The Nottingham Express Transit is a tram system which runs from a stop by Nottingham station through Nottingham city centre to reach Hucknall to the north. Having opened in 2004 after 16 years of planning and development, the system now offers cheap, disabled-friendly transport across a modest network of 8.5 miles (14km), though high demand means that the network is likely to be expanded in the near future to provide other routes through the busy city centre.
The NET trams are by no means the first to have served Nottingham city centre — in fact, they are pre-dated by over 125 years by those operated by the District Tramways Company, who in 1878 were permitted to run trams from the city to the two mainline stations on Station Street and London Road1, provided that they were powered by animal only (eg, horse-drawn). The city was later served by steam and electric trams, which ran along various routes until the 1930s.
The NET system was first considered in 1988 at a meeting between the local and county councils. The plans for Line 1 were developed over the next six years and presented to Parliament in 1994. Construction finally began in 2000, the line opening four years later.
Line 1, as the current line is referred to, starts at Station Street on a viaduct just north of Nottingham mainline station. From here, the tracks cross the Nottingham Canal and run several metres above road level until the ground rises up to meet them, allowing the line to move onto the road towards the Lace Market. Northwest of here lies Nottingham's largest shopping district, along with many restaurants and pubs. After heading west past the shops to call at the Old Market Square, the trams crawl uphill. From this point onwards, the line generally heads northwards, calling at the Royal Centre and Nottingham Trent University before reaching the greener parts of the city. The High School stop lies near to the Arboretum, while the next stop at The Forest provides easy access to the Forest Recreation Ground, home to the infamous Goose Fair in early October each year.
From here, the line splits into a one-way loop to negotiate the area around Hyson Green, with the tracks rejoining at Wilkinson Street, which sits next to the banks of the River Leen. Having so far trundled along the streets at less than 30mph, the trams now leave the road to run upon their own railway line, which runs all the way to Hucknall, several miles to the north of Nottingham city centre. Along this section, the trams take advantage of the Robin Hood line between Nottingham and Worksop, which is currently operated by Central Trains. The tram system provides several extra stops on the route, although mainline trains do stop alongside the trams at Bulwell and Hucknall stations.
The off-road section of the tram network allows the trams to achieve a maximum speed of 50mph, running alongside the River Leen for most of the way, while passing no less than three golf courses. The current line also includes a spur off from the Robin Hood line just south of Highbury Vale station, which has four platforms to serve trains towards Cinderhill and Phoenix Park (the two stations on the spur) as well as serving trains off towards Hucknall in the north. The alternative terminus at Phoenix Park lies next to a large car park, as well as a Travel Inn and associated facilities, and is only a short way east of junction 26 on the M1.
Line 1 is therefore quite similar to London's Metropolitan Line, in that only a small section lies within the city centre, with the rest serving the suburbs to the northwest and acting as a means for tourists and those living in nearby towns to visit the various shopping centres and attractions that Nottingham has to offer. The line also acts as part of a Park-and-Ride system, with locals parking at Hucknall, Moor Bridge, Phoenix Park, Wilkinson Street or The Forest instead of using car parks near the city centre.
Each tram is made up of a series of sections connected by articulations similar to those seen in 'bendy buses', so, unlike a trolleybus, the tram must run on rails throughout its journey2. However, the presence of the rails has already led to someone breaking their skull on the hard metal after being pushed over into the road. The trams are currently all decorated with a standard white and dark green livery, although this may change with the coming of the next Robin Hood pageant. Meanwhile, the trams have already all been given names which are displayed by the driver's seat. Number 211 is known as 'Robin Hood' while others are named after Lord Byron, DH Lawrence and figure-skaters Torvill and Dean. The trams are generally quite pleasant to ride on, though this may be down to their newness, in which case only time will tell.
The trams are all operated by drivers who are responsible for keeping the trams from hitting anything as they plough through the city centre, along with sounding the bell if anyone strays out in front of the tram, something which seems to keep on happening, the obviousness of the trams notwithstanding. Despite much driver training before the tram line was opened, there have already been some accidents involving pedestrians, which is understandable considering the treacherous nature of the crossings near the Old Market Square, which in 2006 was in the midst of being rebuilt.
A conductor will also be present to sell and check tickets, with both single and day tickets being available3. Considering the cleanliness of the trams and the pleasantness of the staff, the tram fares are generally quite reasonable, as a single ticket will permit you to ride any distance along the line. The trams run very much like buses, with stop buttons being present for off-peak hours when the tram may not call at all stations.
The trams interchange with many bus routes, with the Royal Centre acting as a connections hub in the city centre. Bulwell and Hucknall stations both lie near to local bus depots, allowing reasonably easy access to buses to the surrounding area. As mentioned above, trams call next to mainline railway stations at Station Street, Hucknall and Bulwell, providing links to Central Trains and Midland Mainline services. Intercity buses and a link bus to Nottingham East Midlands Airport can also be caught from Nottingham city centre.
Approval has already been given for Phase 2 of the NET system, which involves both the construction of a new line and an extension of the original one. First of all, the line will be extended south of Nottingham mainline station to pass over the River Trent and on towards Wilford and Clifton, terminating at a Park-and-Ride by the A453. Meanwhile, another branch will extend south of Station Street, turning southwest to serve Beeston and Chilwell and passing by the Queen's Medical Centre and the University of Nottingham before eventually reaching a terminus at a Park-and-Ride by the A52. Trams from the Clifton branch will run onto the existing Line 1 to head north to serve the Phoenix Park branch, while trams from the Chilwell branch will head all the way north to Hucknall.
Construction of the new sections will begin in 2010, with 'Lines 2 and 3' opening some time in 2013. The plans for Phase 2 have brought about some controversy, with some residents of Beeston and Chilwell stating that they neither need nor want a tram, while others are actively campaigning for the extension to go ahead.