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Work on track to convert Welsh coal mine into £250m Global Centre of Rail Excellence

21 Dec 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.

Lewis Smith, local democracy reporter

Work is well underway in Neath Port Talbot and Powys, for the new Global Centre of Rail Excellence, described as having the potential to put the area on the map.

The site of the £250 million centre, which was funded by the Welsh and UK governments, was approved by members of Neath Port Talbot and Powys County Council after they gave it the go-ahead last year.

It will see a 550-hectare site that features electrified testing tracks, as well as space for research, development and education facilities, based on the former Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery in Neath Port Talbot and Powys.

Now expected to be fully operational by 2025, the centre will run 24 hours daily, testing new railway vehicles such as high-speed trains and hydrogen-powered rolling stock, with a 4.5 kilometre looped track and 6.9 kilometre outer looped track at the south-east of the site.

With senior officials having been appointed for the site, and a fleet of test trains acquired, the ground work for the facility and provision of sidings for rolling stock has begun, with the first phase of building expected to be complete by the summer of 2023.

Phase two of the work will involve the building of the two electrified test loops which are expected to be completed from 2024, before phase three of the project sees the addition of expanded stabling, maintenance, and commissioning facilities, along with a hotel and business park completed by 2025.

The proposed site of the rail testing facility near Onllwyn, Neath Port Talbot. Pic: Google Maps.

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr Steve Hunt, who represents Crynant, Onllwyn and Seven Sisters, where much of the GCRE will be based, said it could well put the area on the map.

He said: “This is an extremely exciting project for this area. It will put us on the map as the go-to place for UK and international train manufacturers, network operators, the wider industry and academics to research, test and develop the latest technologies in green transport for the global rail industry.

“It will also create high quality jobs and could well be a catalyst for further new opportunities, bringing more investment to our towns, valleys and villages in Neath Port Talbot and beyond. The project is moving swiftly and I have been very impressed with the progress made on my visits to the site.”

Work At The Gcre In Neath Port Talbot Credit: Neath Port Talbot Council

‘Huge difference’

A statement from Neath Port Talbot Council said: “The Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) will be transformational for the areas surrounding the site and for the county borough and region as a whole.

“Due to open in 2025, this purpose-built facility will provide a much needed ‘one stop shop’ for the UK and European rail industry creating a site for expert testing of rolling stock, infrastructure and innovative new rail technologies.

“Members of the planning committees at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Powys County Council gave the Welsh and UK Government-funded GCRE project the go-ahead last year. The Welsh Government developed the idea from scratch and worked with experts from across the global rail industry to develop it.

“The prospect of high quality jobs at what will be an in-demand centre for world class rail testing and innovation will make a huge difference to this area and when it opens, the GCRE will become the UK’s first ever net zero railway, which ties in with the council’s de-carbonisation and renewable energy (DARE) strategy.

“Together with the planned multi-million pound Wildfox adventure resort in the Afan Valley, promising as many as 1,000 jobs, and plans, with partners ABP, Pembrokeshire Council and Milford Haven Port Authority, to establish a Celtic Freeport potentially creating 16,000 jobs, this region could be well placed to recover from the current economic downturn.”

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Cable guy 60
Cable guy 60
1 year ago

Any rail buffs out there like to give an opinion on wether this investment could increase the chances of new passenger services in the near future???

Osian Townsend Jones
Osian Townsend Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Cable guy 60

Unfortunately, I don’t think so. It would make sense to have a connection to this site from the mainline network, (although that would have to branch off of the heart of Wales line, the only light rail line in the UK, and therefore not particularly state-of-the-art. Well, state of the art for the eighteen hundreds maybe.) but aside from that, I don’t see much happening as a result of this. The best we can hope for for this area is reopening the couple of coal lines going up the valleys here to passenger traffic, akin to the ebbw line.

1 year ago

What a waste of money with more people working from home and the role out of 5G networking who the hell wants to use trains. we need barrages, wind turbine and costal energy parks not this nonsense.

Owen williams
Owen williams
1 year ago

What’s the betting plaid oppose this?

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