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Global Centre of Rail Excellence on track as £50m funding confirmed

24 Mar 2021 4 minutes Read
Ken Skates picture by Welsh Government. Transport for Wales train picture by Jeremy Segrott (CC BY 2.0).

Plans for building a world class rail testing facility on a former opencast mining site are on track after £50m of funding was confirmed.

The Welsh Government has backed creating Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) at the head of the Dulais and Tawe Valleys with the capital funding.

It says that the train, rail infrastructure and technology testing facility, will provide unique capability in the UK and Europe.

It wants to support innovation in the UK and international rail industry, including the testing of cutting-edge, green technologies.

The Welsh Government has been working in partnership with Neath Port Talbot and Powys Councils to develop proposals for the GCRE, which will be located on the site of Nant Helen Open Cast Mine in Onllwyn, currently operated by Celtic Energy.

In order to deliver the first phase of the project, the Welsh Government has confirmed a £50million capital funding loan to be given to Powys Council.

Earlier this month the UK Government pledged up to £30million funding to the pioneering project in the Spring Budget.

In further milestone developments, a land option deal has been completed for the sites at the Nant Helen surface mine and Onllwyn coal washery, which will see Celtic Energy gift all the land necessary for the project.

A formal planning application will also be submitted this week for a purpose-built, modern railway infrastructure, systems and rolling stock test and validation complex.

The facility will act as a driver for accelerated rail industry innovation, investment and growth in Wales, the wider United Kingdom and internationally.

To take the project forward a new GCRE Company will be established as the project transitions from Government led, supported by industry to industry led, supported by Government.

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, said: “This is an enormously significant step forward in our plans to deliver a world class facility with unique to Europe integrated capabilities.

“GCRE will be a powerful ‘magnet’ project bringing a major global industry closer to Wales. It will provide a raft of vital services and wide ranging research, development and innovation platforms to UK and international train manufacturers, network operators, the wider industry, supply chain and academia. It will also provide significant direct benefits to our national operator Transport for Wales.

“Working alongside our public and private sector partners we will deliver high quality jobs and training opportunities whilst supporting Welsh exports for decades to come.”

A joint venture was established in 2019 between Welsh Government and both Powys and Neath Port Talbot Councils to support project development and delivery.

The proposals are the result of collaborative working with partners and extensive engagement and consultation with stakeholders and local communities.

‘Important project’ 

Nigel Brinn Corporate Director (Economy and Environment) at Powys County Council said: “We are delighted that both UK and Welsh Governments have confirmed that they are able to invest in this extremely important project on the Powys border.

“The opportunity to deliver such an innovative and economically beneficial restoration and after use for the site is very much welcomed by all at Powys County Council.

“We look forward to progressing the project as quickly as possible with our Joint Venture Partners of Welsh Government and Neath Port Talbot Council.

“We are fully committed to doing everything we possibly can to play our part in delivering this project of truly international significance.

“The opportunity and potential of this project is widely acknowledged and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that the maximum overall benefit to the region is achieved.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity that this initial investment will create, working with research and development partners to establish this Centre of Rail Excellence.”

Neath Port Talbot Council’s Corporate Director of Environment and Regeneration, Nicola Pearce, said: “Neath Port Talbot Council, the Welsh Government and Powys County Council have worked hard with a range of partners to help reach this key milestone.

“Subject to planning and other approvals, the Global Centre of Rail Excellence will create a world class facility for research, development and testing of rail technology offering major opportunities for economic growth in the South Wales Valleys and throughout Neath Port Talbot.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Welsh Government and our other partners as this project is delivered.”

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