Don't miss October 2014 edition of Hornby Magazine and the feature article on Oakenshaw - OUT NOW and Available from all good newsagents from Thursday 11th September
The rail service to Redditch is known as the Cross City line as it crosses Birmingham City Centre. It was formed by the linking of the former Midland Railway line from Redditch to Birmingham line via Selly Oak and the former London and North Western line from Birmingham to Lichfield. The £7.4 million Cross City line was sanctioned in May 1975 and launched on 8 May 1978 between Longbridge and Four Oaks and was a creation of the West Midland Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE). WMPTE was formed as a result of the 1968 Transport Act to co-ordinate public transport in the West Midlands County. As part of the requirements of the 1968 Transport Act the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority produced a public transport development plan. This proposed a major role for the Redditch to Lichfield rail line. In 1972 WMPTE started to fund local rail provision and specifies the level of service it requires and as it was then British Rail and now the privatised successor Central Trains provides it. WMPTE makes up the operating loss.
In the mid 1970ís WMPTE took the opportunity to use European Funding to off set the capital costs of creating the new infrastructure for the Cross City line. On the southern section of the line new stations were provided at Longbridge and University (the latter station was officially opened as part of the project). At the same time the station at Five Ways was reopened (it had closed in the 1940ís) and the ones at Northfield, Kings Norton, Selly Oak and Bournville benefited from rebuilding. All the stations have a common architecture. A 15 minute frequency was provided from day one on Monday May 8 1978 using Class 116 Diesel Multiple Units most of which had benefited from mid life refurbishment. The only station on the new Cross City line to be officially opened was University which, was the only totally new station to be reconstructed (Longbridge station was relocated and Northfield gained new platforms on the slow lines) Services to Redditch continued at that time as a "Paytrain" commuter service. The Redditch branch from Barnt Green to Redditch had survived a number of attempts to close it the last being on 9 August 1965. The previous year the experimental hourly DMU service that had started in April 1960 was withdrawn. In May 1980 history repeated itself and following pressure by the Hereford and Worcester County Council, Redditch Borough Council and Redditch Development Corporation a new hourly experiment service to Redditch was introduced with the County Council off setting the losses. Usage of the service grew steadily so that by the 1990ís the line was benefiting from not only a half-hourly daytime service but also both an evening and Sunday facility that had been introduced in May 1989.
The WMPTE which had by now adopted the corporate name Centro had attempted to get the Cross City line electrified for a number of years. Various ideas were looked at including electrifying just the line within the West Midlands and providing diesel linking services to both Redditch and Lichfield. A break through came in 1990 when it was found that by the use of regenerative braking on the trains would theoretically put electric power back into the system. In simple terms when the brakes are applied the electric motors on the electric train run in reverse and act as generators. Using this system and a new design of electric multiple unit (now known as the Class 323) a financial case to electrify the whole Lichfield to Redditch line was drawn up. After months of waiting for a decision it was made on 7 February 1990 by the then Transport Minister Cecil Parkinson coincidentally during the campaign for a by-election in the Lichfield constituency. The first electrification mast first planted at Erdington on 20 May 1991 and electric services started between Birmingham New Street and Lichfield on 30 November 1992. Significantly the 1000th electrification mast was planted at Redditch at the most southerly point on the electrification project. The whole line from Lichfield to Redditch was energised on 6 June 1993 after the use of a Class 86 electric locomotive on the Redditch branch as a load bank tester to ensure the system could cope with current draw by the trains. Electric services finally started to Redditch on 12 July 1993. Initial problems with the new Class 323 electric units meant that older Class 304 and 310 units were retained together with some of the DMU reformed to remove the trailer cars so that they could theoretically run to electric train timings. A number of Class 308 units which were basically the same as the Class 304ís were drafted in. These units were in the process of being refurbished for the Leeds and Bradford electrification project and ran in the West Midlands in West Yorkshire PTE Metro Red and Cream livery. It was not until 1994 that full Class 323 started.