Work begins on £400m station and rail line in UK that will never be used by paying passengers

By Staff

The Global Centre of Rail Excellence is currently being developed on the mountains of Neath Port Talbot and Powys

A £400 million new train line and station which paying customers will never use are being built in the UK.

The new project is taking shape in the mountains of Neath Port Talbot in Wales. It’s going to have miles of railway tracks and station platforms, but it’s not for everyday passengers.

The project, called The Global Centre of Rail Excellence, is being built on 700 hectares of land near the village of Onllwyn, 17 miles north of Neath. It will be used specifically for the testing of new trains, including high-speed ones and those powered by hydrogen, reports Wales Online.

It’s being built on the old Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery and should be up and running by 2027. When it’s finished, it will be open 24 hours a day, providing ample opportunity for rail buffs to put the next generation of engines through their paces. It will have two seven kilometre looped tracks that will be operating at the site.

This development could be a first for the rail industry once it’s finished. Reports say that the centre “plugs a significant gap in European rail by providing a purpose-built, single site for world class research,” and that it “allows products to be tested to the highest technology readiness levels, in a live environment, with no risk to the mainline.”

Wales Online reporter Lewis Smith recently went on a tour of the site, which developers say will be bigger than Gibraltar when complete.

“If you can test trains or technology systems that work up here, they should be able to work anywhere,” one worker tells the journalist, who was impressed by the “immense scale of the development.”

“While most of the expected views are blocked by fog today, the amount of work required really does becomes clear – not only in transforming the landscape for the facility, but in raising the hundreds of millions of pounds needed from private investors, to go with more than £90 million worth of Welsh and UK Government funding, for the site to reach its full potential,” he wrote.

“Along the route we get to see the early stages of works to clear the path for the loop tracks, as well as the early sections of track being laid at the former mining facility – which workers say previously saw more than two million tonnes of coal taken out of it. We also pass the old shower and locker facilities, still left standing from the area’s mining days, complete with hi-vis jackets and helmets, almost as if a group of workers had just come off a shift earlier that day.”

Speaking after the tour, chief executive of the GCRE, Simon Jones, said: “I don’t think these kinds of projects come around very often, particularly projects like this which have got Government support from both the UK and Welsh Government.

“What it means for the people here is that we’ll be creating a site where the railway industry across the UK and Europe will come here to carry out testing for their innovations in a way that they just can’t do anywhere else. We’ve got 170 companies now from across Europe who’ve pledged their support for what we’re doing and who want to be able to use this place, so that’s just going to create jobs and opportunities for people.”

“There are some sites elsewhere in the UK and there are some sites in Europe, but none of them do what we are planning to do so we are unique. There is nowhere in the UK where people can do high speed testing of trains on a looped track, and that sounds insignificant but actually being able to just drive continuously round without having to reverse the train every time you do a test is a huge time saving.

“We’ve got planning consent to operate this place 24 hours a day so if our clients want to run tests for 24 hours they can. There are other loop test sites in Europe but they have really long waiting lists and they’re a long way away in places like the Czech Republic or Poland. These are also set up for testing trains and not infrastructure, things like the tracks, the sleepers and the ballasts, the drainage and electrification systems, telecommunications and increasingly the signalling systems. This facility uniquely allows our clients to be able to bring together all of their railway.”

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