The aims of Very Light Rail (VLR) are to:
- Reduce Coventry transport carbon emissions which currently amount to about 1/3 of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions;
- Improve air quality by reducing the number of fossil-fuel vehicles on the roads;
- Stimulate economic development an innovation within Coventry;
- Make the city a more attractive place to live and work, to study and invest;
- Encourage people to move away from owning their own car and using public transport (sometimes called Mobility as a Service or MaaS);
- Provide an affordable alternative to conventional light rail systems, which due to cost can make business cases challenging.
Conventional tramways can require all services under the road to be relocated and often need complex overhead wiring. VLR will be lightweight and battery-powered to create a low cost, lightweight tram that is capable of running on streets and negotiating tight corners.
Very light rail appeals to transport chiefs because it does not require under-road utilities to be relocated before track is laid. The cost per kilometre is around £10M, compared to £35 to £60M per kilometre for conventional trams.
The very light rail trams would hold 50 passengers, and it is hoped the system will work like the London Underground, where there is no timetable and people can hop on and off.
The project will develop a lightweight track solution which has the potential to reduce the need to divert services and reduce construction costs and disruption. Because they are battery-powered, no overhead cables would be needed and the tracks are cheaper to install than for a tram, which is heavier. The vehicles will utilise innovative energy storage solutions, such as those being explored by the Advanced Propulsion Catapult at Warwick Manufacturing Group.
Working from this initial concept, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) will progress a research programme working with expert research centres in the West Midlands to investigate the technology opportunities and business cases for VLR Deployment. This will include utilising a new Very Light Rail Innovation Centre in Dudley and seek operational use cases across the area and beyond.
Coventry will be the initial area of search for a publically operating modern VLR system, as an alternative to tyre based and conventional Metro based connectivity solutions. Subject to the outcome of the development work planned over the next two years, it is envisaged that the first route will be between Coventry Railway Station in the city centre to the University of Warwick. A potential further route would link the University with the proposed growth around Whitley. Ultimately the aim would be to connect the city to HS2 Interchange and UK Central.
The very light rail project is planned to be running by 2025.
Speaking at a Transport Delivery Committee for West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) on November 4, VLR project manager and Director of Transportation and Highways at Coventry City Council, Colin Knight, said the plans for Coventry would be “more expensive” than than Birmingham’s £110m Sprint project – a rapid bus network being built ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, according to a report in the Coventry Telegraph. So far the project has secured £14.66 million – from the West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Deal (£12.2 million) and Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership LEP Growth Fund (£2.45 million).
Sprint is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service that delivers predictable journey times and high frequency, dependable timetables.
According to a report in BIS Now, two potential routes have been assessed for feasibility, economic benefits and costs: the city centre to Warwick University via the railway station, and the railway station to University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire. These routes connect major employment sites, development sites and potential strategic park and ride sites with the city centre and the railway station.
Meetings with developers took place in June and July 2019. The WMCA was told that: “Commercial land/housing developers [are] keen to bring forward VLR and willing to contribute to first route construction.”