Conventional optical networks are based on SONET rings, but since rings are known to use bandwidth inefficiently, there has been much research into shared mesh protection, which promises significant bandwidth savings. Unfortunately, most shared mesh protection schemes cannot guarantee that failed traffic will be restored within the 50-ms timeframe that SONET standards specify. A notable exception is the p-cycle scheme of Grover and Stamatelakis. We argue, however, that p-cycles have certain limitations, e.g., there is no easy way to adapt p-cycles to a path-based protection scheme, and p-cycles seem more suited to static traffic than to dynamic traffic. In this paper we show that the key to fast restoration times is not a ring-like topology per se, but rather the ability to pre-cross-connect protection paths. This leads to the concept of a pre-cross-connected trail or PXT, which is a structure that is more flexible than rings and that adapts readily to both path-based and link-based schemes and to both static and dynamic traffic. The PXT protection scheme achieves fast restoration speeds, and our simulations, which have been carefully chosen using ideas from experimental design theory, show that the bandwidth efficiency of the PXT protection scheme is comparable to that of conventional shared mesh protection schemes.