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All change for Nottingham, England trams as new operator announced

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two of Nottingham's trams are pictured at the Wilkinson Street tram stop, home of the network's depot.
Image: Thryduulf, Wikimedia Commons.

In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, it emerged on Monday that Arrow Light Rail — the existing operators of Nottingham, England's Express Transit (NET) system — were to have their contract ripped up, after the preferred bidder for the construction of Phase 2 was announced. The change means that the entire network will be able to be integrated throughout, rather than having two operators effectively running two separate systems.

Nottingham City Council have selected Tramlink Nottingham as their preferred bidder to construct and operate the NET Phase Two lines to Chilwell and Clifton, and will now enter talks with the consortium, made up of Alstom, Keolis, Trent Barton, VINCI Construction UK, OFI Infravia and Meridiam Infrastructure, to finalise the exact details of the contract. It is expected that the concessionary contract will be awarded during the coming summer, with construction starting before the end of the year. The contract will run for 23 years.

Cquote1.svg We received two very strong bids but Tramlink Nottingham has come out on top. We look forward to working with them to develop their proposals before awarding the full contract. Cquote2.svg

—Jane Todd, chief executive for Nottingham City Council

Tramlink Nottingham chairman Roger Harrison said: "Building on Arrow's successful legacy, we are excited to be taking forward the next chapter in Nottingham's tram story.

"Our focus now will be on working with Nottingham City Council to ensure NET Phase Two can be introduced at the earliest opportunity."

The reshuffle of operating consortium means that Nottingham City Transport (NCT) — the main provider of bus services within Nottingham — will have no part to play in the extended network, despite the numerous awards and high satisfaction levels NET has had since its opening; it is the only one of Britain's five light rail networks to be an instant success.

"We're obviously very disappointed not to be part of the selected preferred consortium. Nottingham's tram has won numerous awards and after seven years passengers continue to praise its operation. We would have relished the opportunity to have been part of this continuing success," said NCT's Managing Director Mark Fowles.

But the council stresses that they are still committed to the future of the company.

"This decision in no way reflects the excellent job Arrow Light Rail Limited has done operating the tram since its launch. Annual customer satisfaction figures remain very high and this is testament to this operation," added Jane Todd. "The decision to appoint a new consortium to build and operate the extended tram network was made on the basis of selecting the best proposal to meet the council's objectives for the future of the tram system. The overall offer from the Tramlink Nottingham consortium was stronger. Although disappointing for NCT it is nonetheless good news for the integration of public transport services that the city's other major bus operator, Trent Barton, is part of the preferred bidder. I am certain NCT will continue to provide award winning bus services for the people of Nottingham."

22 Citadis trams, similar to those in Paris, will be seen in Nottingham as part of the Phase Two plans.
Image: Greenski, Wikimedia Commons.

Staff currently employed by Arrow Light Rail are expected to be transferred over to Tramlink Nottingham around August, when further details of the contract will become clear. Other changes that are proposed for the network include 'smart card' ticketing — similar to the highly successful Oyster scheme that is in use across Transport for London's service — and the phasing out of tram conductors in favour of on-platform ticketing machines. Current conductors will be offered new roles within the company, though talks are still on-going about how to combat any potential fare-dodgers.

Furthermore, an additional 22 tram vehicles will be built by consortium member Alstom for the extended network, though these will be of a different design to the 15 existing vehicles, which were built by Bombardier to their Incentro design for the system's opening. The new trams will be part of Alstom's Citadis family, and will bring the total tram fleet to 37. This will also allow for service frequencies to be increased and for overcrowding to be eased at peak times.

Ticketing arrangements for the network will also change when the new consortium takes over. Currently, combined tickets, cards and passes can be used for the tram and NCT buses, but these are due to be phased out and replaced with the new smart cards in time for the opening of the extensions. Prior to that, passengers will be able to use combined tickets, cards and passes for the tram and Trent Barton buses, in a similar arrangement to that which is already offered for NCT.

Pat Armstrong, director for NET, said: "The move is very much towards more sophisticated smart ticketing, like the Oyster card in London. You use the same card but the money goes back to the company you are travelling with."

The extended network, new trams and numerous other changes should be fully operational by the end of 2014, but NET users and tramway enthusiasts had mixed views on the matter:

"I think it's a bad idea to phase out the conductors," said Andrew Blood, assistant editor of the Tramways Monthly e-magazine, "Not only do they help with revenue protection, but they are also responsible for the high passenger satisfaction levels on the system. In short, they keep tram users feeling safe."

Greg Smith, from Hucknall, was pleased that service levels were going to increase: "The fact that the trams will be running more frequently is a massive bonus in my eyes. The service we get at [the Hucknall] end of the line is great already, but if [the trams] are running more frequently it's just another advantage of the system over the bus." But he was also wary of on-platform ticketing being brought into place: "I'm not sure that losing the conductors in favour of ticket machines is the way to go, though."


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.