Very Light Rail in the West Midlands looks set to be on track for success after the confirmation of government funding for both the Very Light Rail Innovation Centre in Dudley and the Very Light Rail project in Coventry. The funding is part of a £66 million package for “shovel ready” projects in the West Midlands from the Getting Building Fund.
£12.3 million has been awarded to the Very Light Rail Innovation Centre with a further £1.8 million going to Coventry’s Light Rail project. Other projects in the West Midlands including the redevelopment of University Station in Edgbaston, the National Brownfield Land Institute and the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus have also received funding through this latest initiative that is aimed at projects which can be started quickly and completed within 18 months to aid economic recovery following the coronavirus lockdown.
The Very Light Rail Innovation Centre will see the development of new modes of transport which are both green and cheaper and quicker to deliver than traditional tram or rail. Due to be constructed on the site of the old Dudley railway station the centre will have access to a single track test track that will be used for prototype vehicles and systems. It is hoped the results from the centre will enable a more cost effective public transport solution as part of the overall aim to encourage more people out of their cars.
It is said that Very Light Rail will feature vehicles with low axle weights (approximately 4 tonnes), self powered vehicles with energy recovery and storage systems as standard, a reduced capital cost and installation time for track infrastructure and reduced infrastructure operational and maintenance costs. One of the big aims would be for this technology to make the reopening of disused branch lines across the UK a more affordable solution than it is at the moment.
Very Light Rail has several partners including Network Rail, City of Wolverhampton Council, University of Huddersfield, Dudley Council, West Midlands ITA, the University of Warwick and Coventry City Council who have got together their expertise to develop the project further with the Innovation Centre the centrepiece.
There had been fears earlier this year that a lack of funding would mean the project had to be cancelled but the news of the £12.3 million funding – a balance will need to be found from the Black Country LEP – has been welcomed as an important step forward.
Marco Longhi, Dudley North MP (without looking it up I’m guessing from his comments a Conservative MP!), said: “This £12.3million investment enables the VLR scheme to go ahead and it is yet another example of this government, led by PM Boris Johnson, keeping its promises. When the Prime Minister came to Dudley, he delivered a vision for the country but more importantly he set out a roadmap for places like Dudley where we have suffered the consequences of jobs lost to the Far East over decades. I have often spoken about the forgotten communities in industrial heartlands like Dudley and this investment is evidence of a government backing us. This will bring jobs; it will bring connectivity and opportunities. But the additional investment in skills with the Institute of Technology, the new leisure centre, the Metro and the development replacing Cavendish House we can look forward to a very exciting future with opportunities for all. We are building, building and building.”
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, added: “At a difficult time for the West Midlands’ economy brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it is great to see the government putting further cash on the table to help aid our recovery. In Dudley, Very Light Rail is a critical project that will help offer lower-cost rail connectivity across the West Midlands, helping to both encourage people out of their cars and tackle the climate emergency we are facing. It is great to see the Government getting behind this scheme and helping to push it over the line. This announcement is just one part of our much bigger plans to reset, recharge and rebuild the West Midlands economy by investing in the future and retaining current jobs and creating new ones.”
In addition to the Innovation Centre, Coventry City Council’s Very Light Rail project has received £1.8 million. It is not clear exactly what this funding will go towards as there hasn’t been a direct update from this side of the project for a while. It has been planned that a vehicle would start testing in 2020 (presumably at the Innovation Centre) before delivery in 2021 and then an operational system in Coventry by 2024. It will be battery operated but it doesn’t seem exact routes have yet been settled upon.