Catapult couples up with European rail innovation centre

New collaboration sees an emerging railway innovation facility partner with Connected Places Catapult to pursue joint research and innovation opportunities.

High speed trains and railway infrastructure are set to be put through their paces at a new rail research and innovation facility being built in south Wales, and Connected Places Catapult has signed a deal to work with the centre on areas of common interest.

Construction of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) has begun in a former open cast coal mine near Powys on the fringes of the Brecon Beacons. The facility will feature two electrified rail test loops – one a 7km track for continuous testing of rolling stock, and another track for testing railway infrastructure such as overhead lines, signalling, track and emerging rail technologies.

The development includes a £50 Million contribution from the Welsh Government, £20 Million from the UK Government and £7.4 Million from Innovate UK for research and development activity at the site. The facility is set to provide new high-quality job and training opportunities for people living in the region, which is a de-industrialised area of the UK.

Senior representatives from Connected Places Catapult and the Global Centre of Rail Excellence met on site on 6 October to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, setting out how each party can work together on cutting edge research and innovation projects.

“Railway technology continues to evolve at pace, and it is important that the UK has the capability to develop and test the latest systems for rolling stock, lineside infrastructure and associated applications. The new Global Centre of Rail Excellence promises to deliver a boon for the UK rail sector, help specialist companies to deliver innovation, and create regional jobs and growth.”
Connected Places Catapult’s Chief Business Officer, Paul Wilson
“It’s fantastic to agree this partnership between Connected Places Catapult and the Global Centre of Rail Excellence. As a world class site for rail research, testing and innovation of rolling stock, infrastructure and cutting-edge new technologies there is huge potential for our two organisations to work together and collaborate.

“The next few years will require enormous creativity and innovation to develop the new technologies that can support our path to net zero. Using the high quality infrastructure we will have at GCRE, and by harnessing the expertise of Connected Places Catapult, we can work together on many of those critical decarbonisation challenges.”
GCRE Ltd Director of Strategy and Skills, Rob Forde

The new rail centre will occupy a 700ha site – a similar size to Gibraltar – and be connected to the South Wales Mainline via a branch line at Neath. In time the development will also feature a hotel with conference facilities, a research and innovation area for manufacturers, laboratories and a visitor centre.

Opportunities to test autonomous control systems, advanced construction materials, unmanned aerial vehicles used for surveying the railway, intelligent maintenance and monitoring processes, and advanced connectivity will also be provided at the centre; all areas which link to Connected Places Catapult’s focus on connected intelligence and the transition to net zero.

GCRE plans to be the UK’s first ever net zero in operation railway, with all of the energy used to operate the site generated from renewable energy sources.

Recently, the University of Birmingham – working with Cardiff and Swansea universities – was awarded £15 Million by the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund to establish a new centre for railway testing, validation and customer experience at the GCRE site.

Construction of the new centre aims to bolster the UK’s offering in rail research and innovation, allowing for trains and systems to be tested away from the operational railway. Its location also promises to provide a much-needed boost to the south Wales economy and support local regeneration efforts.