Dismay at new delay in reopening Ebbw Vale rail line
Western Mail: Jul 19 2007
by Martin Shipton,
THE Assembly Government was accused of letting down one of Wales’s poorest areas last night as it emerged there will be further delays in reopening a vital rail link.
The reopening of train services from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff and Newport is seen as a vital ingredient in rejuvenating Blaenau Gwent’s economy.
It has now emerged that trains to Cardiff will not be running before December at the earliest, and a question mark has been raised about whether the line to Newport will be reopened at all.
In a letter to Blaenau Gwent AM Trish Law, Transport Minister Brian Gibbons has revealed there are “no firm plans to introduce a service into Newport”. That, he added, was a matter for Sewta, the South East Wales Transport Alliance, a consortium of 10 local authorities.
Mrs Law said she was shocked and dismayed by Dr Gibbons’s letter.
“We’ve endured delay after delay – and this really is one delay too many,” she said.
“We expected the Ebbw Vale/Cardiff service to be up and running this month but were then told that trains would need to run without passengers for three months to satisfy health and safety regulations.
“Now I have been told that the line will not be ready until December.
“Since I arrived in the Assembly more than a year ago, I have been pressing the former Transport Minister, Andrew Davies, for speedy progress to ensure that the Newport spur was ready in time for the Ryder Cup in 2010. It has never been suggested to me that the Newport link was in doubt, and I shall be writing to Sewta with a view to securing a commitment to proceed with the Newport service.”
In his letter to Mrs Law, Dr Gibbons said Network Rail had provided the Assembly Government with the indicative cost of installing a new junction at Gaer, to the west of Newport railway tunnel.
“This would enable the physical operation of trains between Ebbw Vale to Newport,” he said.
“The Assembly Government has commissioned Network Rail to scope its proposal in more detail so that a decision can be made on whether to invest in the junction.
“I expect Network Rail to provide this information within the next three months, and the decision will inform the preparatory work being undertaken prior to the re-signalling of the entire Newport area in 2009/10.
“At the moment there are no firm plans to introduce a service into Newport as this is a matter for Sewta to consider and prioritise accordingly in its Regional Transport Plan.
“The work that Network Rail is undertaking should be seen as a precursor to any decision about the provision of the train service to Newport.”
Richard Crook, project director for Blaenau Gwent Council, said, “The Council has a contract with Amey to complete construction (of the Cardiff route) by October 18.
“The council, through our consultants Capita Symonds, has not at this stage agreed an extension to this.
“However, we are aware that the contractor has had difficulties in addressing environmental concerns – including the presence of slow worms, a protected species –– and we are concerned that the date for completion may move beyond that agreed. The appalling summer weather has also been a factor.”
Sewta said it had already given the Newport route a high priority, and that the Assembly Government – which would fund the required improvements – was aware of that.
A spokesman said, “We welcome the announcement by the Minister of a firm date for the opening of the Ebbw Valley Railway phase one.
“The second phase is to run services into Newport as well.
“The Sewta board’s approved prioritised investment programme for rail was published in March.
“This will be an integral part of Sewta’s Regional Transport Plan currently being prepared.
“The programme envisages that a further £36m investment in the necessary rail infrastructure to provide an additional hourly service to Newport will be made in 2013 and 2014.”
Compare and contrast:
What the Assembly Government said in July 2006: “When the resignalling and major refurbishment of Newport Station by Network Rail is complete – currently planned for 2009 – it will be possible to run a hourly service from Ebbw Vale to Newport. Further works will be required to increase the service frequency on this line from one hourly to half hourly at an estimated cost of between £12m and £15m at some point in the future. But that work is not essential to enable a service to be run into Newport in 2009.”
What the Assembly Government says in July 2007:
“At the moment there are no firm plans to introduce a service into Newport as this is a matter for the South East Wales Transport Alliance to consider and prioritise accordingly in its Regional Transport Plan.”