An award-winning transport specialist has won a contract to work with WMG to design and construct an innovative very light rail vehicle which will be part of a new transport solution for Coventry.

Transport Design International, which is based at Clifford Chambers in Stratford-upon-Avon, has won a tender to create a state-of-the-art, lightweight, battery-operated, rail-guided vehicle which will ultimately be capable of operating without a driver.

The project, funded by the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) and the West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Deal, is being managed by researchers from WMG at the University of Warwick in collaboration between Coventry City Council and Transport for West Midlands.

A total of £12.2 million has been secured from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Devolution Deal funding to undertake the research and development required to prove the VLR concept. In addition, the WMCA has allocated specialist resource from Transport for West Midlands to provide technical support, advice and guidance to the project team as the scheme develops.

The VLR system will be compatible with Midland Metro and the Council will work collaboratively with TfWM to ensure operating systems, branding and information are consistent across the West Midlands.

The prototype vehicle will be capable of carrying 20 seated passengers and a maximum of 70 including standees. It will be tested at the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre in Dudley before a permanent tracked route is installed across Coventry and a fleet of vehicles manufactured.

Cllr Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs and regeneration at Coventry City Council and CWLEP board director, said this was an exciting step forward in bringing innovative transport to the city. “This is a really important milestone in the development of a very light railway system in Coventry and we are delighted that WMG has appointed Transport Design International to design and build a completely new rail vehicle for Coventry. Battery technology is evolving all the time and creating a new very light rail system in Coventry will be a world-first. Routes will be considered, and since overhead cables won’t be needed, the light railway will be low-cost, quiet and environmentally-friendly. When I came up with the idea, it wasn’t just a system I was thinking of but the potential to design and build it here in the local area. This is a great first step in that ambition.”

Monica Fogarty, chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Transport and Infrastructure Business Group and joint managing director of Warwickshire County Council, said this once again emphasised the area’s reputation for being pioneers in transport technology. “Transport Design International has gained international recognition for their expertise in the very light rail sector because of their vast experience in working with partners to design and supply revolutionary transport systems,” she said. The Local Growth Fund has contributed £2.46 million towards phase one of the research and design of the prototype of the battery-powered, self-propelled trains. This will be a great opportunity to attract further jobs and investment to Coventry and Warwickshire.”

Associate Professor Darren Hughes at WMG, added: “Current opportunities for innovation in the rail sector are exciting. Light-weight technologies that will be introduced during this project have the potential to revolutionise public transport whilst also strengthening the UK High Value Manufacturing sector.”

James Meredith, very light rail project manager at WMG, said: “This is a great opportunity to bring the latest technology developed by the automotive sector in materials, batteries and electric propulsion to deliver an affordable railway for Coventry.”

Nick Mallinson, Programme Manager at WMG, said: “The Coventry very light rail programme is all about bringing desperately needed disruptive innovation into the rail industry. We aim to make a real difference bringing high quality, affordable rail into city centres.”

Martin Pemberton, Managing Director of Transport Design International, added: “As champions of sustainable, lightweight transport solutions, the TDI team is very proud to have been selected to undertake this exciting, flagship project for Coventry. We look forward to working closely with the City Council and WMG to bring their aspirations to reality.”