IT’S full steam ahead for a high-tech future on the East Coast Main Line after work started on a £36 million new Network Rail complex in York.

Rail Minister Simon Burns yesterday visited the city to see construction of a new rail operating centre and workforce development centre on a triangle of land near York Railway Station.

Then he officially opened a turntable which has been relocated from London to York to replace the old turning triangle on the site, so that steam locos can still turn round while on excursions. The engine used in the Harry Potter movies, Hogwarts Castle, turned up to try out the turntable.

The new operating centre, the largest of 14 such developments proposed across the country, will have the expertise and technology to operate the entire length of the route from London Kings Cross to the Scottish border, eventually replacing 178 traditional signal boxes along the line.

It will ultimately employ almost 480 people, some of whom will relocate to York from elsewhere on the route, with others recruited locally.

Meanwhile the workforce development centre will provide training each day for up to 200 Network Rail staff from across the region.

Mr Burns said the complex was part of the biggest investment in the railways across the country since Victorian times, and came after years of underinvestment, and it would help ensure more passengers could be carried along the route from York to London and Edinburgh.

“These facilities will not only help drive efficiencies and improve performance for passengers and freight on this vital route for many years to come,” he said.

“They will also provide valuable jobs and guarantee a skilled workforce is in place to meet the challenges of running a 21st century railway.”

Phil Verster, route managing director for Network Rail, said the complex would also maintain York’s position as an important rail city. He hoped the site’s location on the edge of York Central – the long stalled redevelopment of a teardrop shaped portion of land behind the station – would act as a catalyst for further investment in the area.