A WORLD-FIRST zero-emission transport system comprising driverless electric “pods” which can travel on both road and rail launches today in Shildon.

The futuristic ‘floc’ technology, launched by UK-based tech start up Urban.Mass will increase connectivity in cities worldwide, cutting congestion, air pollution, costs and carbon emissions.

The system combines door-to-door on-demand ride-hailing transport with high capacity, sustainable transit to provide zero-emission journeys.

CEO of Urban.Mass, Kevin O’Grady, said: “Local people might be sceptical but everyone was sceptical about Stephenson’s engine back in 1825 as well. People thought that travelling at 30mph would make your body parts fall off!

“It’s almost 200 years since the UK invented passenger rail – it’s time to once again set a new global precedent and upend the status quo of transport.”

Read more: WATCH: Locomotion No 1 arrives in Shildon

The Northern Echo: An artist's impression of what the electric 'pods' will look likeAn artist's impression of what the electric 'pods' will look like

Flocks of driverless electric “pods” will collect passengers from anywhere in cities and towns on-demand using existing road networks, then link together as trains on elevated smart tracks to weave over, under and through congested city centres at high speed.

The world’s first operational system will open in 2025 at the National Railway Museum in Shildon exactly 200 years after the world’s first passenger locomotive, Stephenson’s engine, made its first journey on the same site.

This futuristic transport system may sound more Tokyo than County Durham but O’Grady made clear that this will benefit the area by creating jobs and improving the way people get about.

The Northern Echo: Some of the team behind Urban.Mass with staff from Locomotion in ShildonSome of the team behind Urban.Mass with staff from Locomotion in Shildon

Shildon was chosen for the launch due to its historic record of pioneering new-age mass transit, having hosted the world’s first steam-powered public railway in 1825.

It was also chosen to see how this new transport system will navigate obstacles, including a road bridge, existing railway line and public walkway, demonstrating the flexibility of the technology.

Read more: Locomotion No 1 will be SHARED between Shildon and Darlington after agreement reached

Shildon will act as a test bed for how affordable, and quickly deployable mass transit can “level up” communities across the UK.

Councillor Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “This addition to Locomotion will only help to increase the number of visitors to the site and the wider county.

“Our area is synonymous with the birth of the modern railway 200 years ago, so it is fitting that this latest revolution in technology will be on display in the county for the public to see.

“The development is also in line with our own ambitions to make County Durham carbon neutral by the year 2050.”

The Northern Echo: An artist's impression of what the sustainable transport system will look likeAn artist's impression of what the sustainable transport system will look like

This comes as County Durham reached the next stage of the UK City for Culture 2025 last week.

Plans for Urban.Mass networks are to be delivered in ten cities in the UK and worldwide by 2030.

The technology will cost 50% less than conventional urban rail and can be deployed in half the time.

The electric “pods” will seat 12 with standing room for 4 with the option for wheelchair access and bicycles.

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North, said: “It is fantastic to see the North continue its great transport history in the development of this scheme, with Durham acting as a test bed for the project.”


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