DRIIVe: Future of UK rail innovation at historic Barrow Hill in Derbyshire

Barrow Hill wagon image Shan Liu

Work may soon commence on a groundbreaking railway technical development centre. Planning permission has been granted for the Derbyshire Rail Industry Innovation Vehicle (DRIIVe). The backers describe it as a cutting-edge rail innovation and training centre. The location is set to be adjacent to the historically significant Barrow Hill Roundhouse, near Chesterfield.

The DRIIVe centre has an estimated build cost of approximately four million pounds (4.46 million euro). The project has received funding through the Staveley Town Deal, a financing vehicle provided by the local authority. The location, near the Midland Main Line and the city of Chesterfield, is already home to an active railway museum and a charter train base. The cluster includes a contract maintenance facility and several other rail industry companies.

Drive growth in the rail sector

The finance package for DRIIVe marks a significant milestone for railway innovation in the area. The development is a collaborative effort involving the Barrow Hill Engine Shed Society, Chesterfield Borough Council, and New Rail, a railway technology incubator division of Newcastle University. The location was recently in the news as the development site and the launch of the Positive Traction Class 08e, a battery electric locomotive derived from the chassis of the once ubiquitous diesel shunter.

Driving ambition. Chesterfield Council Leader Tricia Gilby is right behind the DRIIVe initiative.

“It’s fantastic that our plans for DRIIVe have now been approved”, said Councillor Tricia Gilby, leader of Chesterfield Borough Council, and vice-chair of the Staveley Town Deal Board. Councillor Gilby was present, and helped host the launch of the 08e locomotive, and readily appreciates the importance of the DRIIVe initiative. “The centre offers the opportunity to drive growth in the rail sector and help our residents access high-quality jobs”, she remarked.

A stream of highly qualified railway personnel

The DRIIVe project should become a nucleus for rail technology. It is intended to include classroom and workshop training areas and specialised research and development facilities. There will be a dedicated digital laboratory and commercial offices on site. The centre will support a network of specialist training providers, offering rail-related education, postgraduate training and research.

Artist’s impression of the DRIIVe Centre at Barrow Hill

The region has always been associated with the railway industry, but that has often been synonymous with ‘blue-collar’ careers. Mark Robinson, Professor of Rail Systems Engineering and Director of New Rail at Newcastle University wants to see a stream of highly qualified railway personnel come through the centre. He emphasised the critical need for railway research and innovation. DRIIVe, he explained, is the ideal solution, providing purpose-built spaces for rail research, and development activities, and a comprehensive base for rail-related training. DRIIVe is poised to create around 20 full-time jobs. The project intends to be supporting approximately 270 trainees by year five, offering local residents access to highly skilled careers in the rail industry.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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