Predominantly known for its medieval cathedral, Coventry — the city in central England, UK — is set to become home to the UK’s first “very light” rail line.
Acting as one of the latest research and development projects utilizing automotive expertise, Coventry Very Light Rail (CVLR) is part of a bigger £1.3bn travel plan that aims to provide an alternative means of transport and reduce the number of cars on the road — while easing congestion and improving air quality.
To make this happen, Coventry City Council announced in early 2023 that it is working together with Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick, Dudley Council, Transport for West Midlands, and Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation.
The first route has been planned and developed in Coventry to provide an alternative mass transport system for the city, connecting key employment locations and the city center.
CVLR will use a new innovative type of track, which has been designed specifically for use within this project. This new track design is not laid as deep as conventional railway lines — which provides a benefit when it comes to reducing the need to relocate existing utility infrastructure.
Also, CVLR will be battery-powered, thus removing the need for any overhead power cables that can be a costly setback for railway projects.
“CVLR is a critical transport project for the future as it offers rail connectivity at lower cost and with a faster build time than conventional tram systems, as well as giving our citizens yet another clean and green car alternative,” said Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA. “That is why we are so committed to funding and delivering the UK’s first very light rail system here in the West Midlands. With the system being developed in Dudley ahead of its use in Coventry, very light rail is also fantastic news for our regional economy and is a clear demonstration of how the West Midlands is helping to lead the way on sustainable transport.”
CVLR will also be designed to be fully autonomous, operating at a high demand level to provide a “turn-up and go” style service for passengers.
The entire project has been divided into four key areas. First comes the design, construction, and testing of a vehicle prototype. Second is the design, development, and testing of an innovative low-cost modular track. Third is the development of a design and business case for the first route in Coventry. And the fourth is the design, planning, and delivery of an operations and maintenance strategy.
The transport system has been designed with low floors, allowing passengers to embark and disembark from the pavement with ease. The ultimate goal is to provide the city with a frequent, reliable, environmentally friendly transport solution, which will cost a fraction of the cost of a traditional tram that can be found across the UK.
Testing is currently underway on a newly developed test track located at the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley, which has been solely created for testing the integrated system.
Using lightweight, battery-powered electric vehicles, the Coventry VLR system operates without overhead cables and 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 center and to develop the business case for a fully operational system.
A Very Light Rail (VLR) looks like a great solution for smaller municipalities, and considering its benefits and the fact that it costs less than a traditional tram to set up, you may want to consider bringing it to your town/city. Since this project is still far from being ready for "prime time," you may have to wait a bit until it can be deployed. Still, nothing stops you from contacting Coventry and its partners to at least be among the first ones in the line to bring it to other places.
Projects like Very Light Rails (VLR) bring nothing but benefits to the municipalities they are designed for. These would primarily include smaller cities and towns where people had it enough with traffic jams or driving to work every day. So perhaps you could contact Coventry and its partners to see how you can help them bring their savvy transportation system to other parts of the world. Chances are, once they are ready, they will be searching for distributors, and that's your chance.