Everybody is aware by now of the situation with the Arena Station – how a combination of Network Rail’s de-prioritising of the signalling and track work needed to enable shuttle services to run to Ricoh events, and the inability of London Midland (LM) to provide sufficient rolling stock for such a shuttle service in any case, have left us with a state of the art station that is not fit for purpose on busy match days. The hourly one coach train service to and from Nuneaton will call at the Arena on match days before kick-off, but will not call for an hour or more after the final whistle because of train capacity problems. According to a letter from LM in response to a query from one of our members, ‘…this position will remain until Wasps, Coventry City Football Club or events’ sponsors charter trains.’
This mess highlights the complex state of affairs left by successive reorganisations of the rail system in this country. Who precisely is responsible for this? Network Rail, who look after rail infrastructure or LM, who actually operate the trains?
We do have an early opportunity to lobby for improvements to the rail service. The Dept for Transport and West Midlands Rail are starting the process to select a rail company to take over the operation and development of rail services and stations in the West Midlands franchise area, which includes the Arena Station, from October 2017. As part of the consultation process they are holding public meetings at railway stations in the LM area. The Coventry station meeting is on Weds Feb 3rd from 15.30 to 18.00. Trust board members will be attending that meeting to lobby for a decent rail service to use the brand new station properly, to help ease traffic congestion on match days.
But the station controversy highlights another public transport problem that affects the increasing number of fans attending CCFC’s matches at the stadium – the total failure of those organising the public bus service to recognise that such matches are actually taking place! Despite the return of the Sky Blues to the Arena, the dedicated bus service from Coventry station via Pool Meadow direct to the Ricoh on match days has not been reinstated. Instead, fans using public transport are simply expected to get two normal service buses from the station to the Stadium, running to their normal daily timetables – and one of the recommended services is the legendary Number 5, a service especially designed for those who want to combine their match day experience with a scenic tour of North Coventry, an opportunity to finally finish reading War and Peace and a brisk half mile walk to the stadium.
If going to the match by bus or train can be coped with by fans once they have got used to arranging their day around it, then returning from the match to the City Centre or the station is an entirely different matter. Fans naturally all leave the Ricoh at the same time and there is no train service. So they are left to make their way over to the Foleshill Road and queue for anything between 15 and 30 mins, in order to flag down one of the few, usually single decker, buses that are in and around the area at that time. For night matches, this situation is truly intolerable. On the evening of August Bank Holiday last nearly 13000 fans attended the match against Southend to be faced on departure with a dwindling bus service operating to a Sunday timetable. The night matches against Crewe and most recently Walsall in the pouring rain were nearly as bad.
Contrast this with Colchester United, a club with modest crowds, half that of the City, that not only runs a continuous shuttle service to and from their out-of-town stadium, but even has a bus to drop home fans off at various pubs around the town after the game!
To date, CCFC’s only response to the problem has been to be to offer to advertise on their website bus services that fans organise for themselves. No one is asking CCFC or ACL to provide a free bus service, just to use some of their muscle to get National Express to at least experiment with a match day service from the centre once again. Whether this will be done is a question we asked at the Supporters Consultative Group and one which we have recently raised with, and had acknowledged by, the club’s senior management. We will continue to press for answers on your behalf.
The Trust also intends to:
1. Ask the bus operators directly to show some entrepreneurial spirit by providing new, dedicated bus services to and from the Arena on match days. Matches never take place during the commuting “peak” and so buses should be available. Of particular importance is a direct service linking the Coventry Station, Pool Meadow and the Arena.
2. Ask Network Rail to provide significantly more information for people arriving in Coventry to attend matches (and other events) at the Arena, helping them to use buses, or trains when available, to get there.
3. Ask Centro, otherwise known as Network West Midlands, (the public body responsible for public transport services in the area) to use its influence with public transport operators to provide better services on match days.
4. Ask CCFC, Wasps and ACL to work with the public transport companies to improve access for all events at the Arena.
We’ll be keeping you posted as to the outcome!