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Railwatch 080 - July 1999

South Wales

By Peter Clark

Ebbw Vale The feasibility study concluded that it is technically and operationally feasible to re-introduce passenger trains on the Newport-Ebbw Vale line without adversely affecting current freight traffic. Rebuilding a mile of track from Aberbeeg to Abertillery is envisaged, with a two-tier service such as Abertillery-Cardiff fast and Ebbw Vale-Newport stopping, with interchange between the two at a suitable point. A high-quality operation is considered essential to effect significant modal switch and minimise revenue support needed, thus stations and trains would be superior to those on the other Valley Lines. Particularly interesting is the recommendation to employ a "discrete operator", so that control remains in the locality and is not subject to "inappropriate external influences", rolling stock remains captive and "suitable wage structure" can be adopted. Funding is of course the key issue and, with the various options coming out at £26million to £38million, much work remains before trains start running. The high capital costs reflect the need to build back to Ebbw Vale town centre past the steelworks, and to re-double much of the recently-singled track in the valley.

Pontrilas station A well-attended public meeting in April re-affirmed local support for this reopening project. The immediate target is to secure Herefordshire Council's commitment to pushing forward.

Swan Line We wrote to both Wales & West and Welsh Office Transport Minister Peter Hain about the cutbacks in service due to start in September. Although these offer new through journey opportunities from local stations (at the expense of slower journeys for passengers to and from west Wales), the service will be virtually useless for local travel which was the original raison d'etre of the scheme. The replies from both were disappointing and give no grounds for optimism. Meanwhile, First Group lost little time in announcing their intention to "fill the gap left by the trains" by improving the express bus service between Cardiff and Swansea - which has not suffered the loss of passengers reported by Wales & West, perhaps because it is marketed better.

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