Last week the Argus relaunched our Get Us Back On Track campaign, calling for the vital link between Newport and Ebbw Vale to be brought back into use. And yesterday it was announced the line will be brought back in 2021 as part of the new Wales and Borders contract. IAN CRAIG finds out more.

THE full details of the new Wales and Borders rail franchise, to begin in October, have been revealed - including the long-awaited restoration of direct rail links between Newport and Ebbw Vale.

The announcement was made yesterday, just a week after the Argus re-launched our Get Us Back On Track campaign, calling for the link, which has been closed to passengers since April 30, 1962, to be re-opened.

Under the new £5 billion contract, which will be run by joint venture KeolisAmey, the link will be re-opened in 2021, initially with one train an hour and later with two.

The company has also said it will spend £800 million replacing every single train in Wales by 2023, with half of these to be built in Wales - reportedly including at Llanwern-based CAF.

But, while the Argus is delighted by the announcement the link we have been calling for since 2002 is finally being restored, we believe 2021 is too long to wait. For the next three years passengers will have to continue either taking buses, going via Cardiff or driving. So we are saying the line should be brought back into use sooner than 2021.

Other major elements of the contact include the creation and operation of the new South Wales Metro.

The contract will also create 600 new jobs and 450 apprenticeships over its 15-year period, while all 247 stations in Wales will be modernised, with four new stations in Cardiff, including powering all through renewable energy.

The Welsh Government has said the number of services running throughout the country will have increased by 29 per cent by the end of 2023, while Sunday services will increase 61 per cent.

Fares will also be revamped, with some tickets on Metro services in the Valleys going down. And it will be easier to claim compensation if a service is delayed by more than 15 minutes.

Announcing the details of the new contract at an event in Cardiff yesterday, first minister Carwyn Jones said the announcement marked “a new chapter for rail services in Wales”.

“This is not only an important day for rail, but an important landmark for Wales,” he said.

And president of Keolis Jean-Pierre Farandou said the launch of the new 15-year contract, the first to be awarded by the Welsh Government, was “a new era for passengers and services in Wales”.

“We will help to make Wales more attractive to businesses and tourists, and we will use state-of-the-art trains to do it,” he said.

Meanwhile, chief executive Amey Andy Milner said: “We are committed to making Wales a global showcase for transport in the 21st century.”

And the Welsh Government’s economy and infrastructure secretary Ken Skates said: “We have an opportunity here not just to build a modern, forward-thinking rail system, but to use it as a tool to shape the future of the nation around it.

Speaking to the Argus after the announcement, Mr Skates said: “The Argus has long campaigned for this vital service, a crucial link between Newport and Ebbw Vale, and recently relaunched the campaign.

“I am delighted that campaign has been successful and I’d also like to pay tribute to local AMs Jayne Bryant and John Griffiths for their representations to me.”

He added he believed all the promises made in the contract were achievable, saying KeolisAmey’s bid had been “rigorously tested”.

Newport East AM Mr Griffiths was among those to welcome the news.

The Labour AM said: “This is very exciting news which will positively benefit Newport, with a promise of all trains being replaced by 2023, half of which will be assembled at Llanwern by CAF.

“I am especially delighted that we will finally see a train service between Newport and Ebbw Vale, with an initial half hourly service and a long term commitment to four trains an hour.

“The campaign to make this vital link operational has been hard fought and it is great that Welsh Government have recognised this, and it is included as part of the masterplan.”

And Ms Bryant said: “The establishment of this key transport link has always been a priority for me.

“It will reconnect communities, businesses and families from Newport to Rogerstone, through Newbridge, and on to Ebbw Vale, opening up new economic opportunities in our region.

“Having repeatedly pressed the case with Welsh Government ministers, Network Rail and the previous train operator I am happy that the cabinet secretary Ken Skates has listened and acted.

“Our persistence has paid off.

“However this is just one part of the South Wales Metro vision and I will continue to campaign for services that provide all areas of Newport and Caerleon with public transport fit for the 21st century.”

Welsh secretary Alun Cairns also welcomed the announcement of the new contract.

“Services operated under the Wales and Borders franchise are a vital component of Wales’ transport infrastructure serving thousands of commuters and passengers each day,” he said.

“It is essential that Wales has cutting edge transport links to move people to jobs, encourage investment and help grow our economy.

“Moreover, it is important that future investment provides visible and practical improvements to the rail travel experience on a franchise with the potential to grow transport links between England and Wales.”

The South Wales Metro is a key part of the £1.2 billion Cardiff Capital Region City Deal. And chairman of the deal’s cabinet Cllr Andrew Morgan, who is also leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, welcomed the announcement of the new contract.

“This contract is not only the largest ever awarded by the Welsh Government, but it is also one of the most important,” he said.

“We look forward to seeing KeolisAmey’s proposed solutions for the Metro and the wider region in more detail. This is a fantastic opportunity to create and deliver a transport infrastructure which supports the economic and social aims of the City Deal.”