Contractors appointed for £200m Welsh Valleys rail centre


A design team and planners are also now in place.

Construction of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence is set to transform the former Nant Helen opencast mine and Onllwyn washery at the head of the Dulais and Tawe Valleys in South Wales.

It will be a place for testing rolling stock and rail infrastructure, as well as for storage and maintenance.

Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) was established by the Welsh government as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) in 2021 with an initial commitment of £50m. The UK government is expected to confirm a further £10m for research and development along with capital funding of £20m. An investment prospectus to attract private funding for the project is also in development, for launch in the autumn of 2022. 

Outline planning consent for the project was granted by Neath Port Talbot Council and Powys County Council in 2021.

Various tier one contractors have now been appointed, including Hirwaun-based Walters Group who will work with Atkins to prepare the site for construction. Arcadis is developing the rail systems design and Mott MacDonald is focused on the energy strategy.

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.”

A multidisciplinary team has also been appointed to produce a masterplan for the transformation of the 475-hectare site.  5th Studio, Expedition Engineering, Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, Faithful & Gould, Fairhurst, PRD, Wildwood Ecology and Thirty 4/7 will develop a spatial plan that will incorporate the track testing facility including proposals for the future landscape of the whole site, together with an innovation campus incorporating visitor accommodation.

GCRE chief executive Simon Jones said: “GCRE will be unique in Europe and is a major economic development project for Wales.  It will support the railway industry to meet the challenges of reducing costs through innovation, improving reliability and passenger experience, and helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  With the support of our key stakeholders including Neath Port Talbot and Powys County Councils, GCRE will play a pivotal role for the public and private sector partners of the railway in the UK and overseas. 

“Nant Helen was one of the last opencast coal mines in Wales. The development of GCRE will establish a progressive, post-carbon future for the site; providing much needed state-of-the-art rolling stock testing, infrastructure testing, storage and maintenance facilities for the international rail industry and creating jobs for local people.”

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