HITACHI Rail and the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) in South Wales have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on rolling stock testing and maintenance, infrastructure monitoring technologies, battery technology and ETCS approval testing.

Under the collaboration agreement, Hitachi will test new British-built trains and digital solutions at the GCRE testing facility now under construction near Swansea, and will also use the £400m facility to test battery technology co-developed with Turntide.

Hitachi and GCRE also see the opportunity to make the site a hub for digital rail technology by testing both digital signalling and infrastructure monitoring solutions. These include digital solutions that can automate track, overhead line and lineside vegetation monitoring to pinpoint faults and reduce costs. Hitachi says there is also an opportunity to test future upgrades of ETCS to ensure a seamless transition in digital signalling.

The majority of rolling stock testing in Britain currently takes place on the mainline network, but track access and testing time is restricted to reduce the impact on normal operations. Hitachi says the GCRE facility increases flexibility and the opportunities to conduct testing, shortening the time taken to refine and verify the performance of new technology.

GCRE is a purpose-built rail innovation centre being constructed in South Wales that will provide a site for rail research, as well as the testing and certification of rolling stock, infrastructure and innovative new rail technologies. The site will provide services for both the British and European markets. There is currently no dedicated, purpose-built facility for rail infrastructure testing in Europe or a railway test loop of this scale in Britain.

Under the agreement, Hitachi Energy’s static frequency converters (SFC) will also be used to provide a stable traction energy supply for the two test tracks at the centre, supporting GCRE’s goal to become Britain’s first net-zero railway.

“Agreeing this deal with Hitachi is a big moment for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence,” says GCRE chief executive, Mr Simon Jones. “To secure such an important and globally significant partner to undertake their testing and research on site clearly demonstrates the calibre and the quality of clients that we will be working with at our facility. What is particularly pleasing is the message that this sends to the whole industry about the credibility and attractiveness of the GCRE offer.”

Spanning the former Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn washery in the former South Wales coalfield, GCRE was established in 2021 with an initial commitment of £50m from the Welsh government. The British government is supporting the project with funding for research and development, along with capital funding of £20m. GCRE is currently seeking private funding by means of a major public procurement exercise. 

The facility will include two 25kV ac electrified test loops: one a 6.9km high-speed rolling stock test track and the other a 4km, 60km/h infrastructure test track.