8th Dec, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Plan to return trams to Coventry streets to link to HS2

Les Reid 12th Oct, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

COVENTRY is exploring the return of trams to the city’s streets using pioneering modern technology, the Observer can exclusively reveal.

A unique rapid transit ‘light rail’ system is being considered to connect Coventry station with Warwick University and beyond.

It would connect Coventry city centre with the new HS2 high speed rail Birmingham interchange station near the NEC and Birmingham Airport planned for 2026.

The tram network could run on wide grass verges on the A45, and be designed by advanced engineers at the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at Warwick University.

The idea has been explored for months by Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, councillor Jim O’Boyle, and his deputy cabinet member, councillor David Welsh, who is also on the new transport delivery committee of the West Midlands Combined Authority.

It is understood they have provisional support from Jaguar Land Rover, which is seeking to improve transport to work as it expands in the city.

It is the first time since the 1990s that proposals to return modern trams to the city’s streets have been on the table.

Coventry City Council has for years been seeking government assurances that Coventry city centre and schemes including the long-awaited Friargate office development will not be disadvantaged by HS2 – which will see high speed trains between Birmingham and London bypass Coventry station.

The current three fast trains an hour to and from Coventry station between the country’s two largest cities are potentially under threat.

For years after 2010 when HS2 was announced, some city politicians called for it to stop in Coventry, or for a spur on the rail network to connect the HS2 Birmingham interchange with Coventry station.

A rapid transit system on the roads could be a fast alternative, and could have exclusive right-of-way in common with such networks elsewhere.

It comes as the Coventry Station masterplan is moving forward, with infrastructural work underway to prepare for a second passenger building with extra car parking next to Central Six retail park; and a new bay platform to accommodate trains on the NUCKLE (Nuneaton, Coventry, Kenilworth, Leamington) passenger service.

The council says Coventry has the fastest growing railway station in terms of passenger numbers outside London.

Latest council documents reveal: “Opportunities are being explored for the integration of a potential future rapid transit system which will connect the city centre to the University of Warwick and eventually serve connections further afield.”

Asked about the proposals, Coun O’Boyle revealed initial exploratory talks had taken place with Warwick Manufacturing group.

He added the idea was to use some of the £370million identified to improve transport links with HS2 as part of the proposed West Midlands devolution deal with government, and potentially some of the £150million earmarked for Coventry city centre redevelopment.

It would need approval from the combined authority to commission work to develop proposals at WMG.

Coun Welsh said modern technological advances allowed for relatively inexpensive and non-obstructive rails to be laid along roads.

He added it could be more cost-effective than tram systems elsewhere in the West Midlands, and better than having proposed sprint buses to connect the city with HS2.

Coun O’Boyle said: “It could costs millions rather than tens of millions.

“The principle is to have a brand new transport scheme like no other in the country and which we’ve not had since the war.

“We want something that is unique and a 21st century solution rather than 20th century. We have Warwick Manufacturing Group on our dooorstep so why not use them?

“We want to find schemes which are advantageous to the city and region.

“It wouldn’t go through residential areas and it wouldn’t take up road space. The A45 has wide central reservations. The principle is we would want to maintain the four lanes of the A45.”

The aim is also to improve links to the expanding Birmingham Airport, which is nearer to Coventry than Birmingham city centre.