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Coventry Very Light Rail vehicle tested on revolutionary track for first time

Published: Thursday 02 Nov 2023

The pioneering Coventry Very Light Rail (CVLR) project has achieved a major milestone with successful running of the vehicle on its test track at the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley.

The battery-powered vehicle and revolutionary track system will offer cities the chance to install rapid passenger tram systems faster and at a much lower cost than traditional light rail systems.

The innovative track is thinner than the track used in existing light rail or tram systems. As a result, it can be laid just 30cm deep into the road surface, reducing the need to divert all pipes and cables, which can add significant cost and time delays to light rail projects.

The Coventry VLR project has been developed by a number of innovative West Midlands organisations including Coventry City Council, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), WMG at the University of Warwick and the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation, which runs the Dudley VLRNIC.

The project is backed with funding from the £1.05 billion City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) awarded to the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) by the Department for Transport. The CVLR project has been allocated £40m from that funding to progress the research and development to deliver an affordable integrated mass transit system that could be deployed in cities across the country.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street with Cllr Patrick Harley at the VLR test site in Dudley

The track slab was designed by Ingerop / Rendel in conjunction with WMG and was laid by Galliford Try in a matter of weeks – proving the simplicity of the design which in turn will lead to much lower construction costs and reduced construction time.

This test track includes a tight curve and a 250m vertical hump as both of these are significant challenges for traditional slab track constructions and are one of the reasons tram systems take a long time to build and why they are so expensive.

This construction has included instrumentation so that vibration, sound and stresses produced by the vehicle can be monitored to demonstrate how the track form in conjunction with the novel features of the CVLR vehicle reduces vibration and sound compared to standard tram systems.

The VLRNIC, which will also be partly funded through CRSTS, is pivotal in supporting CVLR reach its potential. It provides a safe offline environment and engineering support for new technologies to be developed and tested robustly before they are taken to the streets for implementation.

This development work is leading up to a real-world demonstration of VLR on the streets of Coventry city centre.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair, following a visit to the test track to view progress, said: “By investing in - and supporting the development of - Very Light Rail in Coventry and Dudley, we’re placing our region right at the forefront of what is a tremendously innovative technology.

“It’s yet another wonderful example of the industry and ingenuity for which the West Midlands is deservedly known. I look forward to seeing this technology progress from the workshop to real world application in the months and years ahead.

“As VLR picks up pace, we’ll be able to further reduce traffic congestion and improve our air quality - offering a convenient and sustainable transport option for local people to enjoy.”

Cllr Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, said: “This is an important milestone on this site and I am delighted to see the first tests taking place. This is a very important aspect of our wider £1 billion regeneration story that is really gathering speed.”

Cllr Jim O’Boyle, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change, had the chance to see the test at the VLRNIC and was impressed by what he saw.

He said: “It was fantastic to see the vehicle running on its track for the very first time. This track is crucial to our vision and this successful test is a big milestone for the project.

“The track is unique; it’s specifically designed to be installed more quickly and more easily than the tracks used by other light rail systems.

“This test will also show that our vehicle is able to run on tight corners and up and down hills – it’s this that will enable it to run in smaller and medium sized cities. But there is no reason a traditional tram couldn’t run on it too – making delivery of trams more affordable.

“Coventry Very Light Rail is pioneering – with the potential to create new jobs and tackle climate change by providing people with a zero-emission mode of travel.

“This is Coventry doing what it does best. We led the industrial revolution here in Coventry and now, with fantastic projects like this, we are leading the green industrial revolution too.”

Neil Fulton, chief executive of BCIMO, the company established to launch and operate the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre in Dudley continues to be impressed with the CVLR vehicle and the work on the test track.

He said: “This project is a great example of BCIMO’s ability to support the development of innovative technologies in a controlled environment using our unique, rail test facilities – and it highlights the huge benefits of effective collaboration.”

Jamie Missenden, regional manager with Galiford Try, added: “Having experience of light rail construction previously, the opportunity to play a part in creating an innovative system like this provided us with the chance to see how these complex infrastructure systems could be installed with significant risk and cost savings. 

“With the test track now completed, we are proud of the work we have completed with partners and have been impressed by the speed of the installation of the track. In our view, this system offers significant benefits and added value to that of the more traditional light rail installation and construction process.”

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