Significant progress made on the Coventry Very-Light Rail prototype

Published Thursday, 27 August 2020

Coventry City Council’s plans to run a battery powered very light rail transit system in the city has taken a major step forward thanks to the skills of local engineering company NP Aerospace.

Pictured from left to right:
Cllr Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, CCC
James Kempston, CEO, NP Aerospace
Rupert Symons, Director, TDI
Dr James Meredith, VLR project manager, WMG
Pictured from left to right: Cllr Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, CCC, James Kempston, CEO, NP Aerospace,Rupert Symons, Director, TDI, Dr James Meredith, VLR project manager, WMG

NP Aerospace, which has a long heritage building military vehicles, has been appointed as the assembly contractor of the innovative, rail guided, battery-powered vehicle for Coventry’s planned Very Light Rail network, which will run on the local road network and they join WMG at the University of Warwick and Transport Design International (TDI) who are partners on the innovation side of the project. 

Throughout August, WMG and TDI have been working with NP Aerospace, who are based in Foleshill Coventry, to begin the assembly of the innovative, rail guided, battery-powered vehicle for Coventry’s planned Very Light Rail network. Engineers are now constructing the sleek, carbon fibre and metallic structure that will form the backbone of the vehicle.

Thanks to NP Aerospace’s specialised facilities, engineers from both companies have been able to continue their work in a safe environment which allows them to fully comply with the Government’s social distancing guidelines. The finished vehicle will be capable of comfortably carrying 56 passengers and will be tested on the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre Test Track at Castle Hill in Dudley. This 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 University of Warwick and Transport Design International.

Following a comprehensive 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 the Rail Station and Walsgrave Hospital and will offer residents, workers, and tourists an affordable, quick, and environmentally friendly way of travelling around the city.

The VLR Research and Development phase is being managed by researchers from WMG, at the University of Warwick, 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.

Cllr Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration at Coventry City Council and CWLEP board director had a chance to look at the prototype when he visited NP Aerospace last week.

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.”

For more thoughts from Cllr O’Boyle and to see the vehicle itself. Watch a short clip from his visit on the Council’s YouTube channel.

Dr Darren Hughes, Associate Professor at WMG, University of Warwick adds:

“The Coventry Very Light Rail 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.”

Darren Smith, Head of Transport Design International (TDI) comments:

“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 Very Light Rail 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 adds:

“NP Aerospace has a long history in Coventry and is proud to be supporting the Very Light Rail 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.”

Coventry City Council