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Railwatch 079 - April 1999

Railwatch - 1999 - the year of the tram

By John Thelwell

The Government has announced that light rail schemes are so expensive that they will not usually be the way the appalling traffic problems of British cities are to be tackled.

Yet despite that attitude 1999 seems like the year of the tram.

Midland Metro Line 1 should open in Birmingham — after a series of irritating delays.

Trams will also be running this year in South London when Croydon's light rail lines open.

London's Docklands Light Railway's extension south of the River Thames to Lewisham should open this year and it also hopes to reach City airport with another branch.

In Nottingham furious work is proceeding on a tram scheme which, seemingly against the grain of Government policy — got the go-ahead.

Transport Minister John Reid announced £167million funding for this scheme at end of last year.

The 30-year DBFO package (design, build, finance and operate) was won by the Arrow Consortium a year earlier.

The consortium comprises Nottingham City Transport (the city-owned bus company), Adtranz (which will build the trams at Derby), Tarmac, and French public transport company Transdev.

Various possibilities were considered, but the seven-mile route will now run alongside the Robin Hood Line from Hucknall station via Bulwell station to the junction with a one-mile spur from the park-and-ride halt at Phoenix Park redevelopment site, which has risen from the ashes of Babbington Colliery. The depot site will be at Whitemoor, where on-street running will commence along Wilkinson Street. Because of space constraints, two single tracks will run along Radford Road and Noel Street before recombining for a park-and-ride stop at the Forest, and a steep ascent of Mount Hooton Road.

Complete rebuilding of Theatre Square and its pedestrian subways will be needed to allow trams to cross at an angle and continue down Market Street.

Nottingham city centre has never in its history possessed a convenient north-south road, so the trams will have to circumnavigate the congested Old Market Square to gain Cheapside and Victoria Street, before turning sharp right down Fletcher Gate to a stop on the edge of the run-down Lace Market area.

Strangely, trams will pass Weekday Cross and the extended Broad Marsh shopping centre without stopping, but will continue across Canal Street to the terminus at Station Street, opposite the Railtrack railway station used by Midland Main Line and Central Trains services.

The line's history can be traced back to a report published in December 1988 by Nottingham Development Enterprise. This joint public/private development agency was set up to stimulate the regeneration of run-down and deprived areas of the city, and one of its first ideas was to set up a light rail system. Despite plans for reinstatement of the heavy rail route to Hucknall and on to Mansfield, this corridor was precisely the one chosen for light rail because "it represents the last stretch of current or past railway route within the Greater Nottingham area which is of sufficient length to be used for LRT purposes largely as it stands".

This admission emphasises how much railway infrastructure has been lost in Nottingham since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. In cities such as London, Birmingham and Glasgow, closed cross-city routes were kept intact, either through positive planning or possibly inertia.

But in Nottingham, the city council pursued a policy of systematic destruction. The Great Central route from Hucknall through Carrington and the city centre has been almost obliterated, although its route could have served two major new shopping malls and it passed directly over the Midland station which is somewhat out of town to the south.

Some tunnels remain, but access is blocked by building development. One wonders about the mentality of the Victoria station redevelopers, who built car parks and a bus station in the shopping centre built on the station site, but failed to realise that trains can bring in customers by the thousand.

Later plans to run trams through the basement car park were thwarted by close spacing of support pillars. The two lines out to Kimberley on the northwest of the city have gone, the Midland railway bridge across the Trent is now a road, and the trackbed blocked in West Bridgford.

In contrast, part of the Great Northern loop line that served Gedling colliery is proposed for a passenger service in the latest Gedling Local Plan. It's unfortunate that the continuation to Daybrook and the City Hospital is blocked.

All this emphasises the need for some form of national railway route protection, to conserve valuable formations that are still being lost to building development.

RDS welcomes investment in rail-based transport solutions for the city, but has reservations about the current Nottingham light rail plan.

ToTo;The Government has announced that light rail schemes are too expensive, and this one will be the last to receive funding for some time.

Bus priorities and guided busways are seen as cheaper and more widely applicable.

For Nottingham, it would surely be much more sensible to enhance the existing Robin Hood Line services on the north side of the city, without the complication of track-sharing or extending the single-track bottleneck on Robin Hood.

The light rail money could then be used for a link from the city across the Trent to the south, to bypass congested road bridges.

The public transport section of the county council has worked with bus operators to provide high-quality routes to Cotgrave and Keyworth, but these are of limited use due to the total lack of bus lanes approaching Trent Bridge.

The Great Central rail formation still exists through Wilford to Ruddington, and could be extended by a street-running loop round the huge Clifton estate.

Another possibility is a route skirting the east of West Bridgford, linking up with the test track towards Plumtree, and to Keyworth, where housing development is planned.

The forthcoming Local Transport Plan will show if local authorities really intend to improve public transport, or if the Fourth Trent Road Crossing plan is to be wheeled out again, to generate further car traffic to clog up the city centre.

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