£220m Cardiff and Valleys rail congestion scheme starts
Work has begun on a £220m three-year programme to ease congestion on rail services on the Cardiff and south Wales valleys network.
Network Rail says the Cardiff Area Re-signalling Renewal Project, which is due to finish in 2015, will be "Wales' largest congestion-busting scheme".
Starting with the Vale of Glamorgan line, it says the work could create hundreds of extra rush-hour seats.
Seven new platforms will be built as part of the work.
They will be at stations in Barry, Caerphilly, Pontypridd, Tirphil, Cardiff Central and two at Cardiff Queen Street. A new station will be built at Energlyn.
End Quote Mark Langman Network Rail Wales
This work is the equivalent of conducting open heart surgery on the railway whilst keeping daily services running with the minimum of disruption”
Hundreds of railway workers will also replace more than 300 signals, 12 miles (19km) of track, and 59 sets of points.
Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain's rail network, said the scheme would remove the "bottleneck" between Cardiff Central and Queen Street, allowing 16 passenger trains per hour to run through the area - a 25% increase - plus extra freight trains.
Cardiff Central (south side) and Cardiff Queen Street will have new entrance buildings and facilities.
The two stations account for 67% of all passenger demand on the South Wales Valleys' network, catering for almost 12.5m passengers annually.
To be delivered in five stages, the work is described as an important first step towards electrifying the valleys network.
Mark Langman, route managing director for Network Rail Wales, said: "We need to expand today's railway to cater for tomorrow's needs, and we are getting ahead of the game.'Largest workforce'
"Through this investment, passengers will significantly benefit from the potential to run more services and a better performing railway, which is also vital to support Cardiff as a key economic centre for Wales.
"The city has the largest travelling workforce in Wales with around 37% of the workforce commuting from neighbouring authorities, in particular, from the Valleys."
He added: "On a network as busy as ours, this work is the equivalent of conducting open heart surgery on the railway whilst keeping daily services running with the minimum of disruption."
The Welsh government is providing £17m of funding.
Transport Minister Carl Sargeant said: "This is the first tangible step in delivering electrification of the Valley Lines, as well as part of the continued investment and improvement of the rail network in Wales, as set out in the National Transport Plan."
Mike Bagshaw, of Arriva Trains Wales, said: "This important work will lay the foundation for future extra capacity and will mean extra services and journey opportunities for passengers using one of the busiest parts of the Arriva Trains Wales network.
The Vale of Glamorgan line improvements are due for completion by January 2013, with the Valley Lines finished by June 2013.
Barry is due for completion by January 2014, east Cardiff four months later and central and west Cardiff by December 2014.
Most of the work will be done at night to minimise disruption.