I don't drive, so rely on the public transport network to take me where I want to go. One service I find particularly useful is the rail link between Walsall, where I live, and Birmingham New Street Station.
Walsall station is a small station, with three platforms. Most of the trains run along the main line that has Birmingham at one end and Stafford at the other. You can also occasionaly catch a direct train to London from Walsall at this station, as well as trains to nearby Wolverhampton.
The entrance to the station, as well as the ticket booth, are located in the Saddlers Centre, which is the main shopping centre in Walsall. There is also access to the platforms via nearby station street. You can buy tickets from the booth directly, or from a ticket vending machine located nearby. The ticket office opening times are as follows:
Weekdays and Saturdays: 05:45-00:05
There is good access to the platforms for wheelchair users or those with pushchairs, as there is a long ramp that runs down from the ticket office area to the platforms. There are also steps for those who wish to use them.
There is a seated waiting area, but it is quite stark and dingy. The area by the platforms themselves is, and always has been, very dark and would benefit from better lighting. Fortunately, you don't need to wait long, as the trains run very regularly. There are four trains an hour running south to Birmingham, and two running north. Some of the trains stop at all of the stations on the line, whereas others, described as "semi fast" only stop at one or two stations on the way.
The station is advertised as having toilet facilities, but I can't confirm or deny this, as I certainly have never seen them or had reason to use them! I know for definite that Marks and Spencers, which is next to the ticket office, has excellent toilet facilities, and I would be more inclined to use these if I really needed to go to the loo.
Because the station is small, it has not restaurant or cafe, although it does have a small shop next to the ticket booth that sells sweets and newspapers. The Saddlers centre has a couple of cafes within close proximity to the station, including Firkins and Druckers, for hungry travellers! There is also a Mc Donalds about 5 minutes walk away in Walsall town centre.
Information access is very good, with easy access to timetables, and lots of boards with up to date train arrival times flashing up to inform passengers of the latest information.
In conclusion, Walsall station may be small, but it is an appropriate size for the area it serves. It is located in a good central location, with easy access to shops and amenities. The main line has many places of interest to stop off at, including Stafford, Rugely, Perry Bar and Birmingham. The trains usually run on time and are clean and comfortable.
I usually buy a family ticket that gets me and the kids on all the trains and buses in the midlands area for £8.50.
Walsall can be a nice place to go for a bit of shopping when the hustle and bustle of Birmingham gets too much: it has a good selection of shops, but not so many as to be overwhelming. For those, like me, for whom driving is not an option, there's the choice of bus or train - but the buses from Birmingham, while frequent and reasonably cheap, are very slow, so rail is the best way to get there. Once you are there, though, it pays to be acquainted with the station, since although it's not large it does have one or two features which can cause a measure of disorientation.
There's only one station in Walsall, which removes one of the potential pitfalls you get when travelling to a new town: at least you're not going to end up two miles away, across a river and on the other side of a motorway, from where you thought you were going! However, Walsall station does have the drawback that it's not all that obvious from the outside, as it's built into the side of the Saddlers Shopping Centre. This is a nicely central location, right in the town centre and just a short walk from the bus station for onward connections. It's also within easy walking distance from the town's noted New Art Gallery.
This station is not the world's most attractive by any means. There are three platforms, with almost nothing in the way of facilities, and at one end they disappear into a gloomy tunnel under a concrete bridge; it's almost a home from home if you're used to the grot and dinge of New Street! Two platforms form an island, with the third on the outer edge of the station. You need to be careful here, as that platform's exit leads out onto a nondescript side street (turn right to get to the town centre) whereas from the other two there's an obvious exit up a wide flight of stairs. Unfortunately, after the shopping centre closes at 6.30 pm, the *only* exit open is the side one: you can still access the ticket office via the stairs, but you can't actually get out that way!
Assuming this is the way you're going, at the top of those stairs you'll find a small concourse area, only semi-separated from the upper floor of the shopping centre. The ticket office is staffed from the first train in the morning through to the last one in the evening, and there's also a ticket machine, some timetable posters and toilets. Use of those, though, requires a key obtainable from the staff and this is enough of a pain to get that you might as well use the free toilets elsewhere in the shopping centre itself. There are no ticket barriers at this station, so it's easy enough to pop out for that, or to grab some food from the Marks & Spencer - or Poundland, if that's more your thing! - just a few steps from the station exit.
Train services from Walsall are all operated by London Midland, and run southbound to Birmingham New Street (journey time about 25 minutes) and northbound to Rugeley Trent Valley (just under an hour). Until a year or so ago there was also a useful direct service to Wolverhampton, but a combination of poor timetabling, competition from slower but very frequent buses and a lack of advertising meant that it was almost always very lightly loaded, and it has now been reduced to a "Parliamentary" service: a very occasional train simply to avoid the expense and bureaucracy of formal closure procedures. For example, tomorrow there is one train from Walsall to Wolverhampton, and none at all in the other direction. It's not worth bothering with any more, which is very sad.
Despite that complaint and the uninspiring aesthetics of the place, Walsall station is not too bad as stations of its size go. It scores most highly for its convenient location, and it is very well connected to Birmingham for longer-distance travel. I wouldn't exactly call this station a tourist attraction, but it does its job competently enough for the most part.