The contrast was remarkable. After Friday’s oppressive rain and cold in Sheffield, Saturday brought clear skies and sun for my visit to the British burgh unfortunately dubbed “Shottingham.”
I say unfortunate because whatever issues with crime and violence this city may have had in recent years (and I gather they were largely confined to certain housing estates and not citywide), its public face seems to be anything but thuggish and violent. Indeed, the central city is clean and vibrant and on a Saturday was teeming with shoppers, visitors and young people. I would go so far as to say Nottingham had a warm, cosmopolitan vibe which transcended its actual size (306,700 est. as of 2010, according to *cough, cough* Wikipedia). I definitely hope to return.
Naturally, the primary draw was Nottingham Express Transit, the city’s sleek tram system, opened in 2004. Until someone else (Edinburgh?) comes on line it remains Britain’s newest tramway system. It has been acclaimed by many observers as a true transport success story, and a new £570m extension is finally moving ahead, set for completion in 2014 according to this BBC report. To be fair, not all locals are pleased, as this BBC report suggests.
From a railfan’s perspective, the system is efficient and clean and a great deal of fun. The existing tramway runs from the railway station to Hucknall, with a branch to Phoenix Park. I visited with fellow enthusiast Jack Gordon, who served as a great tour guide. We spent a little time off the rails, so I could explore the city centre and the area around Nottingham Castle. But mostly it was a day spent riding and photographing the trams. The system incorporates substantial street running and some high-speed private rights-of-way, together with such anomalies as interlaced track and one-way street operation where the line splits in two through an area of dense terraced housing. Combined with some alluring scenery, this is a tramway to be seen for true enthusiasts visiting England. Nottingham is just over an hour from London St. Pancras by train.
Like Sheffield, Nottingham still uses conductors — a fun throwback that seems eminently practical for keeping tabs on fare evasion while adding that extra sense of security, when needed. I understand the conductors are to be phased out. Let’s see how that works.
A fun quirk is that all of the system’s AT 6/5 Incentro trams are named for some notable local personage, a list of which can be found here. So yes, there really is a streetcar named Lord Byron. So, too, for Robin Hood and legendary football manager Brian Clough — to whom a substantial shelf display was dedicated at the Waterstone’s bookshop in central Nottingham.
Which named vehicle most caught my eye? That was car 202, dedicated to D.H. Lawrence. I may now say that I have ridden Lady Chatterley’s tram.