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Railblazers

Rail Overview/ Ebbw Vale

Wales' first local government-run rail line is on track, says John McKenna.

Regeneration is sweeping across the Welsh Valleys thanks to an injection of cash from the Welsh Assembly, the European Union and the private sector.

Brownfield sites, such as closed collieries and steelworks, are being redeveloped into plots for new schools, hospitals and housing (NCE 8 June).

Crucial to regeneration is the creation of a passenger rail service linking the area to the economic hubs of Cardiff and Newport.

Blaenau Gwent is the only local authority in England and Wales without a single railway station. The £27M Ebbw Vale railway line will bring two to the area, plus four to the neighbouring councils of Caerphilly and Newport.

'The benefit of this line will work in two ways, ' says Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council project director Richard Crooks.

'As well as making it easier to commute to Cardiff, we also want to bring people up here.

There is a big drive in terms of tourism and we believe we can really generate a lot of people coming in to the area - Ebbw Vale is only three miles from the Brecon Beacons National Park.'

The project is something of a rare beast - it is being run by local authorities, not Network Rail. Although there are numerous council-run station redevelopments in the UK, only Ebbw Vale and the StirlingAlloa-Kincardine rail projects lie beyond the rail operator's grasp.

The project is funded by the Welsh Assembly (£20M) and the EU (£7M), and is managed by Blaenau Gwent, Newport and Caerphilly councils.

Network Rail's inuence on the project extends only as far as ensuring compliance with its standards.

Strictly speaking, the project is more a resurrection than a new line. Passenger services last ran on the 29.6km route in 1962. It continued to operate as a freight route for Ebbw Vale's collieries and steelworks, but when the mines shut in the early 1980s trafc on the route was drastically reduced. By the time Corus shut its steelworks in 2002, the line was running just two trains per day and has remained untouched until now.

Main contractor Amey has subcontracted the construction of the line's six new stations to Costain.

Main works are expected to start next month. These will see Amey building a new 4.8km stretch of track to create a passing loop from just north of Rogerstone station to just north of Crosskeys. The rest of the route will remain single track and of this 20% will be new.

The designer of the scheme is Capita Symonds. Project manager David McCallum says the rare opportunity of working on a new railway project is what has kept him involved since 1998. He says that one of the key advantages on this project is that the line is secured and out of use. 'Effectively it is 29.6km of construction site. Rather than working in possessions, Amey has got total access for 12 months. It can work daylight hours, five days per week.'

This ease of access has helped keep costs down, especially when it comes to building the stations, which are basic parkway platforms.

No need for precast concrete and prefabricated elements here, says Amey contract manager Bruno Taylor.

'Because we have got all day we can use more conventional construction methods.'

'We can do a logical sequence of excavating the topsoil, exposing the formation, laying the foundations, just as if you were building a house.

Then you just build the walls up to the right height, ' he says.

Once completed, Network Rail will take on maintenance of the route - but will want paying for it. 'Those additional costs above the route's revenue [from train operator Arriva] will need to be funded by a third party, ' says Network Rail scheme sponsor Steve Eggleton.

Network Rail can onlypick up additional maintenance costs from the Ofce of Rail Regulation from 2009, says Eggleton.

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