While a lot of out attention for light rai in the West Midlands is concentrated on the West Midlands Metro there is also another ongoing project – Very Light Rail. This is a project with multiple parts, the biggest of which are the construction of an Innovation Centre and Test Track along with the Coventry VLR project for which a prototype vehicle has recently been completed.
The Coventry VLR project is currently being developed and initial plans are for a mass transport system in the city while also proving the VLR concept. It would connect major employment sites with the city centre and railway station whilst also being part of wider transport network in Coventry.
As part of Coventry VLR a prototype vehicle has been constructed with researchers from WMG, University of Warwick along with TDi Ltd been involved in the design and build. In March the completed vehicle went on a tour of Coventry on the back of a low loader with stops at the Co-op building and Transport Museum to allow the public to get a better view.
Speaking at the time of its tour, Cllr Jim O’Boyle, cabiner member for jobs and regeneration and Coventry and Warwickshire LEP board director, said: “I am really pleased to see the first prototype vehicle out of the factory and on to our city’s streets. Even on a low loader it looks impressive – modern, sleek and of course the fact its battery powered means it’s good for the environment and air quality too. Very Light Rail has reached this really important point thanks to all of the researchers, innovators, engineers and manufacturing skills we have right here in the city. And I believe that we can create jobs and opportunities for local people as we lead the Green Industrial Revolution. Coventry was the beating heart of the carbon revolution and now with projects like this, UKBIC, our electric bus fleet and our plans for a Gigafactory we will lead the zero-carbon revolution too. On track testing will take some time – but it should prove the concept – and at that stage I expect there to be lots of interest in VLR from other areas of the UK and abroad. This is a very exciting moment.”
While Dr Darren Hughes, from WMG, Warwick University, added: “It is very exciting for us to see the development of the Coventry Light Rail vehicle move onto the next phase of testing in Dudley, and to see the vehicle in the City which it will one day call home. The vehicle has been constructed within Coventry with a reliance on a regional supply chain where possible, showing the strength in depth of local manufacturing. It is a unique vehicle with state-of-the-art technologies including an advanced battery power-train and resilient glazing making it even safer for public use.”
Subsequent to this special tour the completed vehicle has been moved to Dudley and the National Innovation Centre. This has a specially built 2.2km Very Light Rail test track alongside and the VLR vehicle is due to be tested on this later in the year. The test track itself has also been completed recently which gave the perfect opportunity for leaders in the region to make a visit including the leader of Dudley Council, Cllr Patrick Hanley and Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands.
Andy Street commented: “This project puts the West Midlands on the cutting edge of transport innovation and development and shows how collaborative working is delivering for our region. That these vehicles are going to be tested in Dudley to then be used in Coventry is testament to how we’ve managed to pull the West Midlands together as one in recent years, and I am delighted the WMCA has been able to play its part to help make this happen. Not only is there clear economic benefits to this scheme, but there’s major environmental ones as well. VLR is another modern public transport alternative, which means it can help us ease congestion on our roads and bring about cleaner air as we look to tackle the climate emergency and work towards our #WM2041 plan to become a net zero carbon region over the next 20 years.”
The Innovation Centre is due to be completed in 2022 while testing on the test track is expected to commence later in 2021.