The Welsh Government has announced that a formal planning application for its £100m Global Centre of Rail Excellence is due for submission in early 2020.
The facility will help the UK join Europe's rail testing elite, as the continents' leading test and validation facilities are currently located in Germany, at the Siemens facility in Wildenrath, and the Czech Republic in Velim near Prague. Both of these have one year waiting lists.
There are limited test facilities in the UK, and no electrified test ovals for continuous running, meaning that manufacturers have to send trains across to Europe for testing.
The approximately 7km electrified test oval providing a maximum line speed of 110mph. The top of speed of France's TGV bullet train, where the commercial services' top speeds are roughly 186pmh, or the 225mph or HS2.
However, rail expert, Christian Wolmar, told Transport Network there is effectively 'no such thing as a test track for high speed trains; these trains are tested on the actual tracks'.
'The test track will not be able to test at these top speeds because it won't have time to get up to them. It takes a mile to stop these high speed trains,' he said.
He adds that software is the major source of testing delays, highlighting that the Gospel Oak Line needed 33 iterations before going into service.
The project is 'fully focused' on the preferred Onllwyn/Nant Helen site in the Dulais Valley, following the Strategic Outline Case for a Global Centre of Rail Excellence being released in June 2018.
Under a Joint Venture Agreement between the Government and Neath Port Talbot and Powys councils, the team has commissioned environmental impact surveys.
The current proposals, which will be subject to further research, Environmental Impact Assessment studies and consultation, include:
- A separate and unique infrastructure test track facility incorporating a platform and station environment;
- A large well equipped maintenance facility;
- Secure storage for 400 rail carriages;
- A decommissioning facility;
- An R&D and education centre including labs, office space, and training facilities in a dynamic environment away from the operational network.
Economy and transport minister Ken Skates said: 'In line with the new approach our Economic Action Plan sets out, this project takes us in a new direction. Our aim is to create a facility attracting the leading lights of the business world and draw them to put down long lasting and valuable roots in Wales.'
It is estimated that the facility will need around £100m investment and would employ around 400 people in the construction phase and upwards of 150 people permanently when fully operational in all aspects.
The Transport Minister has also written to the Secretary of State for Transport, and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, asking for their support. The GCRE is closely aligned with UK Government as well as Welsh Government policy objectives.
Halton Curve reopened
Direct trains have started running between north Wales, Cheshire and Liverpool on the 2km ‘Halton Curve’ - a stretch of track last used over 40 years ago.
It is thought the new service could generate 250,000 new passenger trips a year and remove 170,000 road journeys from routes including the M56 and A55.
The £14.5m project was funded through Local Growth Funding awarded by Government to the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, and also received capital from the region's Combined Authority.