University of Leeds' Institute for High-Speed Rail and System Integration asks for Government support to restart work

Transport developers are asking the Government to intervene with financial help to secure the future of a Yorkshire-based rail research project seen by experts as “game changing opportunity for the UK”.
Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail.Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail.
Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail.

The Institute for High-Speed Rail and System Integration, being developed by the University of Leeds, describes itself as “one of the most advanced rail test and development centres in the world” - but building work halted at the start of the first coronavirus pandemic peak in March.

It is not known how long the delay will last and rail industry figures want the institute operational in two to three years to help the sector deliver on massive taxpayer investment in rail, expected to be in excess of £200 billion over two decades.

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They say that would require building work on the Institute to resume in a matter of months.

The University of Leeds paused its capital spending - expenditure on increasing fixed assets such as the institute - at the start of the first national lockdown and the timing of the construction of its research and testing facilities will be influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To enable building work to recommence as soon as possible, the university is asking the Government to underwrite the Institute’s capital costs.

It says that would allow the test facilities to be operational in time to support the rail industry with its major infrastructure projects.

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Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: “The University of Leeds has already invested £15 million in the Institute, which will help create a global hub for advanced rail technology and manufacturing in the Leeds City Region.

“The pandemic and the ongoing economic uncertainty have meant this important project is in threat of being delayed. With the Government’s help, we can get the institute back on track, support the creation of highly skilled jobs and pave the way for the UK to become a major exporter in fully-tested railway technology.”

The research facilities are designed to identify and eliminate the problems that have dogged large rail infrastructure schemes, such as Crossrail, where new technologies fail to integrate,

causing unexpected faults and breakdowns.

It would house a specially designed vehicle testing rig - in effect, a rolling track that can test trains and carriages at speeds up to 250mph and able to simulate bends, ascents and descents.

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The Institute is being developed in partnership with West Yorkshire Combined Authority/Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Leeds City Council, Research England and the rail industry on a site next to Leeds Enterprise Zone and the proposed HS2 rolling-stock depot, on the south east edge of the city.

Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail, said: “The Institute represents a game changing opportunity for the UK in both conventional and high-speed rail research and innovation. It will provide the UK with a whole system approach to railway testing, development, validation and certification, facilitated through closer industry collaboration.

"At Network Rail we are planning to utilise the facility to mitigate the delivery risks to some of our projects such as the Transpennine and East Coast Upgrades.”

The West Coast Partnership, which won the franchise to run rail services between London, the North West and Scotland, also supports the project.

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The Government said that a new national infrastructure bank that will help drive investment and growth across the UK is expected to be announced by the Chancellor at this week’s Spending Review.

A spokesperson for the National Infrastructure Commission said: “This would be a very welcome move, filling a gap left by the European Investment Bank. The hope is that such an institution will catalyse private investment in infrastructure schemes, and support economic growth across the whole UK.”

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