Last week, I spoke at the Very Light Rail (VLR) conference about the varied role RLB plays in the development of VLR. The Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation hosted the event at the newly built National Innovation Centre in Dudley, a centre of excellence that will facilitate R&D in future generations of affordable low-carbon transport.
For me, the clearest message from the day was the need to enable private investment in scheme developments. Collaboration is vital and has the potential to make all the difference. The private sector wants to invest and wants to help reduce congestion on our roads and car dependency. 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. We must get the message across that this is within our grasp.
VLR 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. We still have obstacles to overcome, but we can all positively influence the outcome. Funding is complicated to obtain – currently, there are approximately 15 different streams. As a result, BCIMO has established an Advice Centre at the Dudley site to help anyone interested in VLR navigate the process of developing viable schemes. RLB is one of the core team members.
The presence of one of the vehicles undergoing tests on site was a great reminder of how far we have come. For attendees, it was proof that this technology is a leap forward and that VLR can play a major part in the next generation of transport solutions. The premise is simple: a lightweight vehicle avoids the need to divert services, reducing time and costs to install and operate. For smaller towns and cities, this is an affordable solution. Connecting communities with their local towns, physically and virtually, requires the creation of such integrated networks.
I have no doubt that everyone who attended last week’s event felt energised by the achievements to date. I believe that we can, through VLR, connect more people to opportunities, create connected communities, and in a public and private partnership unlock huge latent potential by harnessing investment that craves the certainty we all seek.