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Spotlight on Coventry Very Light Rail

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2018

Olivia Brown, business development officer at Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), an academic department of the University of Warwick, outlines the four exciting projects currently taking place as part of the Coventry Very Light Rail (VLR)  programme.

In RTM’s June/July issue, readers were introduced to the concept of VLR and the advantages it offers over traditional rail systems. The VLR approach also aims to reduce road congestion through the provision of more efficient and environmentally friendly public transport, in line with the government’s ‘Road to Zero’ strategy, which aims to make road transport emission-free by 2050.

The article introduced the three VLR projects that WMG is currently involved in: the VLR National Innovation Centre, a new centre of excellence for railway research and development based in Dudley; Revolution VLR, a vehicle constructed from modular lightweight materials and offering zero-emissions acceleration from stops at stations, which will initially run on existing lines, with heavy rail interoperability a key consideration for the future; and Coventry VLR, an innovative transport system combining a VLR shuttle with a novel track form, with the aim of easing traffic congestion within the city.

Now, we will look in more detail at the VLR programme, outlining progress to date and the contribution that WMG is making to help de-risk and accelerate the innovative process. The programme, which is being managed by WMG in collaboration with Coventry City Council and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), is made up of four projects.

The vehicle

The Coventry VLR vehicle will be a modular design comprising appropriate lightweight materials. It will be capable of carrying a total of 70 passengers, with 20 seated.

There are a number of challenges to be addressed in the vehicle project, the design and development of which is being undertaken by Transport Design International. The benefits of using lightweight composite materials are considerable (for example, reduced manufacture and operating costs and greater energy efficiency); however, these need to be carefully balanced against their performance properties, such as crashworthiness, durability and fire safety.

Work on the shuttle project is progressing well to date. To reduce operational costs, the vehicles will be autonomous. WMG is drawing on its world-leading expertise in connected and autonomous vehicle technologies to support this element of the project. The project team at WMG is currently pulling together a consortium of relevant organisations to work on the autonomy challenge.

The track

The track development project, also led by WMG, presents the most challenging technical aspects of the scheme. The objective is to develop a resilient, long-life and shallow trackform, requiring minimal excavation and laid over existing utilities, but with fast access for repairs. The cost of utilities relocation can be in the region of 35% to 40% of a light rail scheme budget, so this approach could help make new schemes more affordable.

WMG, in collaboration with a consortium of external companies, will produce a prototype track solution. We will be creating a purpose-built test track to fully evaluate the new trackform. WMG is seeking to add additional value by promoting innovative approaches such as automation of track laying and virtual design and sign-off of track components.

The route

Coventry is leading on the selection of the first and subsequent routes, the former of which is currently under consideration. Ultimately, the council hopes to implement what can best be described as a four-leaf clover route system, covering major residential, industrial and development areas across the city, as well as a direct connection to the HS2 station that will be close to Birmingham Airport.


TfWM is leading on the operational aspects of the system when it comes into service. Important elements include signalling, security, safety, passenger information, maintenance and service scheduling.


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