Dudley Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre Furrer+Frey charger

UK: West Midlands Combined Authority has approved funding for a ‘real world demonstration’ of technology being developed under the Very Light Rail project, which aims to offer medium-sized cities a cheaper and faster to construct alternative to traditional tramways.

‘This funding will allow us to take Very Light Rail to the next level — from the workshop to real-world demonstration’, said Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street.

The VLR project is being promoted by Coventry City Council, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Transport for West Midlands. It is based on lightweight battery-powered vehicles, and track which would require less extensive foundation works than traditional tramways.

There are three elements to the funding allocation:

  • the Coventry Very Light Rail scheme promoted by Coventry City Council (£54·5m);
  • the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre promoted by the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation and Dudley Council (£12m);
  • a mass transit options study which is to include an assessment of urban VLR promoted by Transport for West Midlands (£5m).

On January 13 the WMCA board agreed to provide £36·8m for the project, subject to Department for Transport sign-off, as the first instalment of the £71·5m which is to be funded from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement.

This initial funding will be used to build around 1 km of track in Coventry city centre to assess the feasibility of construction in a real-world highway environment, building on work in the closed environment of the Dudley test track. Procurement can now begin, with a view to potential construction in 2024. The track would be a demonstrator, and would not initially be used for public passenger services.

The funding will also support further investments in the VLR research and development centre, production of a business case for a fully operational system potentially running from Coventry railway station to the bus station and in the longer term the University Hospital, and exploration of the business cases for further VLR lines including links with the existing West Midlands Metro conventional light rail network.

‘This technology has the potential to deliver tram systems at pace and at much lower cost, giving more people access to a modern rapid transit system as well as cleaner air and less congestion along with it’, said Street.

’Coventry has helped pioneer VLR and will therefore — alongside our wider region — be well placed to take advantage of this growing industry and the new job opportunities it will bring in the months and years ahead.’

  • The VLR project was described in detail in the Spring 2020 issue of Metro Report International magazine.