What's in a name? Birmingham Airport and NEC battle over what International station should be called

Network Rail's director to reopen files on battle to rename station, having previously rejected the plan due to estimated £1m cost to replace signage

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The Independent Online

It is Britain's second city with a third-rate reputation. And while Birmingham attempts to convince visitors that its £188m new library and the Bullring shopping centre are worth a trip to the West Midlands, its efforts are being hampered by the confusing names of its train stations. Visitors looking to discover the charms of the city have been left scratching their heads when stepping off the train at Birmingham International, only to find themselves eight miles from the city centre.

They have, in fact, reached the nearest station to the sprawling National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and Birmingham Airport, when what they wanted was Birmingham New Street. The confusion isn't helped National Rail Enquiries' refusal to acknowledge the existence of Birmingham Airport. It tells travellers: "Sorry, no station found."

Network Rail's director, Simon Kirby, agreed last week to reopen the files on the battle to rename Birmingham International, having previously rejected the plan due to the estimated £1m cost to replace signage.

Rail insiders have been left bewildered as to how "a man in a white van" and the limited upgrade of computer software necessary could reach that sum to change station names. Some experts now estimate it could cost £400,000, which is still considerably more than the "few hundred pounds" some believe the job should cost.

Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe has been leading the campaign to rename Birmingham International, arguing that he is in charge of the "best rail-connected airport in the country, but you wouldn't know it".

Mr Kehoe's neighbours at the NEC have snubbed his proposal to rename the station Birmingham Airport/NEC, while other opposition has left him baffled. "You would think I'm being heretical," he said. "You've got to put yourself in the consumer's shoes."

Yesterday, in yet another twist in the tale, the NEC said it might support a new name but only if it came first. The NEC's chief executive, Paul Thandi, said: "Should a new name need to be agreed, our preference would be for NEC/ Birmingham Airport."

West Midlands' business and public sector groups have pinned their dreams of economic growth on the airport and were buoyed when FirstGroup won the West Coast mainline franchise last year, having included the cost of the new signs in its bid. But their hopes were dashed when FirstGroup was stripped of the franchise because of "significant flaws" in the bidding process.

The Government's grandiose but much derided proposals for High Speed Two (HS2) could prove critical to this sorry rail tale. Mr Kehoe is suggesting that the city-centre station on that line should instead be called Birmingham International, to help foreigners looking to take advantage of HS2's connection with the Channel Tunnel rail link to reach Brum.

Network Rail has warned that those parties demanding the name change would probably have to foot the bill. And a spokesman warned that it would need "other stakeholders … most prominently, the NEC" to support the plan.