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Tunnel Building Tech Among Innovations to Receive Rail Excellence Center Funding

Rail Excellence Project

In order to implement a feasibility study for using its underground construction technology on an underpass at the Global Centre of Rail Excellence project in Wales, Hypertunnel has been granted a funding.

The Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE), which is a part of a new fund for innovation in railway construction, is supporting 24 different projects, involving 36 organizations.

The British tunneling technology firm Hypertunnel, also is one of the indicated projects that has received a £25,000 budget for a project to investigate how to construct an underpass using its novel underground construction system.

In October 2022, UK organizations were invited to apply to Innovate UK for a share of up to £575,000 as part of a two-phase Innovation in Railway Construction competition funded by the UK Government, whereas the funding is being provided by the Department for Business and Trade.

In order to potentially delivering innovations at the new rail industry testing facility being constructed in south Wales, the first phase of funding is due to allow feasibility studies to be developed in partnership with the construction teams at GCRE. With intention of acting as an incubator for pioneering projects, this is going to be Europe’s first purpose-built rail innovation hub.

The purpose of Hypertunnel will be benefiting the funding to carry out a feasibility study into building an underpass using its innovative approach to building tunnels and underground structures, that is presented as 10 times faster and up to 50% more economical than current cut and cover construction techniques.

The concept uses robots to 3D-print the shell of the underground structure, according to a digital twin, and the construction material is then deployed directly into the ground.

The condition for advancing to a second funding round where 12 schemes will be demonstrated on GCRE’s Dulais Valley site in 2024, is success in phase one of the innovation competition, while phase two of the project would enable it to be tested on a real site in the form of a 10m long pedestrian-sized tunnel built under GCRE’s test track, with the railway remaining open throughout.

According to Hypertunnel co-founder Steve Jordan: “The digital revolution using artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics has advanced other industries, but in underground construction, techniques haven’t changed.”

He also added: “Building underground must become quicker and more affordable and sustainable. We believe our methodology presents a genuine technological breakthrough to solve the urgent need for underpasses. We’re very excited at the prospect of testing it in real-world conditions at GCRE. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get feedback for the further advancement of our technologies.”

While the whole government funding for the 24, first phase innovation projects is £565,468, the determined date for commencing these projects will be May 2023, running for three months, leading to phase two activity in late 2023 or early 2024.

GCRE chief executive Simon Jones said: “From the outset we’ve wanted the Global Centre of Rail Excellence to pioneer new ideas and be a place where outstanding and creative research and development is undertaken. This list of 24 feasibility projects is very much in keeping with that vision and it will be very interesting to see them develop over the coming months.”

He continued: “As we construct and then operate our new facility here in south Wales, I’m keen that we continue to work at the cutting edge of innovation and to try new ideas and test new technologies that can ultimately make our railways stronger, greener and more affordable. It’s great to think that the projects in this list are focused on helping to do that.”

“These projects will now be taken forward as feasibility studies, with the promise of further funding to develop the best ideas onto the next level. This is an extremely rare and creative opportunity and we’re all looking forward to working with the projects as they mature,” said Simon.

As a special purpose vehicle in 2021, GCRE was established by the Welsh Government with an initial commitment of £50M from this government. The UK Government is supporting the project with funding for research and development along with capital funding of £20M. GCRE recently launched a major public procurement to attract private funding for the project.

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