IMPROVEMENTS to rail services in Ebbw Vale have moved a step closer today, with the number of trains running between the town and Cardiff potentially set to increase.

Wales' transport minister, Ken Skates AM, announced the re-opening of a feasibility study into increasing the frequency of trains between Ebbw Vale and the capital.

When the study is completed, there could be up to four trains an hour on the line by 2024.

He also renewed calls for the UK Government to invest more in Wales’ rail infrastructure.

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council welcomed Mr Skates' announcement, with one councillor saying the news "matched aspirations to improve the economic prosperity" of the area.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh government confirmed the feasibility study will also examine the re-opening of the line between Ebbw Vale and Newport, for which the South Wales Argus has previously campaigned.

Last June, the Welsh government announced the line – closed to passengers since 1962 – would re-open in 2021 as part of the South Wales Metro project.

Currently, rail passengers travelling between Newport and Ebbw Vale must endure journeys of one hour and 25 minutes, including a mandatory change at Cardiff.

Speaking today, Mr Skates addressed the need for better train services to Ebbw Vale, and said the move was evidence of the Welsh government's capabilities – even when funding for Welsh railways fell short of the UK government's investment in other regions.

“Ebbw Vale needs a high quality and regular rail service – one that can support jobs, investment and economic development in the wider area," Mr Skates said.

“We are delivering a step change in the provision of rail services in Wales.

"Our investment through the Wales and Borders rail service contract and in the first phase of the transformation of the South Wales Metro demonstrate what the Welsh Government can deliver when given responsibility and funding.

“This is against a context for rail infrastructure delivery across Wales that is still unnecessarily complex, fragmented and underfunded.

"Current arrangements in investment in the railway in Wales are a reflection of the time in which they were created, predating devolution.

"20 years on, the secretary of state for transport in Westminster continues to retain control of railway infrastructure in Wales."

Mr Skates added: "We need fair funding from the UK Government - it must invest given its continued responsibility for rail infrastructure.”

And Blaenau Gwent councillor Dai Davies, who is executive member for regeneration, said: "We support today’s announcement by Ken Skates to re-open the feasibility study to improve rail services between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff.  

"Any plans to increase transport capacity so we can meet our aspirations to improve the economic prosperity for Blaenau Gwent and South East Wales region generally is welcome news.

"A more frequent and reliable service will open up more employment opportunities for local people and improve transport links to and from Blaenau Gwent. 

"We would also support any moves to re-open the rail link from Ebbw Vale to Newport as part of the South Wales Metro development."