THE Assembly Government will have to pay Arriva Trains Wales an undisclosed sum for a train service that won't be carrying passengers, it has been confirmed.
Delays in construction work on the reopening Cardiff-Ebbw Vale line means that trains will not be able to run from July as planned. It is likely that passengers will not be able to use the route until October.
In the meantime, however, because of contractual obligations, the Assembly Government will have to pay the wages of staff who are being recruited to run the new line, which is seen as a vital tool in regenerating the economy of one of Wales' poorest areas.
Trish Law, the Independent AM for Blaenau Gwent, said the lengthy saga of the Ebbw Vale-Cardiff railway was being reduced to farce.
She said, "First we have Ministers assuring us that passenger trains will run from July, but not telling us that they won't actually be carrying passengers until October at the earliest.
"Then we have this farcical situation where taxpayers are effectively having to pay to run empty trains between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff for three months. Arriva Trains Wales must be laughing all the way to the bank."
Mrs Law added, "I'm just amazed that all these issues - delays caused by health and safety requirements, and so on - were not taken into account at the outset.
"I remain concerned that the latest delay will have a knock-on effect on the proposed Newport spur, which I want to see up and running in time for the 2010 Ryder Cup."
An Assembly Government spokesman said, "The Welsh Assembly Government is providing funding towards meeting the capital costs of the project, and will also be fully funding the cost of operating passenger train services when the line opens - ie subsidies will commence when passenger services start.
"In the meantime, the Assembly Government will contribute towards the cost of recruiting and training drivers and conductors in the run-up to the period when passenger services will commence. For example, this training will include specific route training.
"The Ebbw Valley Railway scheme is promoted by Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council which has direct responsibility for managing the project.
"We cannot disclose the wage figures as they are commercially sensitive."
When the line between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale finally opens, it is intended to have hourly services in each direction.