Saturday, June 02, 2012

Acocks Green Railway Station

A very interesting meeting yesterday afternoon with representatives from CENTRO and Mott Macdonald, who have been retained as consultants on the project to improve the accessibility at Acocks Green Station under the long running Access for All programme, which was an initiative of the last Labour government. Since the original proposals back in 2007, the scheme has undergone some delays and they now at the stage where they are ready to put a preferred option to Network Rail for approval. I'm grateful to Julia at the Acocks Green Focus Group for arranging this meeting and there were a number of interested participants there, including members of the Arden Road residents' group and the Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum.

Sadly, I can't bring you pictures of the designs, but I'll try to summarise them.

Acocks Green station - street frontage
Option 1 proposed putting a lift into the main station building, just behind the street door that leads down to the platform (on the left of the picture), with the shaft dropping down to a platform extended under the station building and the lift requiring users to turn right in the lift to exit to platform level. There would be a new lift tower dropping straight down beside the stairs to the car park and the existing roof line would be disrupted over the platform lift as well, to house the machinery. The left hand entrance would be bricked up and there would be a 'pinch point' for users of the stair case.

This option would require closure of the station for some weeks and would also have to be done at times when the contractors could take 'possession' of the line to allow them to work safely when no trains were running, which would mean a good deal of expensive overnight working.

Although superficially attractive, this wouldn't be in keeping with attempts to preserve the street scene with a conservation area. Further, the risks involved with the construction - Victorian buildings like this were not built to modern structural standards and the work involved underneath the station building would entail quite high risks.The 'pinch point' at the top of the stairs was also a problem, as it would funnel users through a narrowed entrance and would be a hefty change for existing users of the station.

Acocks Green station - view of platform & car park
Option 2 would install a new crossing, with a lift tower rising from the car park just beyond the end of the existing stairs (shown to the right) and a footbridge across to a new tower on the platform, again just at the end of the existing stairs. There would also be a new walkway running out from the station building to join the car park tower allowing access from the road level.

The advantages of this is that it would not require closure of the station and the least possible disruption to passenger use. Effectively, much of the tower work is pre-fabricated and installed to the site as an item. There would be no effect on the street scene, as the only changes to the existing building would be to build a new exit out of the rear of the building to the lift tower. It would preserve the most attractive part of the station - the ticket office building and the platform level has already been updated with modern furniture, so the new additions would not be out of keeping with that part of the station.

Lift and footbridge at Canterbury West
These two pictures to the left show similar constructions already in use - but I would stress that this is for illustration only. No final design has been prepared.
Lifts and footbridge at Selly Oak station

Option 3 was actually the original proposal submitted back in 2007 and would require some fairly hefty reconstruction, with passengers entering the station as now through the street exits and all being directed to a new bridge walkway constructed on the rear of the building with a lift down to the platform at the end or a right turn down onto a new flight of uncovered stairs. Similarly, there would be new stairs built on the car park side, wrapped around a new lift tower. This would also require a long term closure of the station - for up to 14 weeks and would be dependent on line access as well. There would also be the same concerns about integrating with the existing Victorian build as with Option 1. Also, this option does not now have support from either Network Rail or London Midland.

The preferred option is the second one, with the new build directly onto the platforms. While the meeting was in agreement that this was the best of the three, there were a number of issues raised about the finish of the towers - should they be distinctive and modern, to demonstrate the best of how the Victorians built for rail and how we do it in 2012 or should an attempt be made to keep them in the same style as the current building? Should the bridges be open, enclosed or glazed, with the implications for cost and user safety? The current plans envisage either open or enclosed walkways, although we are assured that these will be 'winterised' to cope with bad weather.

The final design is yet to be prepared and I intend to ask the contractors to return to talk to us - probably at a Ward Committee meeting - prior to submitting a planning application. I've stressed that getting public support would be beneficial, as we are lucky enough to have a number of local groups that take a real interest in the development of our area.

The next steps is for CENTRO/Mott McDonald to submit this outline to Network Rail for approval, which should be completed by August 2012. The proposals will then be put out to competitive tender and the project should have a contractor and detailed plans prepared for submission to Birmingham City Council by around Spring 2013, with construction likely in late 2013 or early 2014. Work has to be completed by May 2014.

Whatever happens, I'll keep you up to speed on how things progress.

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