£12m project to bring disused railway tunnel back into use is on track

Work is ongoing on a £12 million project to convert a disused railway tunnel into a state-of-the-art vehicle testing facility.

Part of the tunnel is already being used for testing.

The Catesby Aerodynamic Research Facility (CARF) is finding a new use for the three-kilometer long Victorian era Catesby Tunnel, where vehicles can be driven at high speeds to monitor their aerodynamic performance.

A 400-metre stretch of the tunnel has already been made operational and has been used for some early testing. It is hoped the rest of the tunnel, which will include facilities for testing wind and simulated weather impact as well as for aerodynamics and emissions, will be completed by May next year.

A new £4 million Research and Innovation Centre is also being built on the site, with the aim of enabling high-performance technology start-ups and early growth businesses to locate next to the testing facility.

Construction and civil engineering firm Stepnell began work on site in January 2018, building a new access road and two-storey main building at the tunnel’s southern entrance. Work to lay a smooth road surface inside the eight-metre-wide tunnel got underway in January this year.

The building was given planning permission by Daventry District Council last May despite the fact it breached the authority’s planning policies. The council acquired the disused tunnel from the Secretary of State for Transport so it could be leased to Brackley based firm Aero Research Partners (ARP), who are behind the project.

The proposed two-storey centre will include offices, seminar space, café, and workshop which are proposed as a hub on the site of the tunnel and associated research and Technology Park. It is anticipated 13 full-time and 35 part-time staff will work at the building

The overall scheme at Catesby has attracted a £6.2 million investment from the Government’s Local Growth Fund, secured through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

Dr Rob Lewis OBE, managing director of Brackley-based TotalSim – which applied for planning permission for the innovation centre – and ARP, said: “As the project nears completion we are eager to start vehicle testing in the tunnel and attracting companies from all over the world to come to Catesby to test.”

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