PASSENGER trains have been seen running on the stretch of line between Ebbw Vale and Newport despite claims the signalling is hampering the link.
Network Rail say that major investment is needed on the signalling before trains can run, but insist it is suitable for driver training.
Railway enthusiast Ian Brewer of Melfort Road, Newport, said it is "interesting" that trains have been operating in and out of Newport, along the proposed link line towards the Gaer junction.
This empty passenger train (pictured) was photographed at the crucial Gaer Junction in the past few weeks in driver training.
The Argus has campaigned since 2002 for the Newport link to be opened at the same time as the line to Cardiff.
But Network Rail has insisted major resignalling works must take place before the Ebbw Valley Railway can be linked from the new Rogerstone station to Newport station - it says the signals must be
placed further apart for passenger trains than freight, as they move at higher speeds.
The points system at Gaer junction would also need to be replace to bring it up to sufficient safety standards, which would involve lifting and replacing track as well as fitting new systems,
Network Rail says.
It says signalling and points work will have to take place at "considerable expense".
However Mr Brewer, 68 said he questioned the stipulation that problems with signaling and points meant the line needed considerable work.
He said the fact drivers in training now use the line and points means he believes there is "no problem with signalling", "no problem with the pointwork" and he says there should not be a capacity
problem in Newport station as the new platform four is only used by two or three trains daily, and there is more flexibility on platform one as freight driver changing has been moved elsewhere.
He said he believes there "is no valid reason why the new link cannot operate to Cardiff via Newport."
Former bank worker Mr Brewer who has had a life-long interest in the railways, added: "It's unfortunate for those valleys communities and for Newport.
"Newport has always historically had the strongest link with the valleys ? not Ebbw Vale," he said.
"I think it's a stitch up - the Assembly has treated the link as very low priority and Cardiff has become the issue ahead of Newport."
A National Assembly spokesman said the link to Newport was a priority and added that the Assembly had commissioned work by Network Rail to establish the cost of the required works.
As we reported yesterday, there is also still no firm date for the Cardiff link to start taking passenger trains.
|'Upgrade costs considerable'
|Network Rail says it hasn't completed the costing for new signalling and points, but a spokesman said it would be "considerable".
"Currently empty passenger trains can use the line for training purposes, along with freight trains," he added.
"There are two completely different standards of signal for passenger and non-passenger services.
"Passenger services by law require much more complex equipment which would have to be further apart because the trains are faster.
"The standard for passenger services is far more onerous and the whole system would have to be replaced.
"We are currently upgrading all of our signalling across South Wales as part of a £400 million plan and works in this line would form part of this," added the spokesman.