The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Board today agreed the first instalment of an expected £72 million investment in the emerging VLR technology – designed to be both faster and cheaper to build than traditional tram and rail systems.
The Board’s green light will also enable specialist on-site testing for other VLR systems to move forward.
With development already underway in Coventry and Dudley, the West Midlands is at the forefront of VLR and well placed to become a global leader in both design and manufacture.
Using lightweight, battery-powered electric vehicles the Coventry VLR system operates without overhead cables and its innovative track is designed to require less extensive foundation works, making installation quicker and less expensive while delivering similar environmental benefits.
Much of the new investment will be used to build a real world demonstration track in Coventry city centre and to develop the business case for a fully operational system.
There will also be further investment in the newly opened Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley, enabling the purchase of equipment so that the centre can become fully operational. The funding will also be used to explore the business cases for further VLR lines and links with the existing West Midlands Metro network.
A total of £72 million has been earmarked for the project from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement. The first £36.8 million agreed by the Board today, which is enough to get the projects well underway, will now go to the Department for Transport for final sign off.
Cllr Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Nember for Jobs, Regeneration and Climate Change, said: “This is a milestone investment in Coventry Very Light Rail, a project set to transform the way people in our city – and others throughout the UK and even the world – get around. By creating a new, clean and green form of transport, this investment is securing jobs in Coventry and, as in other cities which have installed light rail, will support regeneration in local areas.
“Of course, Coventry Very Light Rail is just one way that the council is working to improve air quality and combat climate change. We’ve installed more electric vehicle charge points than anywhere outside London, we’re set to become the UK’s first all-electric bus city by 2025, we have ambitions for a gigafactory and have committed to planting a tree for every person living in Coventry by 2032.”
Neil Fulton, chief executive officer of the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO), the legal entity responsible for operating the VLRNIC, said “BCIMO is delighted to be a part of the regional Very Light Rail programme and looks forward to providing continued R&D support to the CVLR project.
“The centre provides a unique opportunity for new rail technologies, such as VLR, to be developed and tested in a purpose-built facility and away from the mainline operating environment.