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GCRE Drone Frame 2

Minister looks forward to ‘bright industrial future’ for site set to home new global rail centre

Gweinidog yn edrych ymlaen at ddyfodol diwydiannol disglair i’r safle fydd yn gartref i ganolfan reilffordd fyd-eang newydd

  • Minister for the Economy confirms the acquisition of land allowing contractors to prepare for construction of UK’s first Net Zero Railway
  • The site will become the UK’s ‘one stop shop’ for railway innovation
  • The first phase of the masterplan construction is expected to be completed by the middle of 2025.

The Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) has reached a major milestone with the formal acquisition of the former Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery in South Wales from opencast mining company Celtic Energy, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething announced today.

The 700-hectare site at the head of the Dulais Valley in south Wales  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.

GCRE is split in to 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.

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.”

Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, reiterated the significance of the GCRE project:

“GCRE will 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.”

“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.”


Notes to editors

About the Global Centre for Rail Excellence (GCRE)

Currently a wholly owned subsidiary of the Welsh Government, GCRE was established in 2021 with an initial commitment of £50 million. The UK Government is also providing funding for the project through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  

Spanning the former Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery in Neath Port Talbot and Powys, South Wales, it will feature the UK’s first net zero railway and become the ‘one stop shop’ for railway innovation, from research and development, through testing, verification and certification, to applied innovation on mainline passenger and freight railways.

The facility will include two 25KV electrified test loops, one being a 6.9km high speed rolling stock track with a maximum speed of around 180km/h and the other a 4km ~60km/h 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 all envisaged in the wider site.  

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