One of the complaints about developing light rail projects in the UK is the large costs involved causing many local authorities to think twice but a new project currently under development in the West Midlands could change all that with the concept of Very Light Rail. It is planned that the first vehicle will be ready by spring 2019 whilst plans are also being developed for the first route, which looks set to be in Coventry.
The official blurb on the project states that it aims to deliver all the benefits of trams but at a fraction of the cost. It will use a state of the art rail system which will be cheaper, quieter and more environmentally friendly than anything currently available. As part of the project it also planned to develop vehicles which have the capability to run without a driver, thus leading to a further reduction in operational costs. It is also planned that they will be fully battery operated so there won’t be the need for overhead power. Looking ahead it is felt that many disused railway lines in UK could be ideal for conversion to Very Light Rail.
A recent progress update in Railway Technology Magazine has given details of where various parts of the project are at the moment. For the vehicle – which is either going to be ready by 2019 or 2020 depending on which sections of the VLR website you believe! – it is said that work is progressing well to date. It will be capable of carrying 70 passengers including 20 seats. The project team is currently “pulling together a consortium of relevant organisations to work on the autonomy [driverless operation] challenge”.
A new form of track is also being developed with the plan that this will be a “resilient, long-life and shallow trackform”. It is hoped that this would mean utility diversion work wouldn’t be needed in as much depth as currently. A prototype track solution is currently being developed and once this is done a purpose built test track will be built.
As mentioned above it is planned that the first routes will be in Coventry – but currently no details are known of exactly where the route may specifically go. The local council are said to be keen on a “four-leaf clover” system which would cover major residential, industrial and development areas across the city along with a direct connection to the HS2 station close to Birmingham International Airport.
Although the project does seem to be at a very early stage of development – and with much of the technology to be involved at a prototype stage, if that – this could be a radical development for the UK and may, in the long-term, see many towns and cities able to improve their public transport offering.
* The Very Light Rail project have their own website at http://www.verylightrail.com/ where you can find more information on what is planned.