On 9 May 2023, Councillor Jim O'Boyle, cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change, spoke at the Transport Select Committee, making the case for Coventry Very Light Rail in parliament.

In a five minute speech, Councillor O'Boyle made the case that the select committee's next inquiry should focus on reforms to the transport and works act, funding for innovative transport, and autonomy.

You can watch the speech on our YouTube channel.

You can read the full speech below:

Councillor Jim O'Boyle, cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change, said:

Good afternoon everyone.

Coventry is the birthplace of the British motor industry. Innovation and invention is in our DNA and we are ready to help lead the way in the public transport of the future.  Let me talk to you about very light rail.  At this moment in time, France and Germany are racing ahead.  France has 28 light rail systems. Germany: 57.  Britain has just 9. Coventry is hoping to help change all that!

It appears the Treasury doesn’t think investment in light rail outside London is worth it. And our laws make it even more expensive to install.   Coventry is addressing all these challenges. The core technology in trams has stayed stagnant for over a century.  But we believe they belong in the heart of our cities, helping people get out and about without damaging our environment.  

As I’ve said, Coventry has a long, proud history as a hub of transport innovation – and today we are working with Very Light Rail innovators and R&D specialists in the region. We are completely re-thinking trams and their track. Existing trams start at circa £25million per km, and can rise to over £100million in difficult city centres – with disruption lasting over two years! 

We are targeting just £10million per kilometre with disruption to businesses and the public measured in weeks, not years. That is an incredible saving and would revolutionise the use of trams in our country and around the world. CVLR has already been incredibly well-received by industry and is making great progress. It has delivered two ground-breaking innovations - an innovative vehicle and a first-of-its-kind track.  Most trams can’t turn tight corners and need extensive, expensive, and even ugly, overhead line equipment – CVLR is battery powered and has a turning radius of 15 metres so it can run on tighter city roads. This means retrofitting into cities is not only doable – its faster and cheaper. We are ready to deliver this in Coventry – making our city centre a living lab for VLR.  Then there’s the track. 

Before a tram system is installed, millions of pounds need to be invested to divert utilities.  Our track will allow most of that equipment to stay in the ground.  Slashing costs and disruption.   New materials will allow the track  form to be much thinner, but just as strong. And its design means it can be installed at a pace unheard of in the industry. Together, these two breakthroughs could unlock high-quality transport investment in our nations and  regions.  Both the vehicle and the track have been built in the Midlands – creating jobs.  The challenge now is to ensure government departments and industry work together so that these very light rail innovations can be delivered.

But there are challenges to overcome. 

Our first challenge is the Transport and Works Act. The process applies to all rail based vehicle systems but is slow and costly and a cutting edge system like ours needs legislation that is fit for the 21st century.  We can speed up delivery - but we need to speed up the Transport and Works Act process too.  

Our second challenge is finding the money. The CVLR scheme has incredible support at all levels including cross party support. We applied to the Department for Transport and to the Combined Authority for funds to build a trailblazing ‘city demonstrator’ in Coventry. But like many projects, a lack of clarity over the final allocation of funding creates delays and disruption. Innovation requires ambition. Now we need the Government to trust us to deliver.  

The third challenge is autonomy.  I’ve spoken today about reducing installation costs – but we can go even further. Brilliant work is being done to support autonomous cars. But the same focus isn’t there for trams.  So we’re calling on Government to accelerate its work on the automation of trams in the road.  As you can tell, Coventry is very excited by the prospect of Very Light Rail. Together we can change the face of public transport, but first, we in Coventry believe the committee must investigate the three major challenges I have outlined today.

As a reminder they are the transport and works act, funding and autonomy. There is a fourth in there which is battery technology – but that’s for another day. These three areas – if taken seriously by government – would usher in a new era of low-cost, high quality and sustainable public transport for all and tackle climate change for future generations. We are that close! Thank you. 

Published: Tuesday, 9th May 2023