UK: Construction to Begin on Global Centre of Rail Excellence Next Year

The Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) has officially acquired the former Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery in Neath Port Talbot and Powys, South Wales, paving the way for construction to begin.

GCRE site being prepared for construction.
GCRE site being prepared for construction.

Outline planning consent for the 250 million GBP (290.04 EUR | 289.11m USD), 700-hectare infrastructure project was granted by Neath Port Talbot Council and Powys County Council in 2021.

When completed, the GCRE will feature the UK’s first net zero railway and offer world-class testing of rail infrastructure, rolling stock and innovative new technologies.

Lee Waters, Wales’ Deputy Minister for Climate Change, said:

“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.”

The facility will include two 25 kilovolt electrified test loops, one being a 6.9 kilometre high-speed rolling stock track with a maximum speed of around 180km per hour and the other a 4km, 60km per hour test track.

Other facilities will include a dual-platform test environment, rolling stock storage and maintenance facilities, operations and control offices, staff accommodation, shunting staff facilities and connections to the nearby main line.

There will also be state-of-the-art secure testing environments, equipment, systems and communications development facilities.

Education, training, visitor and conference facilities and an industrial development zone are also planned across the wider site.

A range of consultants and contractors including Walters Group, Atkins, Fifth Studio, Arcadis and Mott MacDonald are now working together to design the site and begin preparation for construction early next year.

The build will be broken down into three phases, starting with the provision of sidings for rolling stock from next summer.

Phase two will begin in 2024 and consist of building the two high-speed electrified test loops, together with supporting infrastructure and buildings.

From 2025 the final phase will entail the addition of expanded stabling, maintenance, and commissioning facilities along with research facilities, a hotel and business park.

Vaughan Gething, Wales’ Minister for Economy, said:

“The Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) 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.”

The next stage of the procurement process will begin shortly with a meet the buyer event and the launch of an innovation competition.

These will give potential suppliers and partners the opportunity to find out more about how they can get involved and will be followed by the launch of an investment prospectus to attract private funding for the project.

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