Plans to see trams return to the streets of Coventry have taken a step closer after a company in the city was appointed as the contractor on the project.
Defence specialist NP Aerospace is building a prototype rail-guided, battery-powered vehicle for Coventry City Council’s Very Light Rail (VLR) network.
The system, which has the advantage of being a fraction of the cost of conventional trams, will see the tram-like carriages return to Coventry for the first time since the Blitz.
Once a familiar sight in places like Broadgate and the Burges, the Coventry Blitz of 1940 put an end to the city’s tram services.
The VLR network will run on the local road network.
NP Aerospace join WMG at the University of Warwick and Transport Design International (TDI) who are partners on the innovation side of the project.
During August WMG and TDI worked with Foleshill-based NP Aerospace, to begin the assembly of the first VLR prototype vehicle.
Engineers are now constructing the carbon fibre and metallic structure that will form the backbone of the vehicle.
The finished vehicle will be capable of carrying 56 passengers and will be tested on the VLR National Innovation Centre Test Track at Castle Hill in Dudley.
The prototype vehicle is the first of its kind and is scheduled to start on track testing early next year.
The project is led by Coventry City Council in close collaboration with engineers at WMG at the University of Warwick and TDI.
Following a test programme for vehicle and track, a permanent tracked route is planned to be installed across Coventry supported by a fleet of locally manufactured vehicles.
The first route will provide a service between Coventry railway station and University Hospital Coventry in Walsgrave.
It will offer residents, workers and tourists an affordable, quick, and environmentally friendly way of travelling.
The research and development phase of the VLR project is being managed by researchers from WMG in partnership with Coventry City Council and Transport for West Midlands.
The project has been made possible thanks to funding from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) and the West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Deal.
Dr Darren Hughes, associate professor at WMG, said: “The Coventry VLR project will deliver a step change cost reduction for light rail in the UK.
“We are really proud that this marks the beginning of the journey to roll out low cost, rail-based transport for medium sized cities in the UK.
“We are particularly pleased that despite current global challenges we can continue to work with TDI, NP Aerospace and the supply chain to deliver this novel rail vehicle on time and budget.”
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Councillor Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs and regeneration at Coventry City Council and CWLEP board director, got to see the prototype vehicle taking shape when he visited NP Aerospace recently.
He said: “I was excited to see the incredible progress that the team had made in such a short time. Being able to see the vehicle really allows you to visualise how impressive this project will be.
“This project will be the first of its kind in the world. It is being led by world-beating local automotive experience and is using cutting-edge materials.
“The proposed VLR network is key to our vision for transport here in Coventry. We want our public transport to be efficient, affordable and most importantly environmentally friendly. I believe it’s going to revolutionise how we all travel in this city.
“Coventry led the industrial revolution and now we are leading the green industrial revolution. I firmly believe that VLR is the future of public transport in small and medium sized towns and I couldn’t be happier that it’s being designed and built here in Coventry with the skills and expertise that we have right here.”
Darren Smith, head of TDI, said: “This hugely exciting and innovative project embodies the concept of very light rail.
“The teams involved from WMG and TDI, along with our supply chain including NP Aerospace, will deliver a credible, viable, and distinct demonstrator vehicle early in 2021.
“The potential positive impact that VLR will bring not only to UK manufacturing across many sectors, but also the local economies and communities, cannot be overstated enough. TDI are extremely proud to be involved in such a prestigious project.”
James Kempston, CEO NP Aerospace, added: “ NP Aerospace has a long history in Coventry and is proud to be supporting the VLR programme in our local region.
“The VLR build utilizes NP Aerospace’s capability in assembling and delivering complex defence vehicle programmes and extends this into the rail and transportation sector.
“During a period where the pandemic has caused disruptions to the economy, the VLR build has instead generated local jobs reinforcing the regional and wider UK workforce and supply chains.
“Furthermore, it provides an economically and environmentally friendly transportation capability with global demand, driving UK export opportunities and future economic growth in the region. We are thrilled to be supporting TDI in delivering this capability to Coventry.”