Meet the Team

The Global Centre of Rail Excellence has established an experienced and diverse board of directors and senior management team to lead the project and establish the new world class facility.

Dr Debra Williams


Dr Debra Williams is one of the most experienced business executives in Wales having built into one of the UK’s leading aggregator sites.

Having worked at a management level at Admiral, Tesco Bank, NCR, Covea, Swansea University and News Corporation, she is an angel investor and consults with companies across the UK, Europe and in the US. Sitting on the board of The Alacrity Foundation, Milford Haven Port Authority, Principality Building Society and Co-op Insurance, she has also chaired both Careers Wales and the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Welsh Government.

A Welsh Woman of the Year for Innovation, she has also been recognised as one of the UK’s top 200 businesswomen by the Queen. Honorary Doctor at Swansea University and business ambassador for Ty Hafan.

Geraint Davies CBE FCA

Vice Chair

A partner in Grant Thornton for 25 years before retiring in June 2013. Now a Non-Executive Director for a number of major businesses including, until recently, Mears – a FTSE 350 company; and Cardiff Airport, owned by the Welsh Government. Geraint is also retained as an advisor for several other private companies.

Gail Hawthorne

Non-executive Director

As commercial lawyer and Barrister, Gail Hawthorne specialises in advising highly regulated industries on compliance and risk mitigation. This includes having worked as a commercial litigator and as interim Group Legal Counsel for Scottish Water. She is also a former panel advocate to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Simon Blanchflower CBE

Non-executive Director

Simon Blanchflower CBE retired from his role as CEO of the East West Railway Company in March 2022, having successfully established the company and secured funding for the first stage of the project which will connect Oxford and Milton Keynes. He was previously Major Programme Director on the Thameslink Programme and Deputy Chair of the London Legacy Development Corporation, responsible for securing the legacy from the London 2012 Olympics.

Simon Jones

Chief Executive Officer

Prior to becoming Chief Executive of GCRE, Simon was Director of Economic Infrastructure in Welsh Government for six years, responsible for devolved areas of transport, broadband and property. He helped establish Transport for Wales and oversaw major projects including new road and railway enhancements in Wales, managing a £1bn annual budget. Previously Simon worked for 25 years in engineering consultancy, including 20 with Atkins.

Samantha Hawkins

Chief Financial Officer

Former Chief Financial Officer of Transport for Wales Rail Services and before that Arriva Trains Wales, both £400m annual revenue businesses. Samantha has a wealth of experience and at TfW supported major change programmes including the £750m south Wales valleys line electrification programme, one of the most significant infrastructure projects in Wales.

Kelly Warburton

Chief Commercial Officer

Previously Managing Director of UK and Europe for Unipart Rail, Kelly began her rail industry career with Alstom in 2001. She joined NRS, now Unipart Rail, in 2004 and worked her way up through the commercial division before becoming a member of the Unipart Rail Board and Group leadership team. She is also a Board member of the Rail Industry Association (RIA) and judge of the Everywoman in Transport Programme.

Rob Thompson

Director of Implementation

For 16 years Rob was the Operations Director of Celtic Energy, responsible for mining and restoration activities at the company’s sites. Rob had overall responsibility for the Nant Helen site during that time, which is now is the site of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence project.

Prof Andy Doherty

Chief Technical Officer

Prof. Andy Doherty FREng is the Chief Technology Officer for GCRE. Andy’s role is to provide the vision and leadership to the technology strategy and development of the UK’s first genuine full scale railway innovation facility. Until the autumn of 2020 Andy was Chief Rail Technology Officer for Network Rail, providing the vision and leadership to its technology strategy. He led on engineering interaction with the UK railway industry and within the European railway sphere. Andy is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers and is an Electrical Systems Engineer, with expertise in the railway system, rolling stock design, the mechanical interface between the train and track, transmission-based signalling systems such ETCS and electromagnetic compatibility.

Rob Forde

Director of Strategy and Skills

Prior to joining the Global Centre of Rail Excellence, Rob was Industry Sector Lead for Network Rail on the East Coast Digital Programme. Before that he was part of Network Rail’s research and development team, leading the accelerated innovation programme. His team helped Network Rail secure a six-fold increase in the research and development budget for CP6.