Stepnell steams ahead with conversion of derelict Catesby Tunnel into world-class vehicle testing facility

West Midlands construction and civil engineering firm Stepnell has started work on transforming the derelict Victorian Catesby railway tunnel into the new Catesby Aero Research Facility, a world-class aerodynamic efficiency vehicle testing centre in Northamptonshire.

The ground-breaking project in Catesby, for Brackley-based firm Aero Research Partners (ARP), will be the only testing facility of its kind available for hire and is expected to attract customers from cycling teams and major motorcycle and car manufacturers, to race car teams and road car enthusiasts. Stepnell’s specialist civil engineering strength and capability will be instrumental in the delivery of this complex building and infrastructure project.

Designed by the Roger Coy Partnership, the project will see the remodelling of the perfectly straight, 2.7km-long 1897-built tunnel into a smooth asphalt roadway, with lighting and end closures among other substantial upgrades. The tunnel, was on the route of the former Great Central Main Line and closed in 1966, will be capable of testing vehicle performance, noise, soiling and cooling performance.

Construction and engineering specialist Stepnell, will initially build access roads to the Catesby Aero Research Facility on the A361 along with clearing hedgerows following consultation with Daventry District Council planning and arboricultural officers.

The Catesby Aero Research Facility will also feature a 4.5-acre science park with offices, workshops and a research facility which is expected to create around 50 new jobs.

“The original tunnel is in remarkable condition given the low levels of maintenance since its decommissioning in the 1960s as a railway tunnel,” says Stepnell director Richard Wakeford. “In planning the works, including the construction of a technical research building, we are looking at the materials, trades, access requirements, specialist plant and processes. All this is accessed from the southern approach, accessing from the old station yard and under a very weak bridge that Highways England is looking to strengthen during the development work.

“Developing the design of the testing environment, managing and minimising the environmental impact of what we do and planning the construction sequence is a challenge equal to building the new facilities.”

The project has been able to go ahead after £4.2 million was awarded from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership.

Dr Rob Lewis OBE, managing director of Brackley-based TotalSim and ARP, says:

“The Local Growth Fund award has been a key step in moving this project forwards. We now have both planning permission and a significant amount of the required budget secured.

“We have investors ready to become part of the project early in 2018 and we expect to open the facility to customers in late 2019. Testing vehicles in Catesby tunnel will give the UK a unique tool in automotive and race car development. We hope that this will lead to a successful science park and other regional activities that will support the testing and innovation at Catesby.

“As the project matures we intend to explore academic collaborations as well as using the facility to engage with schools and work to inspire children into the world of science, technology, engineering and maths.”


Image: An artist’s impression of the new Catesby Aero Research Facility, an innovative world-class aerodynamic vehicle testing centre.



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