THE GLOBAL CENTRE for Rail Excellence (GCRE) at the head of the Dulais and Swansea valleys will have a transformational effect on the area and the wider region, the Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr Ted Latham, said on a visit to the site on Friday (Aug 6).

Accompanied by Deputy Leader Cllr Leanne Jones and the council’s Chief Executive Karen Jones and Director of Environment and Regeneration Nicola Pearce, Cllr Latham said the GCRE would create high quality jobs and help attract new investment.

Speaking at the site of the planned rail testing centre on the former Nant Helen open cast coal mine, Cllr Latham said: “After granting planning permission for this important project this council is now gearing up to support the GCRE as it moves towards its next phase of development.

“When completed, this centre will provide a unique capability in the UK and Europe to support innovation in the British and international rail industry.

“Very much in line with this council’s Decarbonisation and Renewable Energy Strategy (DARE) the centre will involve the testing of cutting-edge technologies making future rail transport cleaner and greener.

“It will have a transformational effect on the surrounding area and also the region as a whole, creating high quality new jobs and opening the way for further investment.”

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “I’m delighted the new Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Onllwyn has been granted planning permission by Councillors at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Powys County Council.

“The new centre will help create the next generation of high quality jobs, attracting new investment and opportunities for local people, driving new technologies and innovation, and helping us to realise our ambition of creating a stronger and more prosperous economy, in a greener, cleaner and stronger Wales.

“The Welsh Government’s commitment to developing this world-class facility is clear. We’ve have made £50m available to bring this important facility to the Dulais and Swansea valleys, as part of wider plans to transform valley communities.

“I’m very much looking forward to seeing the project progressing at pace over the coming months.”

A planning application for the construction of the was GCRE approved by Neath Port Talbot Council’s Planning Committee on 27th with Powys County Council approving the application two days later.

The Welsh Government has been working in partnership with Neath Port Talbot and Powys councils to develop proposals for the GCRE. The Welsh Government has pledged £50m to the project with £30m funding announced by the UK Government. Other funding will come from private investors.

The GCRE will cover an area of around 475 hectares and will consist of two looped test tracks, one being an electrified high speed rolling stock track (6.9km long) and the other being a low speed infrastructure test track (4.5km).

There will also be a dual platform test environment, operations and control offices, staff accommodation, shunter cabins and facilities for research and development, education and training.

Neath Port Talbot Council Chief Executive Karen Jones said: “This project  will provide invaluable support to our recovery post Covid and it will also offer further economic development opportunities in the field of sustainable technologies associated with the rail sector such as electric, battery and hydrogen powered trains.”

Vaughan Gethin with project leaders at the site (Pic WAG)

The Welsh Government says it has been working in partnership with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Powys County Council to develop proposals for the GCRE for some time. A joint venture was established in 2019 between Welsh Government and both Powys and Neath Port Talbot councils to support project development and delivery. The proposals are the result of collaborative working with partners and extensive engagement and consultation with stakeholders and local communities.

Herald.Wales understands that a land option deal has been completed for the sites at the Nant Helen surface mine and Onllwyn coal washery, which will see Celtic Energy gift all the land necessary for the project.

The Welsh Government says on its website that it wants to deliver a world class train testing facility in the UK. We are confident this will be a significant attraction to investors. This will provide a vital service to UK and international train manufacturers, network operators, the wider industry, and the supply chain. For decades to come it will:

  • fast-track improved services for passengers and freight operators
  • deliver significant efficiencies for the rail industry and the delivery of major projects
  • accelerate the throughput of innovation and support Wales and UK exports
  • provide high quality jobs and training opportunities locally.