£200m contract secured for Rail Excellence Centre

The proposed Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) was granted outline planning consent planning consent in 2021, by Neath Talbot Council and Powys County Council in 2021. The early stages of construction are to be carried out soon, through a conglomeration of firms.

The Walters Group, a civil engineering firm situated in Hirwaun, has been appointed to carry out initial earthworks for the £200m Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Wales. The contract will see Walters Group work in tandem with Atkins to prepare the site for the construction period. Following on from this will be Arcadis Developing the designs for the rail systems and Mott MacDonald putting their focus towards the continuous net zero energy strategy for the scheme.

Current plans for the railway research facility have outlined the site of the old Nant Helen surface coal mine and Onllwyn washery at the head of Dulais and Tawe Valleys in South Wales as the location for the build. Included in these plans are the desire for a global hub for rolling stock and infrastructure testing, innovation, storage, and maintenance.

Development of the GCRE is being advised through the Design Commission for Wales, after a competitive tender process. Following from this, a multidisciplinary team has also been appointed to helm the vision for the transformative plan for the 475ha site. Comprising this team are the 5th Studio, Expedition Engineering, Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, Faithful & Gould, Fairhurst, PRD, Wildwood Ecology and Thirty 4/7.

A holistic spatial plan will be developed to incorporate the track testing facility, including the proposals for the future landscape of the entire site. This will come together with an innovation campus, which incorporates visitor accommodation. An integrated design process will be utilised to include public consultation, by allowing the engagement from residents within the area.

GCRE chair Debra Williams said:

 “This is an ambitious infrastructure project that has the potential to transform the local area with a £200M investment that will put Wales and the UK at the very heart of 21st century sustainable transport innovation.

“Featuring the UK’s first net zero railway, GCRE will include a modern and comprehensive rail testing and innovation facility with capacity and capabilities for rigorous testing of rolling stock, infrastructure, and integrated systems from prototype to implementation.”

The Welsh Government established the GCRE to be the special purpose vehicle back in 2021, with an initial commitment of £50m. Following this and a £30m project investment from the UK Government, new investment prospectuses have been implemented to attract private funding for the project is also in development ready for launch in the autumn of 2022.

Walters director Kevin Llewellyn said:

 “We are delighted to have secured this project, the site for which is just 10 miles from our head office in Hirwaun. As a local employer we are grateful for the recognition and support of GCRE Limited in awarding us this contract. Our unrivalled experience with design partner, Atkins, will see this exciting project set the stage for what will undoubtably be a world class facility.”

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