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University of Warwick: Flagship Coventry transport project takes a major step forward to net zero

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The Coventry Very Light Rail Project (CVLR) has taken a major step forward, as Coventry City CouncilLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window and WMG, at the University of Warwick, launch a real-world demo site for its light rail track system.

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The site, based at WMG, University of Warwick, gives stakeholders a snapshot of what’s to come in Coventry, when the first phase of the city route commences.

Using advanced material and manufacturing processes, researchers and engineers at WMG have worked alongside track-design experts at IngeropLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window to create, design and build the demo site including the unique track system, which is not only more affordable to install but also enables rapid installation – minimising disruption to local properties and businesses.

The track form, designed to sit within the top 30cm of existing highway surfaces, is easy to install and can be removed rapidly; significantly reducing clashes with utilities and potentially saving millions of pounds otherwise spent on excavation and moving gas, electrical and telecommunication systems when installing more traditional track forms. With installation costed at approximately £10m per km, the track is significantly cheaper compared to current tram tracks which can cost upwards of £25m per km, and significantly more in city centre locations.

The new track has been developed in parallel to a zero-emission, battery-powered lightweight shuttle vehicle created in partnership with TDi. The vision of Coventry Very Light Rail is that as technology matures it will become autonomous and work similarly to the London Underground system, where service is frequent and passengers can hop on and off.

The vehicle itself is lightweight, and there will be no overhead power supply along the route, significantly reducing infrastructure costs, complexity and visual impact on the city-scape.

Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs, Regeneration and Climate Change, said: “This new track test site is a key part of our work to demonstrate the viability of the breakthrough technology in this track. In a world first, we’re aiming to keep pipes and cables in the ground, lowering installation costs and making Coventry Very Light Rail possible in our city and across the country.

“Coventry Very Light Rail will form the backbone of our future transport network, but we’re investing in many projects to make our city’s transport cleaner, greener and more convenient for residents. Coventry Very Light Rail will fit seamlessly with our plans to be the UK’s first all-electric bus city and our plans to continue to provide more on-street electric charge points than anywhere outside London.”

Following installation at the University of Warwick, Coventry City Council will install test track at its Whitley Depot waste facility to test it with heavy goods vehicles, and also at the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley, where vehicle testing is currently taking place. The installation will form part of the facility’s 15m radius loop, built to test the CVLR prototype vehicle’s cornering system and will enable full system integration testing to be undertaken.

Dr Christopher Micallef, Principal Engineer at WMG, University of Warwick comments: “The University of Warwick urban track demonstration site provides an ideal scenario to prove-out the installation methods of the novel track system. The site will enable various competing sub-systems such as the encapsulation and pavement systems to be trialled to further explore the advantages and challenges.

“The site includes features such as water drainage gullies, buried utilities and a sewage access chamber to ensure that solutions to these real-world complexities can be explored. After the first phase, which is all about the track installation process, the site will be further utilised to allow various scenarios to be simulated and enable active engagement with key stakeholders such as utility companies, materials and subsystems supply chain and city transport planners. Eventually it could provide a facility to train the next generation of track installation teams.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “This very light rail project is a fantastic demonstration of collaboration across our region – whether it’s the development at Dudley, this new test track at Warwick University or soon enough the first route in Coventry city centre.

“The West Midlands Combined Authority is investing £71.5m into very light rail. Designing and building a light rail service rapidly and at a fraction of the cost of regular Metro lines has the potential to transform our public transport network. It is also a great example of cutting edge innovation that can help us to meet our #WM2041 net zero commitment and tackle the climate emergency. Our region is ideally placed to become the home of the green industrial revolution.”

Coventry Very Light rail is being led by Coventry City Council and has received funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority, the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and Coventry City Council.