We'll be adding to these as time goes by, so if you have a question for us please e-mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's start at the top - we've got a huge problem. The climate is going to get hotter, there's no doubt about that now, and the science is telling us that we're not doing nearly enough to slow the process. We're all going to have to make changes to the way we live, and the big problem areas are food, heating and transport.
We at CCR saw an opportunity to enable the Cotswolds to take a step in that direction, as we've explained below.
We all need to travel by public transport as much as possible, and that means encouraging modal shift – so first, it has to be built!
In this context, it's persuading people out of their cars and onto public transport as much as possible. To do that, it has to be convenient, comfortable and reasonably priced.
Train infrastructure has more permanency so encourages modal shift in a way buses don’t, because bus routes are axed so readily. Buses also add to, and get caught up in, congestion so their timetables are unreliable.
Electric cars are not the solution to the Climate Crisis because of the high CO2 of their production and disposal. The estimated carbon footprint per passenger kilometre of a VLR vehicle is about a third of that of an electric car.
In addition, the extra weight of electric cars is already damaging the structure of our roads, as well as contributing to the Oslo Effect.
VLR is much cheaper than heavy rail, costing between £5-7 million/kilometre rather than £35-50 million/kilometre of Heavy rail.
The VLR will improve connectivity to Cirencester for commuters, tourists and businesses. This will boost the local economy and job opportunities. It will also reduce cars in Cirencester and Kemble and include improved cross-platform access for mobility impaired passengers.
The VLR infrastructure will last up to 120 years with the vehicle life of up to 30 years. The vehicle is battery powered so it’s zero carbon at the point of use, and doesn’t contribute to the Oslo effect as it runs on steel wheels.
Called the Oslo Effect because of a study carried out there, it showed that the particulates resulting from cars’ rubber tyres on tarmac and brake pads make a major contribution to air and water pollution. Electric cars produce more, and buses much more, even when they're empty!
The vehicle we're considering takes 20 sitting or 50 standing, and 70 maximum. There will be room for buggies and bikes at quieter times.
The VLR aims to meet every mainline train, so initially around every twenty minutes. Because it can download the 'true' arrival time of a train, it can predict the ideal time to leave Cirencester Town Halt to meet it.
We are very conscious of the need to ensure that travellers will feel safe, especially lone women travell ing late at night. Every vehicle and halt will be monitored at all times by CCTV, with direct links to the emergency services.
Currently mobility-restricted passengers who can't climb the stairs, have to go on foot around the roads to get from one platform to the other. This applies to car drivers and bus passengers at the moment, we we have budgeted to provide a new bridge with lifts to solve this problem for everyone. It's complex because the station building is listed, and the building is owned by Network Rail and leased by GWR. Nonetheless, we have discussed the problem with these parties and have the outline of a workable solution.
We began investigating the possibility in 2013, and realised that three factors were all telling us that now is the time: the development of the Steadings, with 2,350 new homes, is a huge incentive to minimise the car journeys that they will bring; the re-doubling of the main railway line between Swindon and Gloucester means that capacity can increase by 4 times if needed; and the public realisation that climate change is going to be a serious problem for our grandchildren, and that we have to do what we can to reduce it.
In 2016 we chanced upon the developers of the Very Light Rail technology, Warwick Manufacturing Group, and spotted that this was able to bring the costs right down, and make the whole project feasible. Since then, we have been working through the process of gathering a highly competent management team and demonstrating the project's feasibility.
The actual construction of the line and associated infrastructure can be done in under two years, but the process of gathering evidence, creating documents, obtaining Transport and Works Act approval (you have to have it before you can run a transport service) and detailed design.will all take time.
And of course, raising funds to complete all those preparations - that takes a lot of time and effort too!
We've had a very detailed costing done (the CAPEX, or Captial Expenditure) which calculated a figure of £52.6 million. This may sound like a lot, but compared to the Birdlip Missing Link at £460 million, it's very good value, and it has a far longer life expectancy.
To this we add an allowance to support the service operation during the first five years while patronage grows, so we're basing our discussions on a total of £60 million to carry the project to profitability.
Of course, with inflation back in the headlines, this figure will need to be reviewed every year to allow for increased costs of materials and labour.
The funding will be a combination of land value capture and private investment, mainly pension funds which welcome long-term green projects.
Our costings have been based on a ticket price of around £3.50, with discounts for students and season tickets to ensure that local residents get the maximum benefit from it. Ticket pricing strategy will be guided by advice from similar rail projects, and market conditions at the time. We will aim to link into the emerging web-based ticket sales systems, so that buying is as simple as possible.
That was our first question; how many people will use the VLR if we build it? So we commissioned an analysis of population and employment areas around Cirencester, undertaken by the Transport Research Group at Southampton University. Their estimate came out at around 800,000 journeys per year, but the transport planners like to adjust conservatively for 'optimism bias', so we used a figure of 400,000. That gives a pay-back time of about 30 years, making some reasonable assumptions.
Of course, it's up to us all how much we change our habits, but the sooner we prepare for Net Zero living, the better.
If it was public money, there are many worthwhile projects and problems needing funding, but they don't usually have a possibility of financial return. This isn't government money we're using (although we firmly believe the UK Government should be matching its actions to its brave promises!), so it isn't in competition with all those other projects.
Self-driving cars will help solve transport issues in remoter areas like villages, but they won't reduce the number of cars on the roads. In fact many people who can't drive, will be able to use one - so they will increase the number of journeys by road overall - a major congestion problem. Oh, yes, and it could a while before they are as safe as they claim; we need to be finding solutions now!