THE long-awaited passenger rail line between Ebbw Vale and Newport could be in operation by 2017 or 2018, an AM revealed yesterday.

Plaid Cymru South Wales East Assembly Member, Lindsay Whittle attended a briefing in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay on Wednesday given by Network Rail on its plans to meet rising demand for train travel over the next 10 to 30 years.

Lindsay Whittle said: "I’ve been told that signalling works to allow the link between Ebbw Vale and Newport have been completed and I’m expecting a decision shortly to commit funding to allow long passing loops to be developed on what is currently a single track line.

"This scheme would open the way for up to three trains an hour to run, with perhaps one of those trains running to Newport hourly.

"I’ve also been told that timetable planning has already begun at Network Rail for the start of services between Ebbw Vale and Newport in 2017-2018.

"The Argus has been banging the drum for this link for many years and this is great news for people living along this line."

Newport East Labour AM John Griffiths, who also attended the meeting, said: “It was a positive meeting we had. As I understand it, there will be further work done which will increase capacity on the line. That’s expected to be finished in about 2018. I understand everything is in place now for trains to run direct to Newport - choices could then be made to run some trains direct to Cardiff and some direct to Newport.

“It’s clear there’s a commitment to run passenger rail trains from Newport to Ebbw Vale and I think it’s very likely. My view personally is that needs to happen as quickly as possible. I don’t want to wait until 2018.”

We asked Network Rail if they were planning to start a rail link between Newport and Ebbw Vale.

A spokeswoman said: “We are doubling the track between Crosskeys Junction and Aberbeeg Junction, to enable the possibility of a more frequent service to run between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff in the future.

“This work is part of a project funded by Welsh Government that will also see improvements to Llanhilleth and Newbridge stations.”

They said decisions on future routes were up to the Welsh Government.