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Full steam ahead as new £250m global rail centre project buys former opencast mine site

28 Oct 2022 4 minute read
The Global Centre of Rail Excellence has reached a major milestone with the formal acquisition of a former opencast site and Onllwyn Washery.

A new “world-class” rail testing facility for Wales has reached a major milestone, its backers say, with the formal acquisition of a former opencast site in the Dulais Valley.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the formal acquisition of the 700-hectare Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery from opencast mining company Celtic Energy, by the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) today.

The site near Ystradgynlais will now be transformed and developed to become the UK’s ‘one-stop shop’ for railway innovation, from research and development, through testing, verification and certification, to applied innovation on mainline passenger and freight railways.

Outline planning consent for GCRE was granted by Neath Port Talbot Council and Powys County Council in 2021.

A range of consultants and contractors including Hirwaun-based Walters Group, Atkins, Fifth Studio, Arcadis and Mott MacDonald are now working in an alliance to design the site and begin preparation for construction in early 2023.

Visiting the site of the £250 million infrastructure project, Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething, reiterated the significance of the GCRE project: “The Global Centre of Rail Excellence being constructed here in Wales is one of the most critical and creative infrastructure projects happening anywhere in Europe.

“Its significance to the local community and the Welsh economy should not be underestimated. This is a vital regeneration project which will create much-needed jobs and skills. I’m confident it will support a bright industrial future for the Dulais Valley and the surrounding area.”

‘World-class’

The Global Centre of Rail Excellence is split into three core phases:

  • Phase 1 – The provision of sidings for rolling stock from the summer of 2023
  • Phase 2 – The building of two electrified test loops, one high speed test loop 6.9Km long and a 4km Infrastructure test loop, together with supporting infrastructure and buildings from 2024
  • Phase 3: The addition of expanded stabling, maintenance, and commissioning facilities along with research facilities, hotel, and business park in 2025 and ongoing.
A map of the Global Centre of Rail Testing Excellence (GCRE)

Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, said that it would be “a unique facility offering world-class testing of infrastructure, rolling stock and new technologies that will fill a much-needed gap in the rail industry”.

“Crucially, it will help manage the cost of rail projects by testing ideas earlier before their deployment on projects and support the vital innovation we need to get to Net Zero,” he said.

“The formal acquisition of the land now paves the way for the start of construction by allowing GCRE and their contractors to take control of the site and begin to establish the infrastructure required to turn this ambitious and exciting vision into reality.”

Chief Executive of GCRE, Simon Jones said: “We are moving at pace to deliver on our ambitious plans to deliver a modern and comprehensive rail testing and innovation facility, building our team and preparing for construction with the aim of having our commercial rolling stock storage facility available to the market within the next 12 months.

“The next stage of our procurement process will begin shortly with both a meet the buyer event and the launch of a separate innovation competition next week to give potential suppliers and partners the opportunity to find out more about how they can get involved.  

“This will be followed by the launch of an exciting investment prospectus to attract private funding for the project. With the support of the Welsh and UK Governments and Powys and Neath Port Talbot local authorities, we really are on a mission to put Wales and the UK at the very heart of 21st century sustainable transport innovation.”


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Jason
Jason
1 month ago

I fail to see exactly what the object of this scheme is. Rail infrastructure concerning train stock and rail development is an industry that is quite firmly established outside the UK. Something fishy I suspect.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason

Does that site have a working rail connection, or will it require laying track for several miles to re-open what used to exist decades ago?

P.S. Just found reference to a link from the main South Wales lines near Neath to the Onllwyn site, so something exists but whether fit for purpose remains to be seen.

Last edited 1 month ago by hdavies15
The original mark
The original mark
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

It’s been a few years since anything used it, I think 2010, coal from East Pit and a couple of other opencast sites used to go there, it wouldn’t take much to bring the track back up to scratch. And don’t forget St Patrick was born just down the road in Banwen, anythings possible 😂😂

Last edited 1 month ago by The original mark
Dafydd y Garth
Dafydd y Garth
1 month ago

St Patrick was *allegedly* born in Banwen.
I can’t really see pirates rampaging 15 miles up the Dulas valley in search of human cargo.

The original mark
The original mark
1 month ago
Reply to  Dafydd y Garth

I’ve witnessed some pretty strange things going on around the area😜

Glen
Glen
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

This is the line in 2008, part of the old Neath to Brecon route shut to passengers by Beeching in the 1960’s.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason

The European testing site used at present is severely time restricted, costs hundreds of thousands of pounds and has a three year waiting list.
The washeries/open cast has to be restored whatever happens so much of the muck-shifting will cost the scheme nothing.
The industry is mostly European but CAF is assembling trains down at Llanwern and offering them these facilities opens up many options.
If they get the grants and levelling up money right and they employ people on a scheme that is profitable this is actually a no-brainer.

Peter Feltham
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason

You are 100% correct,indeed I was just about to make the same point.Without the wherewithall to take advantage of this propsed facility the whole enterprise is rather meaningless.We have, over the past 40 years or so,destroyed our engineering capabilities.

George Thomas
George Thomas
1 month ago

More trains, better trains, better tracks and wider infrastructure!!

Don’t forget that many trains couldn’t run over summer because tracks couldn’t deal with excessive heat but this is going to happen more often.

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