A montage of some images from the Nottingham Express Transit system which opened in 2004 and has recently been extended considerably.

Railfuture director Jerry Alderson travelled on Nottingham’s modern tram system as a guest on the day before its public opening (9 March 2004) and has now travelled on the entire system again following the opening of the second phase, which opened on 25 August 2015 and more than doubled the size of the total system from 14km to 32km. The time from start of construction to the opening of both Phase 2 lines (17.5km of route to Clifton South and Toton Lane) was three years, which compares favourably to almost five years for the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, an attempt at ’tram lite’ that was supposed to be simpler to build and maintain.

Leaving the highly controversial, unloved, poorly maintained, weed-infested and crumbling concrete-kerb busway on which regular buses bump along its disjointed beams to visit the Nottingham Express Transit – a proper public transport system in every sense of the word – is like entering a new world.

Everything on the tram system is very stylish and sleek, from the trams to the shelters, ticket machines and even the MANGO smartcard readers. It really looks like loving care has been put into the entire scheme, with each stage from design to construction appearing to be of high quality. The tram journey is exceedingly smooth, albeit a bit slow around some tight corners.

No expense has been spared on the beautifully-designed and multi-functional ticket machines, which are among the most impressive you will see anywhere (not just in Britain but in the world). In fact at some stops they also contain a help point and an overhead passenger information screen showing how one piece of infrastructure can cost-effectively serve multiple purposes, and by co-locating these features passengers find it easier too. The help point includes brail writing and there is a soft-yellow-coloured mat for blind travellers to find it.

Everything is clean, helped by the no food and drink rule on the trams and plenty of litter bins at the tram stops. There is a chance to get a hot drink and sandwich at both of the new termini. There are also free toilets.

Pensioners do get free travel and it was no surprise to see quite that many were using the trams, although there were plenty of younger people. There were several passengers in wheelchairs proving how easy it is to board from street via platform to tram.

The ticket machines, readers, signs etc. are identical on both the original line and the new extensions, which makes using them easier. In fact the original line did not originally have any ticket machines as all ticket sales were made by on board staff, so the modern machines were installed throughout.

Because the system had only been open for two weeks there were staff at most of the stops whose job was to explain how to use the system and offer help. Several were recently retired local people who had been employed for the first couple of months in this role. One such person remembered being on the final trolley bus that ran in Nottingham in the 1960s. He was able to explain the history of the city and even how every tram stop got its name.

Despite travelling on the entire network over a period of five hours the tickets were not inspected on board once, which was surprising, although the threat of a £50 fine and the ease of buying tickets (multiple machines at every stop) or using the MANGO smartcard gives people no excuse. It appeared than the priority in the first few weeks was to attract people to the service rather than maximise revenue in that time (income from passengers returning over many years would easily offset any initial shortfall), and the priority for the staff was providing really good customer service.

Speaking to a few passengers, several said that the construction phase had been horrendous but they loved using the tram, and now it is open everything has been excused. One couple were ecstatic about being able to take a tram direct to Queen’s Medical Centre as it would save them considerable travelling time.

Much of the system is off-road, part of it using the alignment of the Grand Central railway that was closed in the 1960s. The trams had to wait at road junctions but one interesting feature of the tram signals on roads (some of which were cleverly integrated into the normal traffic lights) was the use of two small red lights, which operate like a ‘get ready’ signal to the driver.

The £4 fee for unlimited use all day of trams (and £4.50 to include buses as well) is remarkably good value (much less than the £6.40 to travel on the much shorter Cambridgeshire busway). Visitors to Nottingham pay just £2.50 if they present a train ticket at the station. The system itself is near perfect. Few gripes can be found. There are no announcement (or beeps) as tram is about to depart. This is a mistake as an elderly woman who inexplicably stood up two seconds before the tram moved off was sent flying. Integration with buses is very good. Bus stops are very close to tram stops but rather foolishly at one integrated stop the MANGO card readers were only at either end of the tram stop and not in the middle where the bus pulled up, so one passenger nearly missed the tram as she looked for the reader. That is easy to fix and should be done straight away.

A serious omission, given that new trams have been introduced and the original fleet refurbished, is the lack of Wi-Fi or plug-points. In 2015 this cheap-to-provide facility is a big mistake and unjustifiable given that Manchester Metrolink offers unlimited free Wi-fi (details) on all of its trams, and so do all of the Cambridgeshire guided buses too!

The people of Cambridgeshire might like to visit Nottingham to see what they could have had and, perhaps, weep.

Some photos from the NET extension (all taken by Jerry Alderson on 9th September 2015).

Entrance to Clifton South terminus showing ticket machines and real-time display.
NET - entrance to Clifton South terminus showing ticket machines and real-time display (taken on 2015-09-09)

Easy guide on how to use NET ticket machines.
NET – Easy guide on how to use NET ticket machines (taken on 2015-09-09)

NET stylish MANGO card reader located at every tram stop (usually one at each end of the platform).
NET stylish MANGO card reader located at every tram stop (usually one at each end of the platform)

 Snack bar at the NET Clifton South terminus selling hot drinks and snacks.
Snack bar at the NET Clifton South terminus selling hot drinks and snacks (taken on 2015-09-09)

 Tram at the platform at the NET Clifton South terminus.
Tram at the platform at the NET Clifton South terminus (taken on 2015-09-09)

NET Tram priority seating showing ease of access for people with restricted mobility.
NET Tram priority seating showing ease of access for people with restricted mobility (taken on 2015-09-09)

Wikipedia entry for NET: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nottingham_Express_Transit

Read previous articles by this writer: Lacklustre Busway, Expand Eurocity network,  Government backs Wi-Fi, Cheapest fares by law?Bring Back BR?Public Sector FranchisesFare Increase Viewpoint and Tube Staffing.