RAIL travellers in south east Wales are unlikely to see any “major changes” to services for up to five years, first minister Carwyn Jones has said.

The contact for running the Wales and Borders franchise, currently held by Arriva Trains Wales, ends in October, with a new contractor to run the service for the next ten years due to be named this month.

But, speaking in the Assembly earlier today, Mr Jones said, while some improvements would be seen shortly after the new contract is awarded, a "step change" will not come for "about four or five years' time."

The first minister was responding to questioning from leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies, who said: "People generally recognise that the last 15 years have been difficult, shall we say, because the last franchise that was awarded had zero growth built into it."

Mr Jones said: "People will start to see improvements in services very soon, certainly over the course of next year.

"But in terms of new trains, clearly, they take time to procure and build, and in terms of electrification, for example, in terms of new trains, in terms of looking to extend the current network, of course, that would take us into the early part of next year.

"People will begin to see changes early, but the step change will come, I suspect, in round about four or five years' time when people will see the roll-out of new trains and new modes of traction."

He added: "What we would look to see are new services and more frequent services, although not to say, obviously, with new trains at that stage.

"There's then the question of electrification and how that's rolled out, and then new trains being procured as a result of the electrification.

"So, people will see changes when the franchise is tendered, but the major changes are bound to come a few years down the line, as we look at changing the nature of the lines through electrification, as we look at new rolling stock.

"That's when people will start to really see a big difference in the quality of the trains."

Mr Davies also quizzed Mr Jones on when an announcement of the new contract would be made, to which the first minister replied: "There is no delay to the process, and we want to make the announcement as soon as possible."

Speaking outside the chamber, Mr Davies said he was concerned the new contract would be delayed.

“Passengers are justifiably expecting the franchise to put right the shortcomings in passenger services that have afflicted rail users in Wales for years, and there will be serious concerns if the handover to a new franchise is delayed and improvements placed on hold," he said.

Arriva, which has run the service for the past 15 years, had planned to bid for the new contract, which will also include building and running the South Wales Metro, but pulled out of the running in February. Abellio Rail Cymru also scrapped a bid earlier this year following the collapse of construction giant Carillion in January, leaving just two remaining bidders – French joint venture KeolisAmey and Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation.