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07/03/2023

Reading time: 5min

Xenia Masoura

Transport Economist

On the right track: Sweco maps out Strategic Outline Case for new Very Light Rail in Stoke-on-Trent

 

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s planned new £415m Very Light Rail (VLR) network, connecting the area’s six towns, could ‘revolutionise’ travel in the city according to the city’s transport strategy leaders.

Sweco is proud to be helping to move this transformational initiative forward, with cross-discipline consultancy and analysis feeding a comprehensive Strategic Outline Case (SOC) – now under formal consideration following public consultation. Below, Sweco Transport Economist Xenia Masoura takes us on the journey from initial consultation to full SOC delivery. This is a key strand of the wider transport strategy work that Sweco was involved in which is now published on the SoTCC website.

SHORTLISTED: Stoke-on-Trent’s Very Light Rail project, as part of the wider transport strategy, was recently shortlisted in the CIHT West Midlands Awards 2023 in both ‘Best Large Project’ and ‘Environment & Sustainability’ categories. In being selected as a finalist, the VLR is recognised as an ‘outstanding example of transportation or highway project, delivered on time, to budget and making a major contribution to the West Midlands.’ and for its ‘excellence in environment and sustainability in the highways and transportation industry in the West Midlands’ respectively. 

Location
Stoke-on-Trent
Client
Stoke-on-Trent City Council
Partners
Ricardo, Steer, MEL

What was the challenge?

“This project began with the review and update of the current Local Transport Plan of Stoke-on-Trent, followed by the development of a new 10-year Transport Strategy & Delivery Plan – a strategy which aims to provide solutions for a better-connected city through a variety of alternative transport options to the car, delivered within a 10-year period.

The introduction of a VLR network will connect the six main towns of Stoke-on-Trent and provide accessibility and connectivity to employment zones and the hospital – boosting the local and visitor economy, whilst sustaining a healthier local environment.”

 

Key aims

  1. Improve the public transport offer through the introduction of a VLR network across the city, with significant investment in bus service improvements and better intracity rail services
  2. Provide better connectivity of different modes of travel, with the emphasis on improving accessibility by public transport and active travel (walking and cycling) to support residents’ health and wellbeing and access to vital services including jobs and education
  3. Develop multi-modal hubs across the city
  4. Decarbonise the transport network
  5. Develop digital connectivity to inform travel needs and options

“The key focus of the strategy as a whole is to improve the public transport offer, including the opportunities for introduction of VLR; better integration of different modes of travel through the development of a multi-modal hub network in the city; and developing a net-zero emission pathway, including electric and hydrogen fleet opportunities in the city.

These three initiatives were taken forward for initial Strategic Outline Cases (SOCs) showcasing the commitment of the Council to tackle the current transport issues with innovative solutions. Latterly, the documents have gone through a public consultation stage to further inform the documents based on the collected findings.”

The VLR network is a key part of our transport strategy. We have seen what other authorities are planning in the region, and we are very excited and inspired to put our own stamp on things for Stoke-on-Trent residents.

Daniel Jellyman Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Infrastructure and Heritage

Sweco’s solution

“Sweco produced a vast and ambitious proposal to tackle the various transport challenges of the city of Stoke-on-Trent. The offer of the current local public transport or alternative travel is poor, thus the proposal (active travel, transport hubs, rail and bus improvements) and further SOC development can potentially support on the delivery of future public transport offer.”

  • Business case development
  • Engagement and consultation
  • Transport modelling
  • Air Quality Consultancy
  • Multi-modal access strategy
  • EV Charging Infrastructure Consultancy
  • Transport Planning & Advisory including multiple Sweco country teams

“We developed the Very Light Rail SOC, and designed a proposed VLR network for the city of Stoke-on-Trent. VLR is an innovative and cost-effective solution. It is effectively a light rail tram system that is designed to be substantially cheaper than conventional tramways.

The VLR also makes use of batteries to avoid installing overhead line equipment and it has a new, thinner track system that is easier to install and repair. The vision is that, in 10 years’ time, it could become automated and driver free, reducing the costs even further.”

The VLR in Stoke is about meeting the decarbonisation challenge and improving accessibility within Stoke-on-Trent. It will offer a step change regarding the city’s public transport offer, which should be seen in the context of declining bus patronage, with the aim of getting people out of their cars. The high-level scheme’s investment cost is approximately £415M, which covers all three proposed lines of the network, based on an assumption of £10M per km expenditure for a total network length of 40k.

Karl Jarvis Transport Modelling & Appraisal Lead at Sweco

Sweco project leads:

 

Karl Jarvis – Transport Modelling & Appraisal Lead

Xenia Masoura – Project Manager (Transport Economist)

Shan Li – Technical Manager

Saumil Patel – Appraisal & Business Case Lead

Martin Sellman – Principal Consultant

Rahul Halai – Consultant Transport Economist

Dermot Hanney – Principal Transport Planner

Alasdair Sim – Technical Director