grand Union, the Stratford and the Worcester & Birmingham canal.