The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Board has agreed to fund the first instalment (£36.8m) of an anticipated £72m investment in very light rail (VLR) technology.
VLR is designed to be lighter, cheaper and easier to install than conventional tram and rail systems.
The board’s sign-off should enable specialist on-site testing for other VLR systems to progress, with project developments reportedly already underway in Coventry and Dudley.
The West Midlands hopes to be at the forefront of VLR and to position itself as a global leader in both its design and manufacture.
The current Coventry VLR system uses lightweight, battery-powered electric vehicles and operates without overhead cables. The track was developed to require less extensive foundation works, delivering cost, time and environmental benefits.
What’s more, much of the new investment is intended to support the building of a real world demonstration track in Coventry city centre and to develop the business case for a fully operational system.
Jim O’Boyle, councillor and cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change, said: “This is a milestone investment in Coventry Very Light Rail, a project set to transform the way people in our city – and others throughout the UK and even the world – get around.
“By creating a new, clean and green form of transport, this investment is securing jobs in Coventry and, as in other cities which have installed light rail, will support regeneration in local areas.
“Of course, Coventry Very Light Rail is just one way that the council is working to improve air quality and combat climate change.
“We’ve installed more electric vehicle charge points than anywhere outside London, we’re set to become the UK’s first all-electric bus city by 2025, we have ambitions for a gigafactory and have committed to planting a tree for every person living in Coventry by 2032.”
Some of the investment will also be allocated to the newly opened Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley, to enable the purchase of equipment to support the centre to open with full functionality.
Money will also be used to explore business cases for further VLR lines and links with the existing West Midlands Metro network.
In total, £72m has been earmarked for the project from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, with the first £36.8m being agreed upon by the board last Friday [13 January].
This, according to Coventry City Council, is enough to kickstart the projects, with the rest of the investment going to the Department for Transport for final approval.