LLANHILLETH'S overgrown railway track, complete with a vandalised fence, litter and graffiti, was an unlikely meeting point for politicians and Network Rail's chairman.

But the rundown area perfectly illustrated why reopening the Ebbw Vale rail line was so necessary.

Blaenau Gwent AM Peter Law, economic and transport minister Andrew Davies, and Network Rail chairman Ian McAllister met there on Monday.

The venue was carefully chosen to impress on Mr McAllister the urgent need for improved transport links to help rebuild communities devastated by unemployment and a lack of opportunity. The Argus' Get Us Back On Track campaign is calling for the Ebbw Vale to Newport link to reopen in 2005 - the same time as the line to Cardiff - rather than in 2008.

We say it will give Valleys residents vital access to opportunities in Wales' newest city.

And Peter Law's words to Network Rail's chairman: "You don't know what a difference you could make to this community", underlines our aim.

Mr McAllister pledged his commitment to restoring the links but said technical and financial problems had to be resolved first.

One of those problems is thought to be the cost of extending platform four at Newport station, which is necessary to provide the space for the trains to and from Ebbw Vale.

The cost of this is likely to be around £5 million.

This additional expense is thought to be one of the issues that Network Rail has to resolve with the Westminster government, which is responsible for the UK's railways.

A spokesman for Network Rail confirmed that it was negotiating finance with the Department of Transport and the Strategic Rail Authority, but was unable to reveal any figures.

Mr Law said: "I was greatly heartened by the meeting. There were definite assurances about the Newport link and I'm confident that it won't be far behind the 2005 opening for Cardiff.

"One thing I don't understand is how they get this figure of £5m to extend the platform at Newport.

"I'm told it costs £2m for a entire new small station, so how can extending a single platform cost twice that?

"The Assembly has earmarked nearly £30million, so as far as the funding goes, there should be enough.

"If there is a need for more money from Westminster then it should be forthcoming quickly.

"As Mr McAllister saw when he visited Llanhilleth, there are some really deprived communities that desperately need this link."

Graham Moore, of regeneration company Newport Unlimited, also had a long meeting chairman Ian McAllister.

Mr Moore told the Argus afterwards: "It was a very positive meeting and there is a real commitment on the part of Network Rail to open the Newport Ebbw Vale link as soon as is humanly possible.

"We are very happy that the Argus is leading this campaign to get the link open as a priority.

"This is about more than just reopening a single railway, it is part of regenerating Newport and providing opportunities for deprived communities across South Wales.

"We're here to provide the right environment for those employment opportunities and it's important to have proper access to the labour markets in the Valleys.

"I impressed upon Mr McAllister the need to transform Newport station and integrate it better into the city as a whole.

"At the moment it is a bit divorced and we're looking at schemes to turn it into a real hub."