Very light rail should be part of future transport solutions

Future transport networks require a mix of reliable, affordable and accessible solutions, including Very Light Rail, says Andy Stamps of Rider Levett Bucknall.

Andy Stamps, national head of infrastructure at Rider Levett Bucknall.

Whether we travel to work in a car, take a train to visit family and friends or cycle for leisure, transportation is integral to our daily life.

Future transportation networks will require a mix of solutions. We need reliable, low cost, easy to install and accessible transportation systems that get people out of cars. 

To do this we need to bring them first and last mile solutions that are practical and available 24/7, in smaller and larger towns and cities. Connecting communities with their local urban centres both physically and virtually requires the creation of integrated networks.

The Very Light Railway (VLR), pictured below, developed by WMG -The University of Warwick, with development partners Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO), Coventry City Council and Dudley Council alongside RLB, is one such solution. As are the numerous autonomous vehicles and pods such as the high-density urban passenger and freight transport, DROMOS.

Very Light Railway. Image credit: WMG -The University of Warwick.

As we discussed at the recent VLR conference in Dudley, the premise is simple: a lightweight vehicle avoids the need to divert services, reducing time and costs to install and operate. 

To be successful, there are several elements I believe these next generation transportation solutions need to tackle:

  • Work towards the net zero agenda
  • Increase inclusion
  • Act as the bridge between opportunity and talent
  • Connect rural and urban 24/7
  • Be affordable

Work towards the net zero agenda

Next generation transportation systems will help reduce consumers’ carbon footprints as well as help local and central government achieve carbon zero. Low carbon transport options like VLR, which run on renewable electricity, can help achieve these goals. 

By using steel wheels and rails, they will decrease the number of harmful particles released by the rubber tyres of cars and other road vehicles. However, for electric vehicles to be viable we need up to 480,000 vehicle charging points by the end of 2030, a total 95% increase in installations as well as a sustainable strategy for the design, roll out and operation of these installations.

Increase inclusion, bridge opportunity and talent and connect rural and urban 24/7

As well as meeting the sustainability agenda, new transportation systems can and should be instrumental in the success of the levelling up agenda., It is universally accepted that creating a permanent way attracts investment and enhances land values to a degree unattainable by other methods, such as buses, whose presence can be fragile with routes that can be terminated with 12 weeks’ notice. 

Enhanced connectivity and greater social mobility have always been a way to develop economic activity to far greater levels than other solutions. Autonomous solutions and other innovative transportation can connect opportunity with talent and unlock land around their routes, extending inclusion to those outside urban conurbations. 

Be affordable

To be a real gamechanger, affordability of next generation transportation is key. The government has already committed and invested publicly in creating a greener transportation system for the future with its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and its low-carbon hydrogen production capacity strategy.  

However, funding is complicated to obtain – at present there are around 15 different streams. For the delivery plan to be robust we need the private sector to also be on board. For this approach to flourish, the private sector needs certainty and commitment from central and local government, the UK Infrastructure Bank and other government agencies to secure a return over the long term.

A collaborative approach will be key

As with all best outcomes, a collaborative approach focused on value will be key. The Construction Innovation Hub’s recently launched Value Toolkit will be an integral part of that approach, to facilitate tailored value-based decision making. Designed in conjunction with RLB’s Global Board Director, Ann Bentley, this guidance will help the industry look at life cycle cost alongside other goals such as sustainability and social value of a project. 

Through innovative thinking, next generation transportation can connect far more people with urban centres, creating more opportunities for people and increasing inclusion. With public and private partnerships, we can surely look towards the future transportation systems as a way to unlock huge latent potential within our communities and better our society.

Andy Stamps is national head of infrastructure at Rider Levett Bucknall.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.