The UK’s National Grid has opened a £6m ($9.5m) gas training facility which it claims is the first of its kind in Europe.

The facility is based at the National Grid Academy learning centre in Eakring, England, and involves a state-of-the-art working replica of an above ground installation (AGI), which National Grid says is one of a just a handful in the world.

Using pressurised air instead of gas, it will allows trainee engineers to gain hands-on experience of maintaining and operating these facilities in a safe environment.

More than half of National Grid’s gas workforce are due to retire in the next decade, the company says the facility will become vital for training.

Chief executive Steve Holliday said: “Our investment in this world class facility demonstrates our commitment to our people and investing in their skills. It shows our hands-on approach to developing the next generation of technicians to keep Britain’s energy flowing.”

Training on the AGI model will be backed up by learning on a virtual AGI, where trainees can dismantle and reconstruct equipment bolt by bolt, sitting at a computer.