My first visit to Nottingham since it introduced trams this past weekend was an eyeopener. Finding the city's railway station undergoing major renovation and served by two tram services was a decidedly refreshing experience after all of the promises made about Blackpool's own extension - and still far from realisation.
Going with an open mind and no preconceived notions of either the city or the trams being operated there I came away impressed with the service being delivered.
For a start the infrastructure was immaculate. Traction poles painted and the low platform station stops not dissimilar to Blackpool - having a much greater standard of design and customer features unheard of on the Promenade.
As to the trams themselves - having to wind up and down many inclines with myriad turns and sharp bends, traffic lights and pedestrian crossing - without any apparent stress or impediment on road space, or importantly the clatter and noise emanating from underneath Blackpool's fleet - was again an eye opener.
No conductors on Nottingham Express Transit's two extended cross city lines with a common trackage through the central commercial district. Smart pre-paying ticket issuing machines clean and informative at every stop. All have stylish shelters with information on next trams in real time. Something badly lacking in Blackpool.
The later Alstom Citadis models are smooth running, without external noise or vibration beyond a very dull rumble as they pass by. The trams take the many inclines in their stride from a standing start with impressive smooth acceleration and none of the jerky motion which is a hallmark of Blackpool's cars causing verbal warnings to 'hold tight please'.
Being slightly narrower than the Blackpool model - they seem more compressed inside with awkwardly placed grab poles at the end seats facing directly on to the door entrances. However the interior finish is to a high standard and again free of vibration or noise from the running equipment. The driver has a secure cab but his vision on the Citadis model does seem impaired somewhat by the front structural downswept pillars, which seem exceedingly thick giving forward blind spots.
I was fortunate in visiting on one of several weekends in January when the operator NET was promoting a half price ticket allowing ride at will for just £2.00 ! Parking our car at one of the several (not too many) park and ride lots adjoining the lines - we met one of the NET staff manning these particular stops who patiently explained the ticket issuing procedure and special discount value available that day. For someone conditioned to conductors arriving to issue tickets, take fares etc - it was something of a shock (but far from unusual). Equally mind blowing was the fact that the park bit of 'park and ride' was free ! with a fairly full extensive area quite evidently popular even on a Sunday morning. On-Street parking in the centre is discouraged by being both difficult to find and rarely available - with only the usual price gouging car park businesses as alternatives. £7.00 for two hours being the going rate in the one we checked on. Reversing course we quickly headed back out of the centre to a park and ride site at 'The Forest' station stop - and caught the first tram inbound (from Hucknall). This provided the firsthand impressions of this highly innovative operation. Having ridden on Manchester's system several times and being impressed with the frequency of its services and overall expansion - the high platform design of Metrolink bedevils what otherwise would and should be a world class tram operation. The monotonous livery with no variants is far less impressive.
More to follow.