The Welsh Government is working with Neath Port Talbot and Powys Councils to develop proposals for a Global Centre of Rail Excellence.
Residents living near the open cast mine and coal washery in Onllwyn and Nant Helen at the head of the Dulais Valley have a chance to air their views on plans to build an international test facility at the site.
It would act as a driver for rail industry innovation, investment and growth in Wales, the wider United Kingdom and internationally, while assisting in the site’s restoration as coal-related activity comes to an end.
The first stage briefing and engagement exercise opened in early July and closes on 7 October. It informs respondents that delivering the Global Centre of Rail Excellence would be achieved by combining three distinct components:
- Electrified high speed outer rail loop (6.9km) for testing passenger trains up to a maximum speed of 110 mph; unique to Europe electrified low speed inner rail loop (4.5km) for testing infrastructure and equipment and a control building on land associated with the open cast mining operation.
- Research and operations centre on land currently associated with the coal-washery for education, research and development, offices and conferencing, storage, maintenance and decommissioning of trains and carriages (rolling stock).
- Low speed linear testing track (555m) with a mechanical pulley-driven system for infrastructure testing.
The centre would be a catalyst for rail industry investment in Wales, providing a state-of-the-art R&D ‘innovation accelerator’, development and testing capacity in the UK.
Its construction would have a positive local economic impact in its own right, potentially employing 300 full time workers through the build phase.
Economy and Transport Minister Ken Skates said:
“The need for this facility has been discussed across the rail industry for at least 15 years. This is the best chance in a generation to deliver. The Global Centre of Rail Excellence will offer a range of different roles and could sustain over 150 jobs once fully operational. We could see the site becoming a UK hub for operational training in a dynamic environment away from the operational network, providing opportunities for people to acquire skills they need for a career in the rail industry.
“The facility will attract further activities and regular visitors to the area, as academics and researchers, engineers, contractors and support teams utilise the site on a project-by-project basis, providing a potential boost to local service industries.
“It is crucial we maximise social and economic benefits whilst minimising environmental impacts.
“Early engagement with the communities around the site is vital, which is why we are opening this briefing and engagement on the initial design, and holding 2 drop-in events in both Neath and Abercraf, and I encourage residents in the area to come along and ask questions.”
Councillor Rob Jones, Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council added:
“We welcome the progress made with this exciting project which could bring much needed jobs and investment to our Valley communities plus significant wider benefits. The Council is working closely with the Welsh Government and Powys County Council and we will be fully engaging with our communities on the project in the way the Minister has described.”
Councillor Martin Weale, Cabinet Member at Powys County Council for Economy and Planning said:
“We are excited at the prospects and possibilities this centre for excellence will bring in terms of jobs for the area and investment in the railway industry. Currently, testing is carried out in Europe so this is a fantastic opportunity to grow our own workforce in Wales and I’m sure local people will welcome the chance to have their say.”