Network Rail warned the Football Association about engineering works planned on the West Coast main line for Easter 2022 as far back as 2019 amid widespread criticism that the works clash with the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley stadium on 16/17 April.
The Mayors of Manchester and Liverpool have called for the match to be relocated to enable fans to travel by rail to the game.
In a letter to FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham of 24 September 2021 seen by Modern Railways, NR Managing Director, North West and Central Region Tim Shoveller wrote: ‘I write to raise serious concerns about the 2022 FA Cup semi-finals dates you recently announced. These dates clash with Easter railway upgrade work on the West Coast main line which Network Rail has had planned for two years. We first alerted the FA about this work in November 2019.’
Between 15 April and 18 April, no trains will run south of Milton Keynes on the WCML, with work undertaken including supporting projects such as High Speed 2, East West Rail and the M25 Gade Valley viaduct.
Mr Shoveller continued: ‘By planning many years ahead, and by keeping important stakeholders, like the FA, informed, we seek to find the least bad time to do our rail upgrade work.
‘In this instance we painstakingly agreed these dates with train operating companies and third-party suppliers. Having first alerted you in November 2019 to our Easter 2022 plans, we continue to ensure the FA is informed of all our upcoming engineering works via our forward-planner, which is circulated on regular basis. In the lead-up to the Euros earlier this year, we again highlighted that the West Coast main line would be disrupted over Easter 2022. We had hoped the FA would bear in mind our work when setting its fixtures, but it appears you did not.
‘Unfortunately, we are not able to change the dates of this work to accommodate the thousands of fans who could potentially be travelling by train that weekend to see the FA Cup semi-finals.’
He added that if the match is not relocated, alternative routes will not be able to cope with the volume of passengers. ‘This will force people off trains and into cars, which will generate inevitable negative media coverage. It will also make our organisations look like we aren’t joined up. This is even more frustrating for me as we have made every effort to be joined up with you,’ wrote Mr Shoveller.
The other semi-final that weekend is between London clubs Chelsea and Crystal Palace, which will be less affected by engineering works.