Tuesday, 10 January 2017


Occasionally if you look very quickly on Newport Station, you may see the platform indicators flagging up an Ebbw Vale bound train. This may be the closest many rail passengers will come to seeing a ghost train. Despite regularly oft-repeated promises from the Labour in Wales government in Cardiff and more locally elected Labour in Newport representatives, there is no sign any time soon of a permanent rail connection between Ebbw Vale and Newport.

Nothing to see here... move along...

Since the Ebbw railway line reopened in 2008 and the new rail service failed to connect to Newport and the rest of the south east a variety of lame excuses have been offered which barely conceal that fact that the Welsh Government has been dragging its feet. Ironically periodic upgrades to track and signals in and around the Cardiff area meant that services do actually occasionally start and terminate at Newport.

The failure to connect the Ebbw vale line to Newport meant that commuters who live in the communities in the Ebbw valley are unable to travel directly to Newport by train and have little choice but to use their cars. They have been denied the opportunity of catching connecting trains to Bristol, Cheltenham, and beyond as well as travelling slightly more rapidly to Cardiff in the morning and back again in the evening.

This was simply a bad short sighted decision that resulted in commuters having little choice but to choose to drive to work. This lack of an easily accessible alternative helped to feed congestion on the M4. If we are lucky at some as yet undetermined future date the Ebbw vale link may actually begin to benefit those commuters who daily travel east to and from work.

What seems to be missing here in Wales is any real element of reopening old (or building new) railways as has happened in Scotland. In Wales in the last seventeen years there have been two successful railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (which re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (which partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008).

The reality was that these were largely administrative rather than legislative projects, and but for the existence of the National Assembly it is unlikely that they would have been hauled up from where they lingered on Network Rails’ priority list.  The National Assembly, has been (with a few exceptions) been pretty muted when it comes to making the case for rail.

This has certainly not been the case in Scotland, where bills to reopen old railways have been vigorously debated, scrutinised, amended and passed by the Scottish Parliament. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our public transport infrastructure.

The Transport (Wales) Act, which came into effect in February 2006, gave the National Assembly powers if not the political will to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system. How much longer do we have to wait to see some vision? And some action?

In the meantime the largely non UK owned rail companies have been busy ramping up rail fares and quietly attempting to reduce rail services (they have been thwarted in the later endeavour by some well organised local pressure groups in the case of Severn Tunnel and Chepstow in South East Gwent). All of these things have been done with the tacit co-operation of various Westminster and Welsh Governments and the Department for Transport (in London).

Such duplicity can never been acceptable – it would be nice if the government in Cardiff woke from its self induced slumbers and took the long term view, and actually put its money where its mouth is and work to redevelop our rail services, boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales. To do this effectively Wales needs to have full control of its transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible and the franchise when it is renewed in 2017/2018 needs to be run on a not for profit basis.

The creation of a not-for-distributable-profit organisation to run Welsh railways is vital; profits would be available to invest in rail services. This could mean more frequent services in the South Wales valleys, more frequent journeys to West Wales and on the Cambrian line, as well as additional services between the north and south of Wales.

A Newport bound train from Ebbw Vale surely not?
This could also mean more investment in new rolling stock to help keep pace with increasing passenger demand.  Now, the clock is ticking as most of the preparatory work for the re-franchising needs to be undertaken during the current National Assembly term, so that a delivery model that is better suited to the needs of the people in Wales rather than the foreign state-owned railway shareholders dividend can be developed. 

Here in the south east, Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Severn Tunnel railway stations should be real local transport hubs, with fully integrated local bus services. Better facilities for passengers are needed and the provision of adequate safe secure parking facilities is urgently required.

A feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the railway line from Little Mill to Usk and the development of a new railway station west of the town of Usk would benefit local commuters and rail travellers and reduce congestion. The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic and timber shipments would also help. As would a realistically scoped feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads. 

Such developments would provide a regular rail service to local residents and reduce the ever-increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads. One real local priority is the completion of the final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport needs to be completed and railway stations at Caerleon (which has been in the UDB since 1986), it should not be a case of a station at Llanwern or Magor it must be both as they would all help to reduce road congestion.

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