FA Cup fans face train trouble

Nick Harris
Friday 14 March 2003 01:00

Fans heading north to next month's FA Cup semi-finals face travel chaos after Virgin Trains said yesterday that it will provide no trains. Specifically, there will be no scheduled services for Arsenal or Chelsea supporters going to Old Trafford for their game against Sheffield United on 13 April.

Virgin Trains also confirmed that Southampton fans heading to Villa Park the same day must not expect to use trains. Supporters will either have to catch slow replacement buses or divert via London, where they will share limited Birmingham-bound services with supporters of Watford, their opponents on the day. This is bound to raise security concerns.

None of Virgin's three London to Manchester services on 13 April will arrive in time for the 1.30pm kick-off involving Arsenal or Chelsea. This is due to engineering works at Euston station.

"We are advising fans that there will be no trains available to get them to the match on time so it will not be possible for them to travel from Euston," a Virgin spokesman said. A spokesman for the Football Association said that the winning club from the Arsenal-Chelsea quarter-final replay will charter private trains for their fans. Timings, prices and availability remain unknown, however.

Southampton supporters have been advised not to use the normal train route to Birmingham via Reading because of engineering work. Virgin said that replacement buses will mean "unavoidably extended" journey times and heavy demand would see people turned away.

The trainless train company advised Saints fans to travel first to London and then share trains north with Watford fans. Seat reservations are essential. Anyone without pre-booked tickets faces being refused access to travel.

"You are always going to get issues about transporting large numbers of fans around the country," an FA spokesman said. "Our primary concern is getting the right venue in terms of capacity and meeting the requirements of a 50-50 split. The key issue is to get as many fans as possible to see the games."

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