The leader of Dudley Council has visited a Dudley town centre construction site to officially break ground where a new £24m Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre is being built.
The new centre will be located next to the 2.2km test track facility, which is already in development, at the old Dudley Train Station in Castlehill.
The recently formed Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) is overseeing the build, launch and operation of the centre. Construction of the centre is being undertaken by Clegg Construction and is expected to complete in February 2022.
The centre aims to develop a new Very Light Rail (VLR) industry, creating demand and supply of VLR solutions, with manufacturing centred in the Black Country. VLR offers a new, lower-cost, public transport solution that is set to transform the rail industry, providing integrated VLR systems as an alternative to heavy rail and traditional Metro transport.
The centre will boast a triple-height engineering hall, research laboratories, conference and seminar rooms and offices for 45 people. There will also be public areas, including exhibition spaces and an auditorium.
The VLR test track, which will be around 2km, will sit on a disused Network Rail track and will run between Castle Hill Bridge and Cinder Bank, with a test passenger platform located at the Cinder Bank end of the tracks. This is where a Coventry VLR prototype vehicle, which is being developed by Coventry City Council and WMG, will be tested in early 2021.
Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, said:
"I’m delighted to see work underway at the National Innovation Centre site. This is the result of many years of hard work and it will play a significant role in Dudley’s exciting economic future.
"Despite the huge challenges of this year, we are continuing to forge an exciting and bright future for Dudley town centre, and this is just one component of the £1bn of regeneration works that are coming to the town.
"The facility and the VLR test track will place Dudley at the forefront of ground-breaking engineering works, that will benefit the national and local economy as well as the environment."
Nicholas Mallinson, CEO of BCIMO, said:
"This initiative has been 6 years in the making and I am delighted that we have now been able to mark the commencement of construction with this ground-breaking ceremony.
"The VLR initiative is all about developing a new form of low-cost rail-based transport, which will be manufactured and installed by UK companies and in particular, supported by manufacturing companies in Dudley and the wider Black Country. "