Instead of “Heavy” Rail, Let’s Try “Very Light” Rail

Interesting news from the Light Rail Transit Association – Very Light Rail.

Very Light Rail is a LRT variant where smaller and lighter vehicles are used on routes that cannot support operation of larger vehicles.

The costs for Very Light Rail is something to consider, especially when Vancouver is spending $2.8 billion to build 5.8 km of subway or when modern LRT costs about $50 million/km or more to install.

Maybe its time to think out of the box!

The concept of ‘Very Light Rail’ (VLR) has been developed as a way of creating a light rail system at a much lower cost and with much reduced construction times than traditional tramway or light rail systems. The main features of VLR are lightweight vehicles which will be able to hold 50-70 people, which will be battery powered, so avoiding the need for expensive overhead line equipment, these vehicles are proposed to eventually become autonomous, the first test vehicle is due to be manufactured by the Coventry based RDM Group by mid-2020.

Something to consider for start up tram operations.


TramForward welcomes funding for West Midlands Very Light Rail schemes.

TramForward welcomes the news that the West Midlands Combined Authority has obtained Government funding for two Very Light Rail projects.

They are among eight ‘shovel ready’ projects in the West Midlands which will benefit from £66 million from the Government’s Getting Building Fund, aimed at projects which can be started quickly and completed within 18 months, creating jobs and driving investment to aid economic recovery following the Coronavirus lockdown.

The list was confirmed on Tuesday 4th August by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, during a visit to the site of the planned National Brownfield Land Institute at the University of Wolverhampton.

The two VLR schemes are: the Very Light Rail Innovation Centre in Dudley (£12.4m - CAD $21.5 million), where new modes of transport which are both green and cheaper and quicker to deliver than traditional tram or rail are being developed; and Coventry’s Very Light Rail project (£1.8m – CAD $3.12 million).

Jim Harkins, Chair of the Light Rail Transit Association’s Campaigns Group, said “we welcome this support for these innovative schemes which have the potential to revolutionise public transport provision in our smaller and medium-sized towns and cities”.

Image: Stourbridge Shuttle VLR Scheme. Labelled for reuse on Google Images.

Image may contain: train, sky and outdoor



3 Responses to “Instead of “Heavy” Rail, Let’s Try “Very Light” Rail”
  1. Haveacow says:

    I do agree the idea has merit but I do have a problem with how you would support the idea of VLR (Very Light Rail) during the planning process.

    No matter how light the vehicles and infrastructure is you have to spend a great deal of cash building the base railway supportive right of way. Yes stations don’t have to be as big and the actual rail supports can be built to “lighter” and therefore cheaper standards (better yet use existing rights of way and stations) but bridges still have to be built, they are expensive no matter what. Curves still have to be gentle no matter what, this is also expensive. This adds cost if you are trying to build long swathes of new or improved VLR rail right of way.

    As a planner I don’t see how in most cases, this rail technology isn’t beaten by a super cheap busway or painted bus lanes using standard buses, in a capital cost and complexity risk vs. carrying capacity comparison.

    The only way I see this technology ever being chosen is if, there is already an existing rail line and surrounding roads are non existent. Maybe a particular region has an existing road network that is so over-taxed with traffic and or, loaded with too many existing roadbeds with a narrow legal rights of way, to narrow to allow for effective widening of any kind. It’s with only these issues and conditions that politicians would be convinced that VLR becomes the only answer.

    Given the rarity of those combinations of conditions, I see most suburban and rural politicians instantly choosing buses. Which is too bad.

  2. Zermatt says:

    This could work in Vancouver on the south side of false creek between Olympic village station and granville island. The track and stations is already built. Track was last used in 2010 when Vancouver borrowed a pair of LRT from Brussels.

    Vancouver used to operate a single car heritage tram from island to main street. The track east of Cambie was removed. It wasn’t making money because no one lived in southeast false creek. Now there is the Canada Line. Relaying the track on 1st avenue would not cost much.

    Haveacow makes a good point that it would only work on an existing rail line. There is an existing rail line in falsecreek that is not being used.

  3. Adam Fitch says:

    Zermatt, the reason that the heritage streetcar operation was discontinued was NOT because it wasn’t making money because no one lived in southeast false creek. You may have heard that, but that was political rhetoric (i.e.: unturths, misinformation) from Vision Vancouver to suit their agenda.

    The small subsidy to the heritage rail society to operate the tram, along with the agreement that allowed the society to run the tram on city property and operate a barn and maintenance facility on city property, were cancelled by Vision Vancouver shortly after the Winter Olympics because they saw it as conflicting with their Broadway Subway plans.

    There are many indicators that this is true, including the wiping of a whole set of webpages that were on the City of Vancouver website about the downtown streetcar plan, and denial that the Arbutus Corridor could be used for streetcar for a year or two, the city was finally forced to accept that streetcars should be part of the Arbutus Greenway plan by public pressure.

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