Plans to bring rail services back to Darlaston and Willenhall after an absence of more than half a century have taken a major step forward. Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street announced today that seven acres of land in Cemetery Road, Darlaston had been secured – completing another piece of the land jigsaw required for the new station. The land has been sold by property developers and investors St Francis Group to the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). The new stations at Darlaston and nearby Willenhall are part of a wider £3.4bn investment in new transport schemes to be delivered by the WMCA over the coming decade.
This Includes new suburban rail lines and stations, extensions to the Midland Metro tram network, ‘Sprint’ bus rapid transit services, new cycle routes and motorway improvements. Street was joined by Cllr Mike Bird, leader of Walsall Council and WMCA portfolio holder for land and housing and Gareth Williams, development director of St Francis Group, to announce the land deal on the site of the planned station at Bentley Point.
The original stations at Darlaston and Willenhall were closed in 1965 and were located on the Walsall to Wolverhampton rail line which saw regular, direct services withdrawn more than a decade ago. But the WMCA’s recent Housing Deal with government will see a Land Fund of £100m to buy and clean up land, much of it focused on the Walsall to Wolverhampton corridor, delivering at least 8,000 new homes.
That regeneration, together with the new stations, is expected to generate the additional passenger demand to sustain the return of services to the rail line. The two new stations are expected to cost around £18m in total and could be open by 2021. A business case for the stations will need to be submitted to the WMCA board for approval but work has already been commissioned to look at possible future timetables for the line. The aim is to start with an hourly service between Walsall and Wolverhampton and another hourly service between Birmingham and Wolverhampton calling at Tame Bridge, Darlaston and Willenhall.
The governments emphasis on putting new trains on the network is ‘not sustainable’ for the industry, the head of a rolling stock group has warned. When the government awards rail franchises, it can reward bits that promise to introduce new fleets.
Trains can run for more than 30 years, so the replacement of relatively new stock leaves rolling stock companies with surplus of idle off-lease trains.
If they cannot find another home, they may have to be scrapped and written off. In 2014-21, 72,000 new trains came to the network, equivalent to half the current total stock, the rail delivery group has said.
Thanks to these orders, the average age of British trains will fall from 21 years in 2016-17 to 15 years but 2020-21, added the trade group. Porterbrook’s role in servicing and maintaining trains is initially diminished by a regular supply of new trains.
The company brought one-third of British Rail’s rolling stock in 1994, when the network was privatised in a move that split control between train operating companies, rolling stock lease holders and an infrastructure owner.
Porter brook has subsequently had several owners and is now owned by a consortium including insurance companies and the investment arm of EDF, the energy company.
At first, its main rivals were Angel Trains and Eversholt Rail, which bought the remaining two-thirds of BR’s stock in 1994. A “wall of capital in the infrastructure space” had since attracted other participants such as pension funds, which can undercut rolling stock companies.
Porterbrook had revenue of £477.2m in 2017, down from £487m the year before, although pre-tax profit was up 23% to £91.6m, mostly due to lower financing costs.