With considerable local fanfare, the new New Street Station opened to the public this week. The re-development is still only at the halfway stage but the changes visible so far have already made a surprising and positive impact on the layout of the city. I experienced this first hand on Monday morning when I got off the bus in front of the old main entrance (which is now a building site), and strolled down the new walkway for a quick nose around before heading north on another bus.
I expected the short walkway to deliver me inside the new station concourse, but as I neared the other end I noticed sunlight and buildings. When I eventually emerged on what I discovered to be Stephenson Street I stopped, genuinely amazed. Up until this point it had never occurred to me that the New Street entrance and the bottom of ‘the ramp’ were so close together, or even on the same level. The layout of the city as I’ve known it all my life had changed.
According to a friend of mine, who in a previous life was travel correspondent on The Birmingham Post, architects and council officials had been saying for many years that the New Street building was a barrier to pedestrian movement in the city. The appearance of this walkway absolutely proves their point.
I was suddenly filled with Brummie pride and in a moment I became convinced that we might finally get a train station that does the very thing that the old New Street had so miserably failed at: provide a decent first impression of the city. Having not previously paid much attention to the development (I’m not a train user, I’m a bus kid) I immediately became a convert and a supporter of the project, and that was a tremendous feeling to have at 8am on a Monday morning. Prior to this mind-bending trip through a wormhole the most exciting thing to ever happen to me at New Street Station was when I became close personal friends with Hollywood actor Luke Wilson.
I was on my way to the NEC to see Bob Dylan with a couple of friends, sometime in the early 2000s. My friends had already purchased their train tickets, so I was queuing alone to buy my own when an American man tapped me on the shoulder and politely enquired how he might get to the Bob Dylan gig. I explained that I was also going to the gig and invited him to follow me. He and I then strolled back towards my pals, who immediately blurted out, “Fucking Hell! You’re Luke Wilson!”, and then dissolved into sickening, fawning fanboys and started pawing at my new companion in a manner that made me really, really uncomfortable. Up until this point I had been unaware that I was helping out a famous person. I only really like films with lots of explosions and swearing in them, so I was not at all familiar with his work.
Anyway, we all took the train to the NEC together and my companions asked Luke Wilson several hundred thousand questions about films, and about other people in Hollywood. Gene Hackman is a total dude, apparently, whilst the biggest wanker in Hollywood is Ryan Adams. “That guy is a total jerk”, reported Luke Wilson, in between swigs from a can of beer we’d given him. Our conversation continued at the other end before Luke Wilson disappeared off into a VIP entrance, apparently forgetting in all the excitement to invite us to join him, or offering to buy us all a beer since it was now technically his round. Still, like I say, we all became BBFs, and he probably still talks about that night.
What I’m driving at here is that incidents such as this will quickly become everyday occurrences once the New Street redevelopment is completed in 2015, making Birmingham a sexy global metropolis at the top of everyone’s list of must-visit places. Brummies will quickly become accustomed to hanging out with Hollywood actors, TV personalities, and pop stars, sharing a joke with them along the wide open concourses and retail outlets of the new station. When you inevitably do find yourself rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, I have this advice for you: Always get them to buy the first round.