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Watch: We take first ride on new very light rail train at Dudley test centre

It was an opportunity to take a ride on a new testing ground for light rail and see what the future looks like.


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The Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) hosted another successful demonstration of the pioneering Coventry Very Light Rail (CVLR) technology at the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley, with the Minister of State for Rail and HS2 coming along for the ride.

Huw Merriman was joined by Dudley North MP Marco Longhi, Dudley Council Leader Patrick Harley and members of the BCIMO for a tour of the centre, which is based next to the new Midlands Metro Line between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill.

He was taken around the workshop and was provided with details about the CVLR, which is being designed to meet the transport needs of Coventry and other cities as the project is developed, by Colin Knight from Coventry City Council.

Huw Merriman chats with Colin Knight from Coventry City Council about the train and the centre

The minister heard how the vehicle is battery-powered, eliminating the need for overhead wires and has an innovative turning system, allowing it to handle 15m radius curves, meaning it can be installed in tight corners in the existing highway, and can be mounted on a line which is laid just 30cm into the road surface.

After hearing about the centre and the light vehicle, the invited guests were given the opportunity to take a journey on the vehicle, going around the unique 15m radius Rail Test Loop at one end of the test track, then going on a 2.2km ride through the tunnel area, which is used to test vehicle performance and environmental monitoring.

It was an opportunity to see the vehicle, which will have a capacity of around 56 people when fully operational, in action, particularly as the train hit speeds up of up to 40 kilometres per hour (24.8 miles per hour) going through the tunnel.

The minister was given the opportunity to take a look at the VLR

There was also an opportunity to see the inner workings of the centre, which is operated by the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) and also features a large workshop, exhibition centre, meeting hall and engineering labs.

The minister said he was pleased to be able to see the unique and innovative technology being tested at the centre and said he felt it would be the future of transit systems in the country.

He said: "It's great to be here and I think it's pretty unique and innovative technology that's being deployed here and, really, it looks to be the future.

"We want to see more transit systems in place and very light rail systems that can be installed in many places.

"I just want to say a big thanks to the entire team for show me what is a fantastic product and what good is being done here."

The minister learns more about the workings of the train

Marco Longhi said he was pleased to be able to welcome the minister to a centre he said he had discussed with him in Parliament and said the centre was a unique place to test very light rail services, as well as other transport concepts.

He said: "It's great that Huw has come to Dudley to visit what we're doing with the Very Light Railway scheme, as well as the fact that he is seeing for himself that we've got a unique track in the United Kingdom for testing not just light rail, but all sorts of other rail concepts.

"It was also good for him to visit the BCIMO building where we can do all sorts of maintenance, refurbishment and test new technologies within the building itself.

"I'm delighted that he was here today alongside council leader Patrick Harley, who has been massively supportive for the scheme and through his work with the Combined Authority."

Councillor Harley said the centre was a long time in coming, but was a game changer for public support.

He said: "It's been great to be here and see the latest endeavours of our hard work over many years and this is a game changer for public transport as it means we can roll over trams across cities and towns not just in this country, but also across Europe and the world.

"That's at a third less cost than the traditional trams and metro, so that's good for this region."

Huw Merriman takes his place behind the seat of the VLR

BCIMO chief executive Neil Fulton said it was very important to be able to show the minister the work being done at the centre.

He said: "Having the minister come to see us here at BCIMO is really important for him to see the work that's been done in Dudley and to see the relationship that we've built with organisations across the West Midlands.

The minister and guests are given a ride on the VLR along the testing course

"This facility here to develop those innovations in the rail industry, with some of those in light rail and some of them that we can apply right across heavy rail and, also, we've got this amazing exhibition and events suite that we can offer to organisations across the West Midlands.

"It's got the ministerial stamp of approval and it needs to as these are big investments and we need to make sure that we've got ministers on board to understand the opportunities that an organisation like this can create, so it's important that we get these important visitors here."