‘Get Involved!’ – GCRE Director of Implementation Rob Thompson urges organisations to take part in ‘Showcase’ opportunity

This week’s GCRE blog is authored by Rob Thompson – Director of Implementation at the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE)

I do enjoy a challenge.

Indeed, I’ve spent my entire career involved in them – specifically, large infrastructure projects and helping bring to life complex construction and civil engineering developments.

But even for me, when GCRE Chief Executive Simon Jones first outlined the vision that had been developed for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence, well, even I have to admit there was a sharp intake of breath.

To take a large, former industrial site – a significant part of which was used for both deep and open cast mining – and develop from scratch a major new rail innovation centre, is a significant engineering challenge in anybody’s book.

“Oh, and it needs to be ready for opening in the middle of 2025”, Simon said.

3.5million cubic metres of earth to get the site ready for construction; 700 hectares of land to deal with – the size of Gatwick airport. This was no ordinary job and I love a challenge! Having worked in the area for almost 30 years, I really wanted to be involved.

What quickly struck me as I chatted to Simon and heard more about the facility and what it could do, the more interested I got. Simon’s enthusiasm for the project was infectious and soon had me excited about the possibilities. Not just about what the facility could do for rail, but what it represented for the communities and region around the site. I live in South Wales and I know the impact the jobs and the opportunities the facility offers up for an area impacted by more than four decades of de-industrialisation. It gives the venture a strong social justice element and for me that’s very important.

The ambition is that the ideas and the innovations that will propel the greener, stronger and more reliable railway of tomorrow can be developed at our facility in south Wales. Located at the head of the Dulais and Swansea Valleys, the venture has received £50m from the Welsh Government and £20m from the UK Government, and a procurement process has started to find private investors to fund the site vision to completion.

And so it was very interesting recently to talk to our supply chain about how they could support us in the one very important element of the GCRE construction. At an event at the Rail Industry Association’s offices we invited innovators, suppliers and organisations from across the sector to take part in a unique competition.

We’re offering anyone with assets, technology or kit to donate their products and have them installed for free at the GCRE site as we progress the build. At this stage we’re looking for donations at zero cost and have developed a list of assets that we’re interested in acquiring. They range from rail systems equipment, including track and sleepers, to signalling, telecoms, on-board systems and security equipment. And more, potentially. We’re flexible about what we can install and embed at the site, both new and re-usable kit, over the next couple of years.

For GCRE, the benefit is that we get the chance to embed some of the very latest technologies into our site, as well as make a tangible contribution to the circular economy. For those donating assets they get the opportunity to install innovative new products in a world class site for research, innovation and testing, with all the kudos and opportunity that brings commercially.

What came through the room as I was presenting our opportunity with colleagues was that same sense of excitement – and that same hunger that I felt when I first heard about GCRE – to be involved in the development and the construction of what will be an internationally significant facility.

It’s true to say that opportunities like this – the chance to put your organisation’s stamp on one of the most interesting and creative infrastructure propositions in European rail today – don’t come along very often. So my message at the briefing we held was simple – get involved. Take a look at the competition; have a chat with one of the GCRE team and play your own distinctive part in helping us construct what will be a genuinely world class facility,

More information about the competition can be found on our website gcre.wales where you can also find links to the application process. The competition will close at 12noon on 30th March at and successful bidders will be informed on 21st April.

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