Nottingham’s NETwork: open for business

Members of NET's new Alstom Citadis fleet at the Wilkinson Street depot.

Nottingham Express Transit (NET) Phase Two opened at 6am this morning, and so – naturally – we just had to spend the day riding around on the new ‘NETwork’!

Four years in the making. 17.5km of new track. 28 new tram stops. Two brand new lines.

August 25th, 2015 will certainly be remembered as a historic day for the City of Nottingham. At 6.02am, the first trams left the new termini at Clifton South and Toton Lane Park and Ride sites, packed full of a mixture of journalists, enthusiasts, dignitaries and a handful of intrepid commuters – the wait was finally over. A battalion of NET helpers and volunteers stood waiting at platforms and on trams up and down the network, ready to offer the southern half of the city a crash course in tram-based etiquette. Never wanting to miss a piece of the action, we set out on a mission of exploration…

A NET Alstom Citadis tram bound for Toton Lane crosses the road onto Gregory Street, Nottingham.
It’s #NETLaunch Day, and a NET Alstom Citadis tram bound for Toton Lane crosses the road onto Gregory Street, Nottingham.

The route

Trams run every 5-7 minutes across the entire network, Monday to Friday. Line One (Hucknall/Phoenix Park – Nottingham) has been wholly integrated with Phase Two, effectively creating two cross-city lines. Trams from the northern terminus at Hucknall travel across the city to the park and ride site at Toton Lane – a journey time of a whopping 59 minutes end-to-end. The line to Clifton South has been linked with the existing line through to Phoenix Park (travelling along the shared section with the line to Hucknall and diverging at Highbury Vale), an end-to-end time of around 46 minutes.

Both of the new routes feature interesting integrations within the existing city architecture. The southern section to Clifton travels for a long, straight length along what used to be the trackbed of the Great Central mainline through Wilford, veering off at Silverdale and cutting through Clifton itself to the terminus adjacent to the A453 (itself recently reopened to traffic after a lengthy widening phase). The Chilwell line benefits from no such provision of handy ex-GCR trackbed, instead cutting and snaking through industrial estates, town centres, university campuses and residential streets to reach its destination at Toton Lane. Both of the routes are a contrast to that of the existing Line One, which for the most part enjoys a dedicated high-speed run along a section of the Robin Hood rail line.

Located on the Chilwell line, the Queens’ Medical Centre is the first hospital in the UK to get a dedicated connection to a tram stop – NET expects around 1200 passengers a day to be using this stop alone. The stop is connected to the University of Nottingham’s University Park Campus by the impressive Ningbo Friendship Bridge.

The vehicles – old vs new

NET’s existing fleet of 15 Bombardier Incentro units underwent a light overhaul and spring clean recently, bringing them more into line with their newer Alstom-built cousins. However, at 11 years of age, they’re starting to feel a little tired – arguably, these units are due a heavier overhaul at some stage in the near future.  The ride quality over the new network is laughable compared to that of the Citadis, and the faded exterior destination displays have certainly seen better days. The Citadis units – the first Alstom-built light rail vehicles to operate in the UK – by contrast, are a sumptuous piece of kit. Being propelled over gradients and across road bridges by these units is like being kicked off the edge of a very steep cliff – it’s that quick. The Citadis trams glide effortlessly across the rails, leaving other road traffic hopelessly trailing in their wake over the on-street sections. The interiors are light and airy, offering plenty of seating and standing options, as well as featuring bright LED uplighting and very clear audio/visual displays. The exit doors feature an orange beacon located in the alcove above, which flash in addition to the usual warning tone when the doors are about to close – this little addition feels distinctly Parisian, and ever-so-oddly out of place on a UK rail network.

Erm…where’s the wifi?

Now…you might call us spoilt, but one glaring home comfort conspicuous only by its absence is free wifi. Everywhere you look these days, you’ll find a road or rail vehicle proudly displaying a hastily slapped-on ‘free wifi’ decal. So imagine when – shock horror – we tried to connect on board one of NET’s trams (by more of a reflex than anything else), only to find that no such mod-con was available. It’s not the end of the world, but other networks such as Manchester’s Metrolink are making great strides in this area lately.

And finally… the launch verdict

All in all, launch day went extremely smoothly – as it should, after weeks of intensive timetable testing and last-minute tinkering.

The trams performed faultlessly, the punters enjoyed themselves and spirits were high. With less than 24 hours’ notice that trams would actually begin running on the lines, the timetable stood up to the impressively large volumes of passengers throughout the day with only a hint of bunching at peak times. Although the launch wasn’t terribly well publicised, a great deal of printed material and signage is available both on-board and at stations, making the network a doddle to understand and navigate. There was oodles of social media activity, with #NETLaunch and #tramtastic trending on Twitter by lunchtime (send in your tram selfies!).

Given the popularity of the existing line, it’s surely only a matter of time before the seemingly everlasting tram works which blighted the city for so long are forgotten, and the tram is welcomed into the hearts and minds of its new communities.

Have you been for a ride on the NETwork yet? What did you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Post in the comments or drop us a tweet – @transportdsn.


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