| Nottingham Express Transit: The Background to the Project
Article Posted Sunday 7 March 2004
As we continue the build up to the opening of NET British Trams Online Webmaster Gareth Prior looks at background of the project and a brief look at the construction period of the tramway…|
The Background to the Light Rail project
The genesis of the idea of having a light rail system in the city of Nottingham can be traced back to 1988 when Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council met with Nottingham Development Enterprise (representing local businesses) to consider what the future needs of transport in the city would be. Between them these three groups commissioned a group of consultants to look at improving the transport in the city. Nottingham needed an integrated transport system with reliable public transport as the mainstay of this. These consultants were not just looking at the idea of light rail with other options also being considered before it was decided that trams would be the best option for Nottingham.
The consultants considered the different routes that would be ideally suited to having the light rail system and it was decided that the corridor between the railway station and Hucknall would offer the best chance for light rail. It was originally hoped that the tramway would be able to share track with the re-opened Robin Hood Line from Nottingham to Mansfield and Worksop for part of the route a la Karlsruhe, Nottingham’s German twin city. However it was eventually decided that this would not be possible, partly for safety reasons but for the main due to the financial risk this would involve.
After it had been decided that light rail was indeed the way to go a study was started, looking at the possible ways the route could go through the city centre. It was decided that street running through the city centre would be the best way to go with a route via Fletcher Gate, Victoria Street, Old Market Square, the Theatre Royal and Trent University before it went towards Hyson Green. At this stage (1990) it was expected to cost around £65 million and a public consultation exercise was commenced to see how much support there was the tram in the city. The results of this consultations showed that there was support for the street running option through the city centre and then the Greater Nottingham Strategic Transport Study backed the idea.
After this support it was decided to appoint some more consultants to progress with submitting a bill to Parliament. These consultants had to go further more detailed work looking at the routes that would work the best and be most likely to get approval. Following this work a private Bill was submitted to Parliament in November 1991 so that they would have the authority to construct the system.
At around the same time the Greater Nottingham Rapid Transit Ltd (GNRT) was formed by the city council, county council and Nottingham Development Enterprise in order to progress with the scheme at their end. They set about applying to the government for funding for the system and they also managed to get private sector support from local companies such as Boots. The next 3 years proved to be a time of frustration for the GNRT as the Private Bill was delayed by the government of the day. However it was eventually examined in Parliamentary committee and approval was given in July 1994 with the GNRTL Act 1994.
Again after this things started to stagnate and get delayed but in September 1997 the Arrow Consortium were announced at the franchise holder for the Design, Build, Maintain and Operate contract having been appointed the previous year by GNRT to become the project development group. Arrow was formed of ABB/AEG (now Bombardier), Tarmac (now Carillon), Transdev and Nottingham City Transport and they would be in charge of ensuring the project developed, as it should.
1997 was also the year that saw Labour elected to government and unfortunately this meant that further delays were accrued in the project development. John Prescott, who was in charge of transport at the time, was not keen on light rail as he saw the costs as outweighing the benefits provided and would have rather seen improvements to the local bus network. Later on Mr Prescott did admit that trams had a part to play in improving public transport but it soon transpired that the only way progress would be made with the project would be to raise money through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI). This meant that the main risks in the costs of the project would be with the private sector (i.e. the Arrow Consortium) rather than with the taxpayers money.
It was not until 3 December 1998 that the then Transport Minister, John Reid, announced that the government would be awarding £167 million to Nottingham City Council so that they could fund their part of the PFI agreement. But this was not to be the end of the delays as it meant that there was likely to be a shortfall in funding due in no small part to the rise of around £11.6 million in the cost of constructing the network. In the end the final nod for the project was given on 3 April 2000, some 8 and a half years since the original Bill was submitted to Parliament.
As soon as the permission of the PFI was given by Parliament detailed negotiations were undertaken between all parties. This led to contracts being signed in May 2000 before the start of construction began during June 2000. Despite the PFI not even being given the go-ahead until April the project offices had been constructed in February. As with all major light rail projects the first stage of the construction period was taken by the diversion of major services from where the track was to be laid.
The original plan would have seen trams in November 2003 with the diversion of services aimed to be completed by the start of 2002 and the construction of the track bed on the street sections by the end of the summer of the same year. Meanwhile on the non-street sections of the tramway the first rails were laid in October 2001 with the anticipation that the major construction work (track laying and overhead erection) would have been completed by November 2002. The plan was then to see the commencement of trams on test running in January 2003 with the dummy timetable in operation for 3 months before the system would have opened in late 2003.
However as we now know there were delays in the construction program due in part to the lack of skilled workman and the correct materials for completion of the construction. There was also a derailment at Highbury Vale tram stop on 25 May 2003, less than 6 months before the original opening date of the system. It was finally confirmed in July of last year that 11 November was not going to be met by NET and December or January 2004 was mentioned, although in November Spring 2004 was mentioned as more likely. 2003 also saw many key dates in the development of the system with 11 August seeing the commencement of daytime testing to Hyson Green. Then on 31 August the first tram to traverse the streets of Nottingham city centre for 67 years was 208 when it went on clearance checks before the same tram ran the first official tram into the centre on 10 September. Another derailment made further delays just a few days later with 206 leaving the rails slightly.
Finally successful test running commenced around Christmas 2003 with the dummy timetable which led the Arrow Consortium to announce in February 2004 that Nottingham Express Transit would start public services on Tuesday 9 March.
In the final part of this series of articles we will take a more detailed look at how NET will run including the trams, route and how passengers use the system. This will follow in around 1-2 weeks, after the system has being running for a while, and after I have taken a rest from these hectic articles. Incidentally apologies if some of this article doesn’t make sense, as I have not had chance to read it through or check some info, this also explains why the construction part of the article is very brief!!!
The following sources were used in the preparation & writing of this article
Trams in Britain and Ireland: Nottingham Express Transit by Mike Taplin(Capital Transport, 2002)
Nottingham Express Transit website