AFTER descending from the city centre, Nottingham's light rail Line 1 comes to a rather abrupt end at an elevated terminus overlooking the city's mainline station. From this lofty position it looks as though the line should continue and indeed, the long-abandoned Great Central Railway from Nottingham to London once spanned the former Midland station at this point.
Down at street level, earthworks are the first tangible indication of a project that will carry rails over the station once more, this time taking trams to the south and west of the city. Nottingham Express Transit (NET) Phase 2 will more than double the size of the light rail network by the end of 2014, with 17km of new lines and 27 new stations.
In December 2011, Nottingham City Council (NCC) awarded the Tramlink Nottingham Consortium a 23-year design, build, finance, operate, and maintain concession encompassing the construction of new lines to Clifton and Chilwell, and operation of the entire network, including Line 1. The consortium comprises Alstom; civil works contractor Taylor Woodrow; financial partners Meridiam Infrastructure and OFI InfraVia Fund; and Keolis and local bus operator Wellglade, which will be responsible for operating the three-line network. Tramlink is paid a monthly unitary fee, which is indexed to the performance of the system.
NCC opted to retain the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) structure used for Line 1, which opened in March 2004. "We found on Line 1 that the contract structure did what we wanted it to do," explains Mr Chris Deas, NET Phase 2 project director. "As a PFI project it had the discipline of bank involvement and the discipline of a long-term concession. The structure was also familiar and people involved with the project understood it, so we tried to replicate it as far as possible with Phase 2."
An important focus for NCC's project team has been minimising risk for contractors in the procurement phase, which has helped to keep costs down. This proved to be vital for a project that was seeking substantial government funding at a time of spending cutbacks. "We felt it was sensible to develop some of the designs ourselves and get to the point where we had a reference design that would help potential bidders and give them confidence in what they were being asked to deliver," says Deas. "In doing so, we minimised the risk they were exposing themselves to and therefore the overall price for the job."
The British government is funding £371m, 66% of the £570m project, through the PFI with the remaining 34% coming from NCC. Most of the local government contribution will be obtained through the workplace parking levy (WPL), a charge introduced in April to finance NET Phase 2 and other public transport improvements. Nottingham is the first city in Britain to introduce a WPL, which requires companies with 11 or more parking spaces to pay an annual charge of £288 per year per space. This is expected to generate annual revenues of around £14m over the 23-year term of the Tramlink concession.
"NCC looked at a variety of charging mechanisms and we concluded the WPL was appropriate and proportional for Nottingham," explains Deas.
"There is a clear logic in this approach and I think it is universally accepted. It reflects the vision and belief that improving public transport will give Nottingham a strong competitive position as a European city."
With funds for local public transport enhancements increasingly at premium as budgets are squeezed, councils in other British cities, notably Bristol, are closely watching the performance of Nottingham's WPL with a view to implementing their own charging schemes.
Two new lines
From Station Street, the 7.5km Line 2 will run south through The Meadows residential area, crossing the River Trent to reach Wilford Village before joining the former Great Central Railway alignment towards Ruddington Lane. Beyond the ring road the line will turn southwest to enter Clifton, terminating at a 1000-space park-and-ride station adjacent to the A453 road. This heavily-congested road is Nottingham's southern link to the M1 highway and the section between Junction 24 and the tram station will be upgraded to a dual carriageway soon after the completion of the light rail project.
The 9.8km Line 3 will diverge from Line 2 south of Nottingham station on Meadows Way, turning west to serve the north of The Meadows and the NG2 business park before crossing the Nottingham - Derby/Leicester line on a flyover to reach the Queens Medical Centre, the region's largest hospital.
The line will then cross the ring road to enter the University of Nottingham campus, before joining University Boulevard to reach Beeston town centre. The line will then run through the centre of Chilwell, a residential area, terminating at a park-and-ride station at Toton Lane. Like Phoenix Park on Line 1 and Clifton Park-and-Ride on Line 2, Toton Lane is close to a junction of the M1 highway, meaning all three junctions serving Nottingham will be within easy reach of a light rail station.
Both lines will be served by eight services per hour per direction, providing a frequency of 16 services per hour per direction on the city centre section. The new lines will be fully integrated with Line 1 and services will run through to the existing northern termini at Phoenix Park and Hucknall.
Preliminary construction began in January and civil works are now underway at a number of locations, while tracklaying is due to begin early next year. The concession requires Tramlink to complete construction, testing, and commissioning of Phase 2 within three years of contract signing, which means the first public services will run in December 2014.
To support the expansion of the network, consortium partner Alstom will supply a fleet of 22 Citadis LRVs under a £294m contract, which includes a £101m maintenance package covering both the new vehicles and the existing fleet of 15 Bombardier Incentro LRVs. The 32.6m-long Citadis vehicles will be assembled at Alstom's Santa Perpetua plant near Barcelona. Each LRV will accommodate 57 seated and 143 standing passengers.
The delivery of the first Alstom LRVs at the end of next year will allow frequencies on Line 1 to be stepped up prior to the opening of lines 2 and 3.
NCC forecasts that Phase 2 will more than double the current ridership of 10 million passengers per year and take three million car journeys off the city's roads. The new lines will put nearly 30% of the population and 20 of the city's 30 largest employers within 800m of a light rail station.
"A lot of trips will be through journeys onto Line 1," says Deas. "The additional patronage will come from a number of sources. The bus market will adjust to the introduction of light rail on these corridors, and, as we saw with Line 1, there will be an overall increase in public transport usage because the quality of the network is improved. On Line 1 we found some bus users took light rail instead for certain journeys, but there was an increase in the overall public transport market, which rose by around 20% in the peaks. This was the result of close integration with other modes and we anticipate a similar change in the Phase 2 corridors."
Another example of the focus on integration is the £67m refurbishment of Nottingham station, a project being carried out in parallel with Phase 2. The station is being redeveloped as a multi-modal hub to provide better interchange facilities between mainline rail services, light rail, bus, and other modes. The track layout is also being remodelled and resignalled to raise speeds and increase capacity. With so much work taking place simultaneously around the station, Deas says NCC, Tramlink and Network Rail have carefully coordinated their programmes to minimise the potential for disruption.
At present most tickets are sold by onboard conductors, but Tramlink will install ticket machines at all stations, including those on the existing network. NCC is also working with local public transport operators on the rollout of a new integrated contactless smart card, which is due to be launched at the end of next year.
Beyond the completion of Phase 2, a number of potential options for further expansion of the network are under consideration, some of which could involve operation over heavy rail lines. Nottingham's twin city Karlsruhe is a global reference for tram-trains, having pioneered the concept in the early 90s and developed the world's largest tram-train network. In May Britain's Department for Transport approved a £58m project to introduce tram-trains between Sheffield and Rotherham with the aim of testing the viability of the concept in Britain.
Deas suggests Nottingham is a "potential tram-train city," although no decisions have yet been made on what form this might take. "We're looking at options for tram-trains, and we're watching related developments such as the routing of the second phase of High Speed 2," he says. If Phase 2 is able to emulate the success of Nottingham's first light rail line, and deliver the economic benefits the city expects, the omens for further expansion look assured.