Work is well underway on a new Global Centre of Rail Excellence on the southern Powys boundary, which is described as having the potential to "put the area on the map".

The site of the £250 million centre, which was funded by the Welsh and UK Government, was approved by members of Neath Port Talbot and Powys County Council last year.

It will see a 550 hectare site that features electrified testing tracks, as well as space for research, development and education facilities, based on the former Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery which straddles the county boundary between Neath Port Talbot and Powys.

Now expected to be fully operational by 2025, the centre will run 24 hours daily, testing new railway vehicles such as high-speed trains and hydrogen-powered rolling stock, with a 4.5 kilometre looped track and 6.9 kilometre outer looped track at the south-east of the site.

With senior officials having been appointed for the site, and a fleet of test trains acquired, the ground work for the facility and  provision of sidings for rolling stock has begun, with the first phase of building expected to be complete by the summer of 2023.

County Times: A graphic of a testing train from ArupA graphic of a testing train from Arup

Phase two of the work will involve the building of the two electrified test loops which are expected to be completed from 2024, before phase three of the project sees the addition of expanded stabling, maintenance, and commissioning facilities, along with a hotel and business park completed by 2025.

A statement from Neath Port Talbot Council said: “The Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) will be transformational for the areas surrounding the site and for the county borough and region as a whole.

“Due to open in 2025, this purpose-built facility will provide a much needed ‘one stop shop’ for the UK and European rail industry creating a site for expert testing of rolling stock, infrastructure and innovative new rail technologies.

“Members of the planning committees at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Powys County Council gave the Welsh and UK Government-funded GCRE project the go-ahead last year. The Welsh Government developed the idea from scratch and worked with experts from across the global rail industry to develop it.

County Times: Work on the new rail testing siteWork on the new rail testing site

“The prospect of high quality jobs at what will be an in-demand centre for world class rail testing and innovation will make a huge difference to this area and when it opens, the GCRE will become the UK’s first ever net zero railway, which ties in with the council’s de-carbonisation and renewable energy (DARE) strategy.

“Together with the planned multi-million pound Wildfox adventure resort in the Afan Valley, promising as many as 1,000 jobs, and plans, with partners ABP, Pembrokeshire Council and Milford Haven Port Authority, to establish a Celtic Freeport potentially creating 16,000 jobs, this region could be well placed to recover from the current economic downturn.”

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr Steve Hunt, who represents Crynant, Onllwyn and Seven Sisters, where much of the GCRE will be based, said it could well put the area on the map.

He said: “This is an extremely exciting project for this area. It will put us on the map as the go-to place for UK and international train manufacturers, network operators, the wider industry and academics to research, test and develop the latest technologies in green transport for the global rail industry.

“It will also create high quality jobs and could well be a catalyst for further new opportunities, bringing more investment to our towns, valleys and villages in Neath Port Talbot and beyond. The project is moving swiftly and I have been very impressed with the progress made on my visits to the site.”