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Nottingham: Trams in three years time

The builders of NET have already learned lessons from other UK schemes. As LRTA observer Graham Haywood reports.

When JCBs began to dig into ground in the Hyson Green district on Monday 12 June, it marked the end of a ten-year wait for line 1 of Nottingham Express Transit (NET). Importantly, the promise of minimum disruption is designed to win widespread public support from the outset.

The NET project is a three and a half-year construction programme, culminating in the sight of trams running through the streets of Nottingham in autumn 2003.

Nottingham is the regional capital and largest city in the East Midlands region of the UK, with a population of around 280 000. This figure is swelled to half a million when Greater Nottingham is taken into account - the city plus immediate suburbs outside the city boundaries such Beeston, West Bridgford and Eastwood.

NET is a joint venture by Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, and Nottingham Development Enterprise, a private sector organisation working for the economic well of the City. NET is seen as one part of a much wider strategy for Greater Nottingham for the 21 st Century, which seeks a balance between the local economy, the environment, road safety, and the needs of road users.

Other elements include the introduction of bus lanes, park and ride sites, cycle routes, and the development of heavy rail routes, including the recently opened Robin Hood Line to Worksop.

By reducing congestion and pollution, NET will bring environmental and economic benefits to the Greater Nottingham conurbation, and therefore assist in the regeneration of depressed areas, including the South Nottinghamshire coalfield, which has lost practically all its deep mines over the last 15 years.

Feasibility studies undertaken by consultants Scott Wilson Kilpatrick in 1989 and 1990, indicated the benefits of developing a comprehensive rapid transit network, and enabled the choice of route for line 1 to be made.

The developer and operator is a private sector grouping. The partners in the Arrow Consortium are worldwide railway systems engineer Adtranz, civil engineering contractor Carillion (formerly Tarmac Construction), Transdev,, (the French company which operates 60 tram networks, including five in France), and local bus operator Nottingham City Transport. Arrow, as the preferred bidder, has a 30-year concession to finance, design, build, operate and maintain line 1.

NET's line 1 runs for a distance of nine miles (14 km), from a terminus opposite Nottingham Midland railway station, and northwards to Bulwell and Hucknall, (following the existing Robin Hood heavy rail route linking the city with Mansfield and Worksop), plus a short westward spur to the Phoenix park and ride site, a short distance from Junction 26 of the Ml motorway.

In addition to the Hucknall terminus in the north, major park and ride sites will also be provided at four other strategic locations - the Phoenix site, Moor Bridge serving Bulwell, Wilkinson Street near the city's ring road, and the Forest.

In the city centre itself there will be approximately three miles (5 km) of on street running, from Wilkinson Street through Hyson Green, passing the High School, Nottingham Trent University, the Royal Centre (a theatre, concert hall, cinema area), Old Market Square, and the Lace Market/Ice Arena.

Line 1 will have a total of 23 stops, including five park and ride sites for 3,000 vehicles, and will be fully integrated with bus, taxi and heavy rail transport services.

Between 6ain to midnight, the service will be based on six-minute headways in the city centre at peak times and weekdays. Less frequent operation is planned for weekends and public holidays.

The original project had a projected autumn 2002 completion date, with a three-year construction programme, but complex finance arrangements, and resolving issues relating the track layout of the Robin Hood Line with Railtrack, has meant an extended construction period of 42 months, and the opening date is now a year later than hoped.

The broad timescales for NET are:

Adtranz will be responsible for the supply and installation of a fleet of 15 or 16 low floor trams.

The vehicle originally intended to be used for NET was to be the Eurotram, which is already successfully operating in Strasbourg, and currently supplied for Strasbourg Phase 2, Milan and Oporto.

The Incentro tram - as already chosen for Nantes, France. Its design features are now preferred to the Eurotram, another product of Adtranz. Photo TAN
The Incentro tram - as already chosen for Nantes, France.
Photo TAN

The design now chosen for NET is the Adtranz Incentro, the first of which is entering service in the French city of Nantes. This model has a better power to weight ratio than the Eurotram, and with a reduced door opening/closing time, will prove to be more suitable for NET's requirements.

The Incentro tram for NET, will be bidirectional, low floor, with a maximum length of 32 m, and a width of 2.4 m, with six double doors each side, as well as air conditioning. In order to avoid some of the pitfalls made during the construction of other UK tram schemes, notably the Stagecoach Supertram network in Sheffield and Croydon Tramlink, the city and county councils are making determined efforts to provide the public with regular meetings and information sessions to fully explain the tramway construction programme. NET has provided a dedicated telephone hotline, has two dedicated Internet websites, and publishes regular newsletters and public information leaflets for affected businesses and residents. It has also mounted a poster campaign throughout the city centre.

Since the 12 June start, contractors have continued with the diversion of services, primarily in the Hyson Green area, with work progressing since 3 August towards the city along Mount Hooton Road, Nottingham High School and the Royal Centre.

Demolition of the Collin Street viaduct to make way for a more suitable concrete structure has been one of the most noticeable features of NET construction so far. The date is 5 August. Photo A.Thornton
Demolition of the Collin Street viaduct.
The date is 5 August. Photo A.Thornton

Demolition of the massive Great Central Railway viaduct (disused since the withdrawal of services in 1966) next to the Broad Marsh Centre has been one of the most spectacular projects so far, and was completed on 20 August. Work on a new more suitable structure is due to start in 2001. The contractors agreed to scale down operations during early October, to allow for the city's Goose Fair, which is held on The Forest, a large public open space, and attracts around two million visitors during its three-day run.

Work within the city centre itself will not start until early January 2001 so as to allow Christmas shoppers normal access.

Encouraged by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's recent pronouncements about national light rail expansion in his ten-year transport plan, NET will be bidding for funding to allow construction of lines 2 and 3, south of the River Trent, to the suburbs of Clifton and West Bridgford respectively.

Whether Nottingham will be successful remains to be seen, but if the green light is given, construction of both lines could start immediately after the opening of line 1 in autumn 2003.

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