Political rivals embrace as city's rail training centre opens

Like long-lost brothers, the region’s Conservative Mayor and a Labour council leader embraced as they commemorated another positive development for a city.

Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield embraces Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, at the City of Wolverhampton College's Wellington Road campus
Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield embraces Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, at the City of Wolverhampton College's Wellington Road campus

The opening of a new rail training centre at a local college is hardly the most dramatic initiative, but it is undoubtedly another step in the evolution of Wolverhampton, which may just be starting to drag itself up after years in the doldrums.

The centre, at Wolverhampton College’s Wellington Road campus in Bilston, features more than 40 metres of railway track so students can get hands-on experience in learning the skills needed to build and maintain rail lines.

It is the first in the country to offer training on ‘slab track’ technology, which is used in the construction of high-speed rail lines such as HS2, and will also provide training on traditional rail and tram lines.

It will offer courses for newcomers to the industry, as well as existing employees wanting to upskill, while free training will be laid on for the unemployed.

The centre features more than 40 metres of railway track so students can get hands-on experience

Thousands of rail industry jobs are expected to be created in the region in the coming years, and it is here where much of the training will take place. The facility is the latest in a long line of developments that has been born out of a strong working relationship between two men who do not exactly see eye to eye in a political sense.

While Mayor Andy Street would never claim to be a ‘true blue’ Tory, he certainly does not sit on the same side of the political fence as Councillor Ian Brookfield, who once said he shares similar values to Jeremy Corbyn. Yet they have largely managed to put their party differences aside to work together for the good of the city.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and this particular partnership has up to now resulted in investment including a new railway station, the i9 offices development and the city hosting the National Brownfield Institute.

Mr Street has always vowed to work with leaders from all parties for the good of the region, and in Wolverhampton’s case that has certainly been true.

The college is the first in the country to offer training on ‘slab track’ technology

In an age where Labour and Conservatives have been split into warring camps, such collaboration between politicians of different stripes has become all too rare.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Mr Brookfield sparked anger among Tories in the region last year when he claimed the city had been short-changed by the Government over Towns Fund cash.

They said he was being ungrateful, but he argued he simply wanted what is best for the city.

It all now appears to be water under the bridge.

And this friendship across the political divide continues to work for the improvement of a city where many challenges remain.

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