The Welsh Government's flagship Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) project will collaborate with the University of Birmingham on research and development and innovation activities.

The £200m global rail test centre in south Wales, which is due to complete by 2025, has signed an agreement with the Birmingham's Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE).

The agreement will see railway expertise from academia, government and industry contribute to rail innovation at the site of the former Nant Helen opencast mine and Onllwyn coal washery at the head of the Dulais and Tawe Valleys.

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BCRRE is the largest specialist railway research, education and innovation centre in Europe. It was selected by the Welsh Government to lead the development of a Centre of Excellence for Railway Testing and Validation which will sit alongside the new 6.9km test track that is being built.

Working alongside several Welsh universities, including Cardiff and Swansea, BCRRE will establish a R&D centre that will undertake industry-focused research and innovation activities. By locating at the facility, it will be able to provide strategic and technical support to industry R&D activities taking place at the test centre.

Professor Clive Roberts, BCRRE director, said: “Collaboration and partnership are key to success in rail innovation and we are looking forward to bringing our industry links and rail expertise together with those of the GCRE. Together we will create a facility that can deliver world class innovation to the sector.”

Simon Jones, chief executive of GCRE said: “Our partnership with the University of Birmingham, the wider UKRRIN family and our local universities here in Wales mean that GCRE and our clients will benefit from some of the UK’s leading research minds, and how their research and innovation is applied and validated. Having a substantial UKRRIN testing and validation team permanently based at GCRE immediately boosts our credentials and is a powerful indicator of how we want GCRE to develop for the benefit of the UK’s railway industry.

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“BCRRE is central to this partnership, and will provide us with strategic and technical support as we focus on creating a flexible and open-market rail technology proving ground that helps to accelerate innovation on the journey to net-zero, cost reduction through application of innovation and improved customer services.”

Started in 2021, the £200m GCRE project is a flagship and wholly-owned subsidiary of the Welsh Government. The site straddles the local authority areas of Neath Port Talbot and Powys, who are partners in the project.

It will be used by the UK and international rail industry and is expected to create over 100 direct jobs, as well as being a catalyst for creating many more as academic and industrial partners are attracted to the site.

It will feature inner and outer looped electrified test tracks including two 25KV electrified test loops, one being a 6.9km high-speed rolling stock track with a maximum speed of 177km/h and the other a 4km 65km/h test track.

Other associated infrastructure will include dual-platform test environment, rolling stock storage, maintenance and sidings, as well as a control centre and space for related R&D, education and training purposes.

The project will also 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.

There aren't currently any testing facilities in the world that provide both a rail and rolling stock testing solution.

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