The new Centre of Excellence for Digital Systems will focus on specialist research into railway control and simulation, data integration, cybersecurity, condition sensing and monitoring technologies, as well as improved methods for technology introduction.

The 3000m2 facility has a range of design and research spaces, open offices, meeting rooms, seminar rooms and event spaces. In addition, it is equipped with project labs, light labs and state-of-the-art equipment such as cab simulators, a signalling control centre and a cybersecurity test lab.

The centre was created in collaboration with the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), and is part of the larger Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE), and was partially funded through a grant of £16.4m from Research England.

The completion of the building marks the end of the first phase of construction of the university’s £46.5m School of Engineering development. The project was procured through the Constructing West Midlands framework, and the building was designed by Associated Architects and constructed by contractor Willmott Dixon.

“Research teams will benefit from facilities including large, flexible laboratory and collaborative office spaces that are future-proofed for this fast-moving sector,” says Mr Warren Jukes, director at Associated Architects. “Direct links to the School of Engineering are intended to facilitate new collaborations between research and industry that will have far-reaching benefits.”

The centre includes a range of design and research spaces.

“Despite completing the final stages of the project during the Covid-19 pandemic, our teams optimised industry-leading safety and social distancing measures, which meant we were able to remain on-site during the pandemic and ultimately deliver this phase of the project on time,” says Mr Nick Gibb, deputy managing director for the Midlands at Willmott Dixon.

UKRRIN is a research group founded in 2017 as a partnership of rail industry leaders and a consortium of Birmingham, Southampton, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Loughborough, Sheffield, Nottingham and Heriot-Watt universities, and is funded by industry leaders including Alstom and Bombardier.

The new centre will support the University of Birmingham’s expanding range of obligations as a member of UKRRIN. UKRRIN signed an agreement with HS2 Ltd in August to provide access to technologies produced by the group. Under the agreement, the University of Birmingham will lead research into digital systems.