After months of test running the two extensions of the Nottingham Tramways serving southern and western suburbs were finally opened for public services on 25 August 2015. The response from the public was immediate and massive. Trams during the day were so crowded that the daytime service between the peaks of a tram every 10 minutes proved inadequate. The peak period service of a tram every 7 minutes had to be continued throughout the day. I travelled on both new lines on Saturday 29th August 2015 and found that the public were packing the trams as they sampled this new efficient means of transport that allowed them to leave their cars either at home or in the massive new car parks at both termini.
The new lines run from a slightly relocated stop above Nottingham Station south then south west to Clifton South and in a more west -south westerly direction to the Queens Medical Centre, the University of Nottingham, and then through the suburbs to end in the fields at Toton Lane. The route between the railway station platforms and the tram stop is not entirely clear but there is a direct link from the station concourse to the southern end of the tram platforms, or via the footbridge linked to all seven station platforms that led to the old station tram stop. Steps lead from this bridge to near the north end of the tram station platforms. A simple shelter covers a section of both side platforms and there are two ticket machines on each platform.
The two new routes total 17.6 route km – roughly 8km to Clifton South and 9.6km to Toton. There are large car parks at both terminals – 1000 spaces at Clifton South and 1300 at Toton. Both termini have a food and drink outlet serving tea, coffee, various soft drinks, and a range of attractive well filled rolls. Much of both routes operate along reserved rights of way, most notably on the Clifton South route where about one third of the line operates along what once was the main line to London Marylebone of the Great Central Railway. A bit more undulating than in heavy rail days this is where the trams can really show how fast they can move!
Leaving Nottingham station the combined route falls steeply to road level and then runs in the roadway shared with other traffic. Soon the route runs in a much narrower road with the trams in effect filling the entire roadway. Car park spaces for neighbouring houses are marked out on what was the outer half of a pavement. In some places along both routes two lanes in a wide road are reserved for the trams. After the first couple of stops there is a striking bridge over the River Trent and a few twists and turns before the route enters ballasted track along the old Great Central right of way. The stops at Wilford Lane (with a trailing siding to serve a cable depot and store), Compton Acres and Ruddington Lane are situated along this speed-track. The area around the old railway is wooded but modern housing can be seen in all directions. Beyond Ruddington Lane there is a level crossing with a modest road but this ensures that the tram will slow down before returning to the highway sharing its space with other road traffic. At the Clifton Centre stop, situated beside a local shopping area, the tracks separate to enclose an island platform beyond which is a centrally placed siding for trams turning back rather than running on to serve two further stops before reaching Clifton South.
The stops mostly comprise low side platforms each with a simple shelter and a ticket machine. Clifton South has two platforms which are much longer and each could hold two trams. A building across the end of the tracks includes the public café outlet and simple staff facilities. The car park lies all around the tracks and platforms and beyond some open farm land is visible. The stops at Wilford Village, and Summerwood Lane are also simple island platforms on which there are two ticket machines plus the simple shelter.
The Toton line serves a number of extremely important locations and very heavy traffic has already emerged. The first section of the route from Nottingham station is shared with the Clifton South route but soon branches off towards the west serving the Ng2 technical centre before crossing above the Nottingham – Derby main railway line and after serving the houses around Gregory Street reaches the most important stop on the line at the Queen’s Medical Centre. Here the line runs on an elevated structure and the side platforms are surrounded by hospital buildings. No other light rail station in the UK gets so close to a major hospital. The elevated structure continues taking the line over a busy dual carriageway road before returning to ground level and the two stops that serve the University of Nottingham. A crossover at the second stop allows short workings to turn back. Most of the remainder of the route serves housing – first the area around Beeston Centre where the side platforms are widely separated by space for other road traffic. This serves a local shopping centre and bus interchange. The heavy rail station at Beeston lies a few hundred yards away to the south and it has not been possible to make an interchange here. The Chilwell Road stop is unremarkable but the next calling point at High Road, Central College, serves a large College of Further Education a little to the north. Soon the right of way swings away from the road to enter ballasted track that continues all the way to the terminus at Toton Lane – five stops after High Road. The terminus is a little beyond the housing and is effectively surrounded by the 1300 space car park. There are two side platforms with a café outlet similar to the one a Clifton South. This is unlikely to be the long-term terminus since if HS2 is built the line will continue half a mile to interchange with the high-speed station. The area a few hundred yards from the Toton Lane terminus is quite densely populated with the large town of Stapleford a little to the north and the extensive communities of Long Eaton and Stapleford ahead or to the south west. Connecting bus services link these towns with the new tramway.
Much of Nottingham is now served by the modern tram routes and already in the southern suburbs road congestion seems to have eased. It is very early days and many people were on holiday as the new routes opened but the initial signs are strongly favourable. When Nottingham made its plans for a possible light rail system in the town, some suburban areas rejected any notion that they might be served by the new trams, citing problems when their roads were dug up when the tracks were laid but now these same suburbs are shouting out for a new lines to serve their area. Gedling, Porchester, and Arnold in the east could certainly benefit from a new tram route but funds are unlikely to be available in the near future. The only extension that is likely to happen soon is from Phoenix Park 3 – 4 km onwards to Kimberley and later perhaps to Eastwood if present housing developments continue.