A LONG-AWAITED new train service between Coventry and Nuneaton stopping at the Ricoh Arena has been delayed by more than a year, the Observer can exclusively reveal.
We have learned the new six-carriage bay platform at Coventry station on which the entire scheme depends – expected to be completed this December – has now hit the buffers and will not be ready until Spring 2019 at the earliest.
It is the latest setback for phase one of the so-called NUCKLE (Nuneaton, Coventry, Kenilworth, Leamington) scheme to at least double passenger trains between Coventry and Nuneaton and eventually to south Warwickshire towns – with additional trains stopping at Coventry Arena station at the Ricoh for matchdays and events.
Improving the service from the current one 75-seat train per hour has for more than a decade been billed as crucial for commuters, the local economy and city centre redevelopment – including the long-awaited Friargate business development outside Coventry station.
A trial of refurbished London Underground tube trains to deliver the Ricoh matchday and events service has also been shelved, after one caught fire in Kenilworth during a trial test run.
The so-called ‘D train’ trial has been suspended pending accident investigations by Warwickshire based provider Vivarail.
Those trials are not now expected to be completed before the successful bidder for the franchise to run future trains on the Coventry/Nuneaton line becomes operational in October. The franchise holder would have to decide whether or not to resurrect the D-train project amid a shortage of diesel rolling stock nationally.
And the completion of Kenilworth railway station has been delayed by six months until the end of next year, attributed to delays with signalling work.
Coventry City Council, Warwickshire County Council, the former passenger transport authority Centro, Network Rail and current train operator London Midland have been among project partners for the NUCKLE scheme, which secured £9.8million of government funding for new stations at the Ricoh and Bermuda Park.
We revealed a year ago that previous delays were attributed to delays in Network Rail carrying out the necessary track and signalling work, amid a spiraling of costs for procuring such work, in addition to the shortage of diesel trains in an era of electrification.
The bay platform at Coventry is needed to prevent the extra local trains delaying fast intercity trains on the mainline through Coventry station, and associated signalling work is required.
Work to develop a pedestrian tunnel under Warwick Road to link the existing listed Coventry station building to the new bay platform and a new ticket hall near to Central Six retail park is due for completion within weeks.
Asked about the latest delays, Colin Knight, Coventry City Council’s assistant director of planning, transport and highways, told the Coventry Observer an update will go before the council’s ruling cabinet on January 24.
He said: “We have repackaged everything and we want to be realistic about timescales. We wanted to do it by December 2017 but Network Rail have different ideas about timescales.
“We are looking at a much bigger package of work for the railway station. Bay platform delivery is a part of that and would be opening in Spring 2019.
“When we do jobs on our own roads we are masters of our own destiny and have more in control of the process. We are working with national body Network Rail and they’re working on the signalling process.”
Of the prospects now for having more than the current one train an hour stopping at the Ricoh station before Spring 2019, he said: “The bay platform at Coventry is needed to run two trains a day, although there is capacity for additional trains at the weekend when there are fewer freight trains.
“If we can run longer and bigger trains, that would help to carry more passengers. The D-train would have been a great interim solution and it still could be.
“Coventry station is still one of the fastest growing stations outside London. We need a bigger and better station and we are making that happen. Do things always happen as we would want them to? No.”
The wider Coventry Station Masterplan also includes a new footbridge, a new multi-storey car-park and a bus interchange.