Coventry is a step closer to getting a new mass transit system after the £10.5M design development contract was awarded to the University of Warwick.
Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), based at the university, will lead the research and development of the Very Light Rail system, which is expected to be a driverless, battery powered “very lightweight rail-guided people mover.” Low-cost and easy to install track will be designed to minimise the need for utilities relocation and to allow on and off road running.
WMG programme manager and electrical engineer Nick Mallinson said the track will be supported by pre-fabricated slabs, inserted into the road surface.
He said: “[We will] cut a clean channel in the road and the slab will sit into the slot that’s been cut, the slabs will link together, and the rails will fit into the slabs.
“The big challenge for this project is how to reduce the cost of rail in city centres. Traditional trams are still quite heavy, though it is called light rail, and the track forms are quite substantial, so it tends to cost a lot to install those track forms, and because of the weight of the trams and the track form the utilities tend to insist that they are moved out of the way before the track is laid.
“The big cost in those sort of solutions is moving the utilities, so what we’re trying to do is avoid the need to take out utilities. With such a solution you need to be able to remove the slab quickly to get down to the utilities if needed.”
The service will be ready to carry passengers between the railway station and the city centre during 2021 when Coventry is the UK City of Culture. Mallinson said a full service could be running by either 2023 or 2024. One suggested route could connect the University of Warwick and Coventry University.
The very light rail project aims to be significantly cheaper, quieter and more environmentally friendly than other public transport systems such as traditional trams. It will be a “turn up and go” service, running every three to four minutes.
WMG will begin the procurement process for industry partners to develop the vehicles next week, and will begin procurement for partners to develop the track next month.
The project is funded by the government’s Local Growth Grant through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) and the West Midlands Combined Authority.
In September, Coventry City Council cabinet member for jobs and regeneration and CWLEP board director councillor Jim O’Boyle said: “This kind of innovation is what WMG, Warwick University, and in fact Coventry, do best and it’s really good to think that our city is at the very front of new advances in transport”.