VLR revolution: Phase 2 project launches

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Nick Mallinson, the programme manager at WMG centre HVM Catapult, on the progress of the Very Light Rail (VLR) project.

Transport Design International (TDI) has formed a project consortium including Unipart Rail, Axiom Rail, Cummins and WMG (University of Warwick) to design and build a demonstrator VLR vehicle. 

Phase 1 of the five-year ‘Revolution VLR’ programme was supported with a £1.1m grant from the RSSB and was completed in August 2016. It delivered a concept design for the railcar as well as a tested diesel-hybrid propulsion system. The programme was subsequently awarded £3.25m funding by the DfT, to support the £5.2m Phase 2 project, which will commence in September 2017 and deliver a state-of-the-art, lightweight, hybrid railcar demonstrator in approximately 18 months. 

The case for VLR 

The UK rail industry is in urgent need of vehicles which are lighter, more energy-efficient and cheaper to purchase and operate. Meanwhile, rural and suburban communities around the country are eager for more efficient, better connected public transport services for their local areas, which do not rely solely on conventional road solutions, such as buses. 

A new type of rail vehicle is needed, especially for short routes where operating traditional heavy rail or tram solutions is not economical. The emerging VLR sector aims to remedy this by harnessing technology from the automotive sector to create hybrid or all-electric self-propelled vehicles which are lightweight, energy-efficient, cheap to manufacture and operate, and are targeted at the needs of communities. 

The Revolution vehicle will be ideal for short route connectivity in suburban and rural areas. It is designed to run on segregated lines and offer a low-cost, environmentally-friendly and efficient transport service for commuters, tourists and local communities. 

The consortium’s vision is for lower-cost VLR to become part of future integrated, multi-modal ‘hub to home’ public transport networks. Far from competing with heavy rail for high-speed intercity transport, the Revolution vehicle will complement existing services by offering a solution tailored to the beginning or end of longer journeys, linking halts in local communities to larger regional transport hubs. 

The vehicle 

Revolution will be a bi-directional 18-metre-long railcar, with seating for 60 passengers and standing room for up to 60. It will use lightweight materials and a modular structure to achieve a tare weight of 1 tonne per linear metre. 

The diesel-electric hybrid powertrain comprises two independent ‘Power Packs’ and bogie mounted electric motors. Each power pack includes a 3.8L Euro 6 Cummins truck engine, Euro 6 aftertreatment, lithium titanate batteries for energy storage, various power electronic packages and a comprehensive cooling system. The solution supports full electric braking with energy recovered into the battery packs. All electric operation of auxiliaries at halts is supported from the batteries as well as full-electric launch from stations. The power packs will enable easy off-vehicle servicing and provide limp-home capability in the event of one pack failing in service. The pack will also have applications as a retrofit propulsion solution in certain heavy rail vehicles, as well as in other transport sectors.

A key aim of the project is to nurture a UK supply chain for the development and manufacture of Revolution-type vehicles – the majority of suppliers to the project are UK businesses and many are making substantial investments into the project. 

Transport for West Midlands has kindly offered to make available a suitable alignment in the West Midlands for extended testing of the demonstrator vehicle. Once the demonstrator vehicle has been thoroughly assessed in 2019, there are plans to take it to production with a number of UK routes already identified for first passenger services. The vehicle has a target selling price significantly below £1m, to be achieved through automotive manufacturing approaches including pre-tested sub-assemblies from suppliers, with final assembly in a new West Midlands facility. 

The RSSB and DfT fully support this example of disruptive innovation in the rail sector.




Andrew Gwilt   15/09/2017 at 00:25

Could the Class 139 PPM (Parry People Mover) diesel multiple unit tram-train vehicles could be replaced by the new VLR (Very Light Rail) train units used on the Stourbridge Town branch line operated by London Midland.

PP   20/09/2017 at 09:20

I can't help feeling this is a solution looking for a problem. Parry People Movers spent years trying to flog their products with practically no interest - while it's been a modest success on the Stourbridge shuttle, there's pretty much nowhere else it could realistically be used, and I don't see this being any different. Infrastructure overheads for track and signalling make it highly unlikely that even very cheap and light railcars like this could make new reopening projects any more viable.

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