The Nottingham Express Transit light rail line is taking shape after 10 years of planning. The first trams to be fully funded under Britain's Private Finance Initiative are expected to carry 11 million passengers a year from 2003


Keith Sargeant is General Manager of the Arrow Light Rail consortium, and Pat Armstrong is Project Director at Nottingham Express Transit

NOTTINGHAM is a successful and economically vibrant city in the English Midlands, but like many large cities it has pockets of disadvantage and decline. An integrated public transport strategy based around a new light rail line is intended to revitalise the city by improving access to the centre, encouraging inner-city regeneration and reducing road congestion with its associated pollution.

Nottingham Express Transit Line 1 will run from the main line railway station to Hucknall, serving the city centre and the A610/A611 corridor. Including a 1 km branch to Phoenix Park, the network will total 14 km, with 23 stops. Five park-and-ride interchanges, feeder bus routes and rail connections will enable NET to serve a much wider area.

The 5 km southern section from Nottingham station to Wilkinson Street is mainly on-street, with the trams not segregated from other road traffic. Except where the two tracks run in separate streets through Hyson Green the section is all double track. There is a short section of elevated alignment south of the city centre.

North of Wilkinson Street, where the depot is located, the main line will follow an 8 km reserved right of way alongside Railtrack's Robin Hood line. The tram route is double track as far as Bulwell, and then single with passing loops at the stops. The branch will also be single track.


Early conceptual development by Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council and the private sector-led regeneration body Nottingham Development Enterprise resulted in the passing of the Greater Nottingham LRT Act of 1994. In September 1995 Arrow Light Rail was appointed by the joint promoters to undertake a full feasibility study.

Arrow developed the technical requirements and assessed the commercial viability of the project. Following an international tendering round, Arrow was named as preferred bidder in December 1997. Financial closure was achieved in May 2000, after the then Transport Minister Lord Macdonald confirmed on April 3 that government revenue support would be provided as part of the public-private financing package (RG 5.00 p273).

Arrow has been awarded a 30·5 year concession, comprising 3·5 years to design and build, and 27 years of operation and maintenance. The Effective Date of the concession, when the design and construction project commenced, was May 11 2000. Passenger services are expected to start on November 11 2003.

Private Finance Initiative

NET is the first British light rail scheme to be fully financed through a Private Finance Initiative, and includes the largest PFI award made to a local authority-led transport scheme. Previous projects were able to benefit from an up-front government grant under Section 56 of the Transport Act 1968, which provides funding for capital projects.

Under the PFI, NET will receive a revenue support grant of £174m on a Net Present Value basis, geared to operational performance measures being met. The promoters were required to show value for money by meeting public-sector financial criteria laid down by the Treasury and the Department of the Environment, Transport & the Regions.

The concessionaires are taking a 13% equity stake in the £220m funding of the project. £182m is met by senior debt and will be paid back from revenue during the operating period, with the remaining £10m from other grants and payments. The revenue stream is principally made up of performance-based availability payments from the promoters, farebox receipts and a small amount of advertising income. Under the concession agreement, Arrow is taking the farebox risk, although the financial robustness of the project is ensured by the availability payments, which can reach up to 80% of total revenue.

Supply contracts

For construction of the network, Arrow has entered into a £162m fixed-price turnkey contract with a consortium comprising Bombardier and Carillion Construction Ltd. This provides for the supply of vehicles, track, power & signalling equipment, diversion of utilities, the depot, control centre, five park-and-ride sites, associated highway works, a new viaduct and miscellaneous structures, and the necessary works on the adjacent Railtrack infrastructure.

Payments to the turnkey contractor are progress-based, geared to the achievement of milestones and key performance indicators.

Arrow has awarded an operating contract to the Nottingham Tram Consortium, a joint venture of Nottingham City Transport and Transdev Tram UK Ltd. The operators will be responsible for service provision, fare collection and cleaning and maintenance. NTC has subcontracted vehicle maintenance back to the manufacturer.

This innovative structure shares the performance risks between the turnkey contractor and the operator. NTC will receive a fee for keeping the system running and free from defects. But it will be liable to Arrow for any performance deductions made by the promoters against the availability payments. Thus all parties are motivated to work together to deliver a system that meets the specified levels of service, rather than simply providing the constituent parts.

