Nant Helen 110mph Test Track & Rail Technology Centre

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Tomos y Tanc

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Since this project now seems to be moving forwards rapidly, I thought I'd start a new thread for it, the previous one having been closed.

The project is currently awaiting planning permission from Neath Port Talbot and Powys county councils as it straddles the county boundary but, with both authorities supporting the plans in principal, and with the project fully funded by the Welsh and UK Governments this has definitely moved into the 'gonna happen' category. The full application can be found here.

The projected timetable seems ambitious but doable.

Planning approval: summer 2021
Site preparation / construction: 2021 to 2023
Accreditation / validation: 2021 to 2023
Phase 1 operational: 2023
Fully operational: 2025

There's little doubt that this is something the UK has needed for a long time and may ultimately lead to a return of passenger traffic on the to be upgraded southern section of the Neath and Brecon line.
 
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Brissle Girl

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It feels like a very speculative venture, in terms of the level of income that it could earn to make it worthwhile. The history of post privatisation rail is one of feast and famine in terms of rolling stock procurement.
 

bluenoxid

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I am probably wrong but my understanding is that it wouldn’t be restricted to UK outline stock so could be competitive to Wildenrath
 

Domh245

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I am probably wrong but my understanding is that it wouldn’t be restricted to UK outline stock so could be competitive to Wildenrath

It'd have to be ridiculously cheap - the cost of getting stock from Mainland Europe to this site would be huge compared to Wildenrath, Velim, or any of the other European test tracks. I can't imagine any european stock coming over to use it and go back to be honest, it'll be ultimately domestic only
 

popeter45

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It'd have to be ridiculously cheap - the cost of getting stock from Mainland Europe to this site would be huge compared to Wildenrath, Velim, or any of the other European test tracks. I can't imagine any european stock coming over to use it and go back to be honest, it'll be ultimately domestic only
yea, if you really wanted to market a test track for Mainland trains Wales isnt the place, somwhere like Kent with its HS1 connection would make much more sence
 

Tomos y Tanc

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yea, if you really wanted to market a test track for Mainland trains Wales isnt the place, somwhere like Kent with its HS1 connection would make much more sence
Yes but I would have thought that identifying and securing planning permission for a site pretty much anywhere in the south of England would be nigh on impossible.

Nant Helen works as a site because pretty much anything is an improvement of opencast coal mining. I would assume there are sites in the north of England and central belt of Scotland that are similar but I can't think of any very large post-industrial sites removed from major population centres further south.
 
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LNW-GW Joint

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I'm yet to see a business plan for this development. Who will use it?
Unless the Roscos, manufacturers and TOCs buy in to it, also Network Rail, it will not be used.
Network Rail's comments on the proposal are all about the access infrastructure and impact on other rail movements, not about any testing activity.
We already have the Asfordby and High Marnham test tracks.
The major manufacturers also have their own test facilities on the continent which replicate UK conditions.
All the documents I can see are about the planning and construction of the site, and about redeveloping the area, not about its benefit to the rail industry.
We also seem to be approaching a "famine" of new rolling stock procurement, with only the HS2 order in prospect, which in any case might be built abroad.
Covid and the drop in rail usage has affected many service development plans.
 

Dai Corner

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It's rather reminiscent of the 'Circuit of Wales' motor racing facility which promised all sorts of things but in reality had no users signed up and seemed to be little more than a way of extracting money from the Welsh Government for feasibility studies, consultancy and the like by impressing starry-eyed naive politicians.
 

Mikey C

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It's rather reminiscent of the 'Circuit of Wales' motor racing facility which promised all sorts of things but in reality had no users signed up and seemed to be little more than a way of extracting money from the Welsh Government for feasibility studies, consultancy and the like by impressing starry-eyed naive politicians.
Indeed one of the issues of devolution, where constituent countries and regions of the UK use public subsidy to compete against each other...
 

squizzler

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The speed at which rail technology advancing at the moment makes me quite bullish for the prospect of a test track. The much-needed zero emission trains such as those using hydrogen or discontinuous electrification will need a long development and shakedown period.

Who knows if the classes 769 or 230 for instance would have taken so long in gestation if their prototypes could have been sent away to a handy World Class Rail Technology Centre of Excellence with test track until they were ready?
 

Domh245

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Who knows if the classes 769 or 230 for instance would have taken so long in gestation if their prototypes could have been sent away to a handy World Class Rail Technology Centre of Excellence with test track until they were ready?

Seeing as most of the issues with those were happening long before they started to turn a wheel, the presence or not of this track wouldn't have changed much.

The main difference between Nant Helen & the current dedicated test tracks is that it's a loop rather than a line, which allows for longer sustained running, but otherwise it's got nothing that Old Dalby (aka Asfordby) don't already have. Other test sites (and heritage railways) were and are available for trundling up and down at various speeds, and I'm curious to see where the people staffing this centre of excellence will come from, seeing as most Rail Engineering expertise seems to be midlands based (certainly when it comes to Rolling Stock)
 

HSTEd

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Wouldn't you prefer a test track to be a figure-8 rather than a simple loop so that the wheelsets on a train do not wear unevenly during long endurance tests?

Or do they not run long enough for this to be an issue?
 

Bertie the bus

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This seems like a total waste of money. We’ve got a perfectly adequate test track at Old Dalby and anything that needs to be tested at higher speeds can be taken to Europe. It’s only ever one of each new class that would need to be tested at high speed on a test track and the WCML has plenty of spare paths for other testing, which is what happens now.
 

randyrippley

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If there's any spare cash for building railways it should be used for building railways for passengers.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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And yet it has both Welsh and UK government support and funding, and the local authorities are of course keen to redevelop the site/area.
Somebody must be convinced it is a good long-term idea.
110mph won't do much for HS2 testing, either.
 

Nym

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Those saying that Ashfordby is enough for all the testing needed haven't tried to get any time booked at RIDC Melton recently. There just isn't the capacity.
 

Domh245

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Those saying that Ashfordby is enough for all the testing needed haven't tried to get any time booked at RIDC Melton recently. There just isn't the capacity.

Surely that's a symptom of the "boom & bust" style of train procurement that seems to happen in the UK - once the current wave of new fleets has finished their testing phases, I would hope that the current test track(s*) would have capacity again. Rather like the number of competing manufacturing sites, there simply isn't the consistent amount of work to keep them all going - during the good-times they'll all be needed, but during the more fallow times (as we're heading into) I can't imagine we'd need 2 high speed, electrified test tracks?
 

randyrippley

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Those saying that Ashfordby is enough for all the testing needed haven't tried to get any time booked at RIDC Melton recently. There just isn't the capacity.
Maybe that's because as a nation we now build - or convert - trains that don't work? Requiring excessive testing?
 

gc4946

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Overall in principle I'm in favour of the scheme.
Its unique selling point are its loops. Locos and rolling stock can be given extended shakedown testing.
Except for CAF at Llanwern, it's well away from UK's railway manufacturing sites, however I imagine an identical scheme in England would have raised serious planning objections.
It also secures the remains of the Neath & Brecon line for the forseeable future and I hope it reopens to Brecon in the long term.
 

Non Multi

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Surely that's a symptom of the "boom & bust" style of train procurement that seems to happen in the UK - once the current wave of new fleets has finished their testing phases, I would hope that the current test track(s*) would have capacity again. Rather like the number of competing manufacturing sites, there simply isn't the consistent amount of work to keep them all going - during the good-times they'll all be needed, but during the more fallow times (as we're heading into) I can't imagine we'd need 2 high speed, electrified test tracks?
Sprinter fleet replacement is just around the corner.
 
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