Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

On the branch line…from Highbury Vale to Phoenix Park

Posted in Commuter, Great Britain, Infrastructure, Metro, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 10 March 2013

I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of branch line.

  1. The genuine stub, with a shuttle service connecting to a transfer point to the main line.
  2. The peak time only service, where a branch nominally operates a shuttle, except at peak times when it runs to the main line
  3. A short branch off the main line operated as part of the main service

It so happens that I live on the latter, and I may well include that at a later date. However, my first look at one of these occurs not in the great metropolis that is our nation’s capital, but rather in that city that I’ve come to know quite well over the last few years, namely Nottingham. The NET network, for those of you that do not know, currently runs from Station Street, adjacent to Nottingham station, along a single route through the city, branching at Highbury Vale – the main line continues on to Hucknall, while there is a short, two stop branch that terminates at Phoenix Park. This serves two residential areas, namely Highbury Vale and Cinderhill, plus Phoenix Business Park, an industrial and employment area which also contains a park and ride, for which the tram is an integral part, lying as it does at junction 26 of the M1. As Highbury Vale is the branching point of the network, it is, as you might expect, fairly substantial, having four platforms serving the two routes. The Phoenix Park route though truncates down to single track as soon as it leaves Highbury Vale, with the next stop, Cinderhill, having a single, bi-directional platform. As it is in a cutting though, it does have the most marvellous disabled access ramp snaking its way from the entrance on the road bridge above, down through nicely manicured planters, to the platform itself – this gives it more of a railway station feel. Finally, having emerged from the cutting the route comes to Phoenix Park itself, set adjacent to Millenium Way and the car park with space for around 600 vehicles.

While I travel on the NET network on a regular basis, I rarely have need to go much further than the outskirts of the city centre. Indeed, this was my first trip to Phoenix Park, having wondered what it was like – names can be full of mysterious promise when you know nothing about what the places are like. Having now been to Phoenix Park, first of all it really ain’t all that, clearly, as it is an employment area. There are many office buildings, and many light industrial units all around, with little in the way of amenity, at least as far as I could see, what with it being next to a motorway. This led me to wonder whether it was necessary to run there directly all day. Trams run to and from Phoenix Park roughly every ten minutes for most of the day during the week, which seems somewhat excessive. I went there at lunchtime and there were very few people getting on and off at the terminus. Cinderhill is a little different as it serves a residential area which doesn’t seem to have a huge amount in the way of residential needs (i.e. retail, leisure), which would make connection to the tram important. But even then, running an all day service is, it seems to me, slightly excessive. Given that Highbury Vale has two platforms, I considered the idea of perhaps having an off-peak service of one through tram in each direction per hour, to ensure that the fleet gets a work out through the entire network, with the rest of the trams heading to Phoenix Park terminated at Highbury Vale, and a shuttle connecting with them from the terminus. This would maintain the service for people needing to get to Cinderhill and Phoenix Park, and could be increased to a through service in peak time. It would certainly be useful to see if data on passenger numbers could be gathered, which may be possible once NET introduces its new ticketing system as part of its Phase 2 project.

Phoenix Park serves an employment rather than a residential area, and seems underused outside of working times

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