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Welsh minister for environment Sue Essex has welcomed the announcement by secretary of state for transport Stephen ...
Welsh minister for environment Sue Essex has welcomed the announcement by secretary of state for transport Stephen Byers this morning giving the go ahead for the Wales and Borders rail franchise with a possibility of a 15-year life.

Sue Essex said: 'The Strategic Rail Authority have reacted immediately and are inviting expressions of interest today. Following discussions with the Welsh assembly government, and having met the environment, planning and transport committee, the SRA are aware of our keen interest in restarting the franchising process and they will be treating this as a priority.

'As minister, I will ensure that the aAuthority remain fully informed of Welsh interests and priorities. It is important that this is not seen as going back to square one and losing the good work of the private sector in the bidding process so far. We need the new rail franchise to be put in place as quickly as possible and for it to lead to real improvements in services in Wales.

'This is a significant development and a vote of confidence in our policy of supporting the development of rail services. The assembly government is committed to funding a major programme of infrastructure which will lead to the re-opening of the Vale of Glamorgan line to passengers and capacity enhancements on Valley Lines and the Cambrian Line. The possibility of opening the line to Ebbw Vale is also under consideration.

'We will be working closely with the Strategic Rail Authority in ensuring that we have an operator who will over time introduce improved services in line with the assembly's commitments in the Transport Framework and Review of Public Transport.'

A preferred bidder will be announced next Autumn with the new franchise in place early 2003.

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