West Midlands plans UK's first 'very light rail'


The UK’s first 'very light' rail line has been included in a list of more than 50 projects submitted for approval to the Department for Transport (DfT) by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Board.

The wide-ranging plans also include more than 100km of new segregated cycle routes, 50km of bus lanes and priority measures and a new railway station at Aldridge.

Following DfT approval, the final list of schemes will be developed over the next five years and funded from the region's £1.05bn of City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement together with local cash.

Coventry's 'very light rail' project was first proposed in 2017. The project has already secured £16.42m from the WMCA Devolution Deal (£12.2m), Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership  Growth Fund (£2.46m) and the Getting Building Fund (£1.8m).

Traditional light rail schemes cost upwards of £25m per km and in some city centre locations they can cost as much as £100 million per km.

The Coventry project aims to deliver all of the benefits of trams but at a fraction of the cost using lightweight track, which is not laid as deep as conventional light rail lines.

The network would operate autonomously at a high frequency to provide a turn-up and go service, and would not need overhead cables.

Investment will also continue in the existing Metro system in the region, with funding to be set aside to develop the business case for the further extension of the Midland Metro along the Hagley Road, as well as the expansion of the tram depot in Wednesbury.

WCMA's plans have prioritised the decarbonisation of transport, investment into areas of poor connectivity and efforts to support inclusive growth.

The region aims to encourage greater use of electric vehicles through a network of 1,600 car charging hubs and 10 ultra-rapid charge points.

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands and Chair of the WMCA, said: 'This unprecedented investment will allow us to deliver more than 50 exciting projects as we continue to revolutionise and de-carbonise public transport across the West Midlands.

'From an expanded metro network and new railway stations, to more cycle routes and better electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the schemes we have agreed today will benefit every area, with improved links for communities right across the West Midlands, whilst also tackling the climate change emergency by cutting down our carbon emissions.

'Once we have Government approval we will press on with getting diggers in the ground and people into work.'

Cllr Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio holder for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council, said: 'The seven local authorities have worked together to produce a package which will ensure we get the most from this investment.

'It will deliver new work and leisure opportunities for our communities, improve our health, reduce traffic congestion, and accelerate our journey towards becoming a net-zero carbon region while fully integrating with our ongoing investment in rail, bus, Metro and cycling.'

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