World's first Very Light Rail rapid-charger installed

Furrer+Frey | 21 April 2021

The world’s first Very Light Rail (VLR) ultra-rapid battery charge station has been installed at its dedicated testing centre in Dudley, England, by Furrer+Frey GB.

The milestone brings the new mode of public transport a step closer — supporting global efforts to decarbonise transport.

The charge station will top-up battery powered VLR vehicles wirelessly and autonomously at scheduled three-minute stops, as a low-cost alternative to traditional overhead line electrification.

The Furrer+Frey All-In-One OpBrid charger is already in use for electric buses in Spain and the Netherlands. But new software developed by the Swiss firm’s British arm means the charger can support new light trams as well as buses.

Furrer+Frey aim to manufacture the charge stations in the UK. The new VLR charger is built with steel from Newport and software developed at their headquarters in Derby.

The charge station is part of a multi-million-pound project to develop Coventry’s Very Light Rail system, bringing the benefits of a tram at a fraction of the cost.

A prototype Coventry VLR vehicle has been developed and will shortly undergo extensive testing using the charger and tracks at the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley.

The VLRNIC is a unique facility that alongside the ongoing R&D into VLR technologies, will also facilitate the development of a supply chain to develop integrated VLR systems, creating manufacturing jobs in the Black Country and West Midlands, and the development of a VLR market, both in the UK and overseas.

The first VLR services could be up and running in Coventry by 2025.

The news comes a day after the UK Prime Minister confirmed the British government would enshrine its sixth carbon budget in law, requiring carbon emissions to fall 78 percent by 2035 compared to 1990.

Noel Dolphin, UK Managing Director, Furrer+Frey, said: “We are delighted to be building on our long history of rail electrification with this world-first charging solution for Very Light Rail.

“With the right set-up the unit will work across buses, bin lorries or even heavy rail – helping us to tackle the climate emergency.

"The software was made by our team in the UK and we plan to manufacture future units here in Britain."

Balvinder Heran, Deputy Chief Executive, Dudley Council, said: “Dudley Council is keen to promote the use of cutting edge technology to drive innovation across the borough.

“The VLR project is one example of new technological innovations we are proud to develop and be at the forefront.

“We will be the first area in the UK to trial this ultra-rapid charge station and it’s one example of our ambition to develop cutting edge innovations which in turn will encourage investors to Dudley, create jobs and build strong career opportunities across Dudley.”

Notes to Editors

  1. For information and media enquiries, contact:  Jo Field, JFG Comms: 07788 131 347 | jo@jfgcomms.co.uk 
     Nick Sanderson, JFG Comms (Canada): +14379 704 450 | nick@jfgcomms.co.uk
  2. Photos are available to download at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1rjp4r-vH1RSnKc0xMklXu7pj4051M7J8?usp=sharing
  3. Noel Dolphin, UK Managing Director, Furrer+Frey is available for phone interview
  4. The charging station has been implemented as part of the Coventry Very Light Rail project, which aims to provide a low-cost battery powered tram solution for the city centre. The first route aims to be operational by 2025. For more information visit coventry.gov.uk/verylightrail
  5. The Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) was set up to oversee the build, launch and operation of a new Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC), to be built in Dudley.
  6. BCIMO and the VLRNIC was seed funded by the European Union Regional Development Fund, Black Country LEP’s Growth Deal, West Midlands Combined Authority, and the UK Government’s Get Building Fund.
     

About Furrer+Frey

Furrer+Frey have been providing transport electrification solutions for around a hundred years. They provide decarbonisation expertise in charging solutions, and working with Network Rail, they have sponsored and guided extensive research at the University of Sheffield to improve the reliability of both current and future electrification schemes. Their charging solutions have supported Smart City electric bus initiatives across Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Canada.

For the Coventry Very Light Rail project, Furrer+Frey are providing the charging solution, including the overhead pantograph charger and its operating software.

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