After 6 different opening dates, the new service at Kenilworth station finally started on 30 April – good news for frustrated Kenilworth residents at last. However the delays and cost overrun does raise the question of whether local authorities are yet equipped to manage rail development projects.
After months of delays, January 2016 was the last time Coventry rail passengers hung out the bunting for the opening of a new station in the area – Coventry Arena. A station specifically built to serve the adjacent multi purpose arena, but trains were not allowed to stop there an hour before and after matches because of safety concerns. This was part of the Coventry City Council led Nuckle phase one project - see White NUCKLE ride.
Roll forward a couple of years to phase 1.2, the eventual opening of a new station in Kenilworth, this time the project being led by Warwickshire County Council (WCC). Planning permission for the station was originally granted in 2011 for a two platform station, on the basis that the whole line from Leamington Spa to Coventry was upgraded from single to double track, as part of NR’s ‘electric spine scheme’, (the local authority cannot be blamed for that not happening ( yet ??), with an anticipated completion date of December 2016. An original funding budget of £11.3 million was set up with contributions from WCC, Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), and the Department for Transport’s New Stations Fund.
The local authority originally claimed the building was complete in September 2017, but refused to say why it hadn’t opened, nor when it would open, in fact their silence was deafening. From a personal inspection that same month, from outside the perimeter, it was obvious to any casual observer the building was nowhere near operationally complete. Amazingly, just before Christmas last year, the local authority issued a press release blaming the continuing delays on the DfT for not having the rolling stock nor drivers to operate the Coventry – Leamington hourly service!! West Midlands Railway (the new franchisee) already had this in hand. Perhaps the local authority was asking the wrong questions of the wrong organisations, if in fact they talked to anyone at all. Following further ‘missed’ proposed opening dates, it transpired that the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) had never received a request for the relevant authorisations. WCC only announced on 20th March that they were submitting the relevant paperwork to the ORR that day. The ORR processed the application very quickly and ‘conditional’ sign off took place on 22nd March, with the single platform station opening and services commencing on Monday 30th April.
So, 53 years after the last train departed, seven years after the green light, 15 months late, £2+million over budget, Kenilworth residents now have their sparkling new half station. A six day a week hourly service to Leamington & Coventry (extending to Nuneaton in December) is provided by West Midlands Railway. Warwickshire County Council has agreed to pay West Midlands Trains an undisclosed one off subsidy to offset any initial operating losses. Next step is for WMT to find the rolling stock to provide a Sunday service. Can a half hourly service be justified in terms of passenger demand, time will tell. With frequent XC and freight operator’s services using the single track, I doubt whether the paths will be available. Currently when the single class 153 arrives at platform 4 in Coventry, it has to reverse into sidings to allow the following northbound XC service use of the same platform, and then proceed to the same platform to form the return service.
The last phase of the Nuckle project includes construction of a new bay platform at Coventry, together with additional station entrance, multi-storey car park, bus interchange etc. The challenge here for Coventry City Council is to get this completed in time for their City of Culture Year 2021 – or will visitors approach the city via a muddy building site!!
There are other stations being actively considered for the area. The big question is whether local authorities which lead such local rail projects have learned from their mistakes, and will they be more transparent in the future??
Incidentally, Kenilworth can act as an economic park and ride for Coventry. The cost of parking at Kenilworth is £2 (yes two pounds) per day, plus an Anytime Day Return of £3.60 to/from Coventry, compares very favourably with the £12 fee for parking at Coventry itself. The journey is only 8/9 minutes!!