So, it’s here, after years of demolition and construction whilst still operating the main railway station in the country’s second city. The new New Street Station or Grand Central as the complex is called. This depends I guess on whether your are referring to the train station with a shopping mall attached or a shopping mall with its’ own train station. And here lies the problem for me. It has to do both. And I am not sure if it does itself justice.
Don’t get me wrong, its’ scale is hugely impressive and a FANTASTIC exterior. Inside, its’ almost cathedral like appearance hits you once you are in the middle under the equally large and impressive glass roof. But, and there is a but I’m sorry to say, it only works on some levels. Literally. The flagship John Lewis store is fantastic. The biggest outside London. In fact nicer, better and more impressive than its’ London parent. The balcony area outside the store with all the other smaller stores is also very good, and the view down across and onto the concourse also impressive.
Down on the concourse though looking up I cannot help but feel unimpressed despite the open “sky”. The glass roof, meant to let the “right” amount of light in is grand, but makes for a “matt”, dull and dreary environment I think. On a bright sunny day, the only feeling I get is one of cold, impersonal and dare I say it, soulless atmosphere. This becomes even more obvious if you walk across the road to the Bull Ring. The ceiling here is as if it almost does not exist; the sky is so clear and the blue is BLUE and the clouds WHITE. The Bull Ring in contrast also felt much more intimate despite its’ large scale and buzzing and almost FUN, a word I would not normally use about shopping or a mall. (I think I need a lie down)
Anyway, back to Grand Central. John Lewis fab, the general shopping area very good and I guess “worth it”. So what about the station?
So, it’s the same space so there is no denying the impressive scale. What IS disappointing though is that after all this time and all the work, the platform re-construction was not completed in line with the rest of the complex. I don’t get it. Thousands of people arrive at the station every day and arrive, on shabby and at best half finished platforms. What has been done is good, such as the new escalators, but much of the problem with New Street remain, and I don’t see how it will change. Many areas of the platforms are still very constricted and tight for space and there is just a huge melee when leaving or boarding the trains. There is simply just not enough space for passenger stepping down onto the platform with the hordes that are waiting to get on. Try using 12B for example where the trains stops at the absolute narrowest point.
And now for my biggest gripe. As New Street is now a station AND a mall in one, what happens when using it as an interchange? Well first of all we now have automatic barriers rather than people checking tickets. Not a problem in itself if there were enough gates, the entry and exit programmed the “correct way” for the direction you are travelling and the tickets worked each time. So far I find they don’t about 25-30% of the time. This is no good when you are rushing for your connection. And from gripe I move on to HATE. If you are unlucky enough to to have to change platforms from a high number, “A” end to a low number platform also on “A” end on a tight schedule; forget it! This might have been possible in the past but not today. Now you have to get up onto the concourse, go through the ticket barrier, run across the path of shoppers entering or exiting the station and then go back through another ticket barrier and then run for your life down the escalators again. I have lost count of the number of times that this has now been the end of my day. The next connection being from MOOR street.
Then again, at least I get to walk through the Bull Ring!