MORE rail services and new stations in the west and east of Newport are likely to be proposed as solutions to the city's congestion problems.

The transport commission appointed by first minister Mark Drakeford to look at alternatives to the M4 relief road is expected to back rail as the answer.

Writing for the Argus today, transport commission chairman Lord Terry Burns said people travelling through Newport – either within the city or on the M4 – relied on the car because public transport did not provide an adequate alternative.

He said the commission's goal is to give residents and commuters a "network" of transport options that are more attractive than getting behind the wheel and braving the rush-hour traffic.

These improvements, Lord Burns said, could also bring health and economic benefits to the region.

In its Emerging Conclusions report, published later today, the commission will lay out its preliminary findings.

Lord Burns and his colleagues will then produce a final set of recommendations to the Welsh Government by the end of 2020.

Ahead of the new report's publication, Lord Burns said improving the area's existing rail network could be the "backbone" of any improvements – tying in with bus services and so-called 'active travel' options (walking and cycling) in residential areas.

But the commission admitted the current rail provision in Newport was insufficient for people living outside the city centre.

Lord Burns said it was "likely" that the commission's final recommendations would include additional stations to serve large residential areas on the city's fringes.

This could include new stations in the east, where a series of housing developments have been approved or built in recent years; and in western Newport where there is no railway station.

The commission hopes its vision of a complete, seamless public transport network will prove to be a successful and viable alternative to the so-called Black Route relief road project, which was scrapped by Mr Drakeford last June over concerns about rising costs and the environmental impact.

That decision proved divisive at the time and remains so. Last week, the Argus reported how prime minister Boris Johnson's recent support for a relief road could risk a devolution crisis between the Senedd and Westminster.

The relief road debate has raged for decades, but traffic issues were swept to one side earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy and forced people to stay at home.

Writing today, Lord Burns admitted congestion problems in the city were likely to return as more people returned to work.

But by proposing a radical overhaul of public transport as the solution to those problems, the commission will hope the future of transport in the region does not mean a return to the past.

Here, Lord Burns presents the commission's progress to date, ahead of today's Emerging Conclusions report:

"The recent period of Covid-19 lockdown has meant a brief respite from the daily traffic bottlenecks on the M4 near Newport. However, with traffic levels gradually increasing each week, congestion is likely to resume its position as a prominent issue.

"Our aim as a Commission is to tackle congestion on the M4 near Newport. We know that many residents of Newport are affected. The congestion not only concerns those who regularly use the motorway. Those travelling within Newport itself are also affected, as motorway traffic often diverts through city centre roads. This increases journey times and levels of pollution for those within the city.

"The car remains the predominant transport mode for the region. Despite over a quarter of households in Newport not owning a car, Newport has very high levels of car use.

"Through surveys and workshops, you have told us that public transport in the region does not provide an adequate alternative to travelling by car.

"We agree, and our Emerging Conclusions report, published today, explains our focus on increasing choice with a network of transport options.

"Making better use of existing rail infrastructure to provide further rail services has the potential to form the backbone of this network, with interconnecting bus, cycling and walking options providing links to communities. A key focus of our future work will be to determine the best locations for additional rail stations along the rail line.

"Our recommendations are likely to include new stations to the East of Newport, where an increasing number of people live, and in West Newport, which is an area where many people work but which is poorly served by rail.

"A new focus of the Commission’s work is to consider how we can encourage trends, prompted by Covid-19, that complement our Commission’s aims.

"For example, as a regular cyclist myself, I have been heartened by the increasing number of people cycling each day. This is in part because of increased confidence due to quieter roads.

"I am keen to encourage people to continue to travel by bicycle after lockdown by proposing further safe routes.

"In addition, we will be suggesting ways to support those who wish to continue to work remotely to some degree, rather than return full time to their normal place of work.

"We are publishing our Emerging Conclusions report today. However, we are already working hard to hone our final suite of recommendations to Welsh ministers, which will be presented by the end of this year.

"These recommendations will include a package of measures which can help improve the quality of life, health and future prosperity of Newport."

  • You can follow updates ahead of the report's publication here.