Technical specifications

Normal ballasted track with concrete sleepers and BS80A rail is used for the off-street sections. The on-street sections have a concrete trackbed, with SEI41G grooved rails surrounded by a polymer coating. Road surfaces are conventional tarmac. The powered turnouts will be controlled automatically by approaching trams using inductive loops.

The line will be wired at 750V DC overhead, with a single contact wire on-street and simple catenary elsewhere. Building fixings will be used wherever possible, with steel masts in other locations. The contact wire will be 5·8m above rail level.

Power will be supplied through six substations along the line, one of which will be located at the depot. Each is fed at 11 kV 50Hz. Underground cables alongside the track will connect each substation to the overhead. In-built redundancy will keep the line operating if any one of the substations is out of service.

During street running, the trams will operate on 'line of sight', supplemented by signals at appropriate locations. These include the depot entrance, where a loop detection system will be provided in association with two nearby road junctions.

At all but two traffic light controlled road junctions, trams will be given priority by the city's Urban Traffic Control system. At the other two, maximum tram waiting time will be one cycle of the traffic lights.

Trams will operate on 'line of sight' on double track reserved sections, but the single track sections will be fully signalled. A number of level crossings will be shared with Railtrack's parallel main line, and signalling on the two routes will be interfaced.

The operations control centre will monitor the entire network, including power supplies, signalling and equipment at the stops, such as public address, CCTV, ticket machines, information displays and emergency help points. The OCC will be in radio contact with trams and mobile staff.

Bombardier's former Adtranz plant at Derby is supplying 15 bi-directional, 100% low-floor, air-conditioned Incentro trams. Each car has five modules and a total length of 33m. Top speed will be 80 km/h, with a maximum acceleration of 1·2m/s2, a service braking rate of 1·4m/s2 and an emergency braking rate of 2·5 m/s2. Unladen weight is 37·3 tonnes. The cars will be capable of climbing 8·5% gradients and traversing horizontal curves of 18m minimum radius.

Construction timescale

The 42-month design and construct programme has been structured to allow the completion of the critical Railtrack enabling works by October 2001, and also to allow reasonable time for the testing, commissioning and handover phase.

Much of the construction work during the early stages has been concentrated on utilities diversion, and the demolition of the former railway viaduct at Collin Street to make way for the elevated light rail alignment. Tracklaying is due to begin in September 2001, and to be completed by October 2002.

The depot is to be completed in time for the delivery of the first cars in November 2002, a full year prior to handover. The rest of the fleet will follow by May 2003.

Detailed and robust criteria have been laid down for the commissioning tests. Arrow will be required to demonstrate that NET can meet defined performance measures, with 13 cars running a set timetable for 4h with sandbag loading.

In addition to the pre-operating tests, the contractor is obliged to pass two reliability tests during the early stages of operations. One covers the performance of the overall system against the criteria required for the availability payments over a 28-day period. The second will measure the reliability of various parts of the system over a rolling 35-day period.

Once all the tests have been completed successfully within an agreed timescale, the Certificate of Final Completion will be issued. The contract includes various financial penalties up to the point at which these tests are passed.

Future development

From the outset, NET Line 1 was always intended to be the first of a network of light rail lines serving the Greater Nottingham area. The two councils have already started planning the routes for various extensions, and they hope to award a contract towards the end of 2003 for the development of three more lines.

Final routes have yet to be decided, but the best options head south from Nottingham station and across the River Trent to Clifton and West Bridgford and west to Beeston. Detailed economic and environmental assesment and wide consultation will be undertaken before funding approval is sought and an application made under the Transport & Works Act.

Funding and procurement arrangements are under initial consideration with PFI remaining a likely significant element. These decisions will clearly influence the timescale, but it is hoped that further lines can be operating by 2006 or 2007.

Arrow partners

Bombardier: Took over the interests of Adtranz on May 1 2001. A provider of total rail systems and custom designs worldwide.

Carillion PF: Part of construction-to-services company Carillion plc, CPF is a UK Private Finance company specialising in the health, prison and transport sectors.

Transdev: International public transport company, operating over 70 transport networks in France, including modern tramways.

Nottingham City Transport: Local bus operating company.

CDC Projets: Equity investors for major infrastructure projects.

Innisfree: Equity investors for British PFI and PPP infrastructure projects.