Home » £15m awarded to Welsh universities to develop a new rail innovation centre

£15m awarded to Welsh universities to develop a new rail innovation centre

by Liam Turner
A digital train in motion

A consortium of Welsh universities, as well as the University of Birmingham, has been awarded £15m to establish a new “world-leading” railway research and innovation centre in South Wales.

The UKRPIF investment will enable the University of Birmingham, working with Cardiff and Swansea Universities, to establish a new Centre of Excellence for Railway Testing, Validation, and Customer Experience at the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) site, which currently under construction.

The funding is part of £30m announced through the UKRPIF fund to establish two new railway research and innovation facilities, with the other being a new Centre of Excellence for Railway Through-Life Engineering in Goole.

The funding bids include a wider commitment from the rail industry to co-invest £60m, with a further £16m being invested by the University of Birmingham.

In total, the package represents a £106m boost for UK research and development.

The new Centre of Excellence for Railway Testing, Validation, and Customer Experience at GCRE will provide purpose-built facilities alongside major UK railway industrial expertise to support railway innovation, research, and development, in collaboration with industry partners. 

The Global Centre of Rail Excellence, in which the new centre will be housed, will serve as a facility for “world-class” research, testing, and certification of rolling stock, infrastructure, and innovative new rail technologies.

It is hoped the centre will support the UK and European rail industry in accelerating innovation and boosting decarbonisation and the development of more cost-effective rail infrastructure.

The Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) at the University of Birmingham is Europe’s largest specialist railway research, education, and innovation centre.

BCRRE is the lead institution for the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and leads the UKRRIN Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems, which works on the development and application of digital technologies for the railway. 

It will now also lead the Centre of Excellence in Railway Testing, Validation, and Customer Experience, working with Cardiff and Swansea Universities.

‘Huge vote of confidence’

Commenting on the announcement, Professor Clive Roberts, BCRRE director, said: “As a global leader in railway research and education, we work with partners across the world to develop their workforce and their technical and operational capabilities.

“We are also a leader in railway enterprise and innovation; the team here continues to work with SMEs through to OEMs to keep the railway in operation.

“With this new funding, our aim is to have the capabilities and tools to enable innovations to progress from a great idea more effectively to a commercial solution by reducing the cost and risk of projects through the development process.

“Our focus on railway testing and validation is targeted at the whole innovation process with real-world impact at the forefront of our offering.”

Simon Jones, chief executive of GCRE Limited, said: “World-class research and innovation is at the heart of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence mission.

“Working with University of Birmingham and their partners, which now include the universities of Cardiff and Swansea, will allow us to make this ambition a reality. 

“Developing unique R&D facilities that will benefit academia, industry, and most importantly passengers and taxpayers is why we have been established.

“Today’s announcement is the fruit of a lot of hard work and we look forward to taking the next steps together with our internationally renowned partners.”

Lee Waters, deputy Climate Change minister with responsibility for Transport, said: “The Global Centre of Rail Excellence in the Dulais Valley is one of the most critical and creative infrastructure projects happening anywhere in Europe. 

“The rail sector, which is vital to the UK’s decarbonisation journey, is spending millions annually testing its equipment and rolling stock. 

“Much of this spend is in Europe or the US, but this award will go some way to ensuring the sector’s innovation is developed, tested, and commercialised in Wales.”

He added: “There are lots of positives to this including ensuring value for money, creating highly paid skilled jobs and significantly reducing the carbon footprint of rail transportation for the future.

“The award of this new funding to further develop unique research and development facilities, in partnership with the Universities of Birmingham, Cardiff, and Swansea is a huge vote of confidence in Wales as we continue to sustain and build an innovative, competitive, and greener economy.”

Professor Carol Featherston, a sustainable transport specialist at Cardiff University’s School of Engineering and the institutions project lead, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) to deliver the new centre.

“Our expertise in Energy, Digital Systems and Cybersecurity, Human factors, and Infrastructure in collaboration with Birmingham and Swansea University, will support the UK and European rail industry by speeding up innovation, supporting decarbonisation and developing a more cost-effective rail infrastructure.”

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