Docklands Light Railway - A
Docklands Light Railway - A
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is an automated light metro system primarily serving the redeveloped Docklands area of London and providing a direct connection between London's two major financial districts, Canary Wharf and the City of London. First opened on 31 August 1987, the DLR has been extended multiple times, giving a total route length of 38 km (24 miles). Lines now reach north to Stratford, south to Lewisham, west to Tower Gateway and Bank in the City of London financial district, and east to Beckton, London City Airport and Woolwich Arsenal. Further extensions are being considered.
Normal operations are automated, so there is minimal staffing on the 149 trains (which have no driving cabs) and at major interchange stations, the four below-ground stations are staffed, to comply with underground station health and safety regulations.
The DLR is currently operated by franchisee KeolisAmey Docklands for Transport for London (TfL). Passenger numbers have increased as the network has expanded since its launch. In the financial year 2022/23, there were 92.3 million passenger journeys.
Docklands Light Railway History
Docklands Light Railway Background
In the 18th and 19th century, new docks were built east of the City of London to cater for the rapidly growing city. The last of these docks opened in 1921 in the Royal Docks. From the early 1960s, the docks began to decline as cargo was containerised and mechanised. The older docks did not have space to expand, and could not handle larger vessels. The docks had been connected to the national railway network via the London and Blackwall Railway (L&BR), which was closed in 1966 for lack of traffic. From the mid 1960s, the docks gradually closed down - leading to major job losses and economic deprivation. In the 1970s, the opening of new deep water Tilbury container docks located further east in Essex exacerbated the issue, with the Royal Docks closing in 1981.
Docklands Light Railway Origins and Development
Throughout the 1970s, the government and the Greater London Council (GLC) put forward various plans to redevelop the Docklands area. The area was thought to have great potential for redevelopment, located close to the City of London with historic warehouses and large areas of water.
In 1972, the London Docklands Study team commissioned Travis Morgan & Partners to propose redevelopment of the area. In 1973, they proposed, among other recommendations, that a "minitram" people-mover system capable of carrying up to 20 people in each unit should be constructed to connect the Docklands with the planned Fleet line tube railway terminus at Fenchurch Street railway station. The Greater London Council formed a Docklands Joint Committee with the Boroughs of Greenwich, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets in 1974 to undertake the redevelopment of the area. A light railway system was envisaged, terminating either at Tower Hill tube station or at nearby Fenchurch Street, but both options were seen as too expensive.
Nonetheless, in 1976 another report proposed a conventional tube railway for the area and London Transport obtained Parliamentary powers to build a line from Charing Cross station to Fenchurch Street, Surrey Docks (now Surrey Quays railway station), the Isle of Dogs, North Greenwich and Custom House to Woolwich Arsenal. This was intended to be the second stage of the Fleet line – which had been renamed the Jubilee line, the first stage of which opened in 1979 from Stanmore to Charing Cross. This would have cost around £325 million. However, when the Thatcher Government came to power, the plans to extend the Jubilee line were halted and the new government insisted that a lower-cost option should be pursued.
In July 1981, the government established the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) to coordinate the redevelopment of the Docklands. The need to provide a cheap public transport solution led to it commissioning London Transport to evaluate a number of exclusively light rail options, using trams or tram like vehicles. The cost of extending the Jubilee line to the area was now estimated to cost around £450 million.
The core of the route ran alongside the Great Eastern line out of London and south along the former London & Blackwall Railway line through the Isle of Dogs. Three terminus options were proposed at the west end, at Tower Hill, Minories and Aldgate East. The Tower Hill option would have required a low-level interchange to be constructed alongside the existing Underground station, but this would have been a very costly venture. The Minories option, a high-level station virtually on the site of the old Minories railway station, was selected and became the current Tower Gateway DLR terminus.
Aldgate East would have been perhaps the most ambitious of all of the options, as it originally envisaged a low-level connection with the District line that would have allowed DLR trains to run on London Underground tracks to a variety of central London destinations. However, it quickly became apparent that there was no capacity on the existing network for integrating the DLR into the Underground.
Two southern terminus options were put forward, at Cubitt Town (today's Island Gardens station) and Tiller Road, on the west side of Millwall Dock, with two possible routes to reach them. A "western" route would have run from the Westferry station alongside West Ferry Road via Cuba Street, then either terminating at Tiller Road or continuing over Millwall Docks Cut to a terminus at Cubitt Town.
The "central" option required the West India Docks to be infilled or bridged and would run down the middle of the peninsula, through what was at the time an area of derelict warehouses. Ultimately this latter option was chosen, though the 1981 London Transport report warned that without extensive development around Canary Wharf the area would be "very isolated with poor traffic prospects" – as indeed it was, for a number of years.
The northern terminus was proposed at Mile End, with options including street running down Burdett Road towards Limehouse or along the Mile End Road to turn south before using an old railway alignment to reach Poplar.
A final report - prepared by the GLC, LDDC, government departments and London Transport - was published in June 1982, proposing a north–south route from Mile End to the Isle of Dogs, and an east–west route linking the Isle of Dogs to the City of London. Even during the development of the line, proposals for future extensions were being envisaged and investigated.
Docklands Light Railway Parliamentary process and Construction
Following the publishing of the report, the Departments of the Environment and Transport agreed to provide £77 million towards construction of the extension, with a deadline of 1987. The funding agreement also included conditions to maximise the use of modern technology, and that no ongoing subsidy would be available from government.
During the Parliamentary process, the northern terminus of the line was changed to Stratford, as part of efforts to segregate the line from road and other railway traffic, as the LDDC were pushing for the line to use a "high tech automated system". In 1984, the contract for the initial system was awarded to a GEC / John Mowlem joint venture, which proposed fully automated operation using light rail vehicles.
The two Acts of Parliament that authorised the line to be built were passed in 1984 and 1985. Construction of the system began shortly after in 1985, with the joint venture careful to minimise costs in light of the £77 million budget. Two thirds of the route was built on underused or disused railway infrastructure, and station architecture used a kit-of-parts approach to save money.
The railway was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 30 July 1987, and passenger services began on 31 August.
Docklands Light Railway Overview
Docklands Light Railway Owner: Docklands Light Railway Ltd, part of Transport for London
Docklands Light Railway Area Served: London
Docklands Light Railway Locale: Greater London
Docklands Light Railway Transit Type: Light metro
Docklands Light Railway Number of Lines: 7
Docklands Light Railway Number of Stations: 45
Docklands Light Railway Daily Ridership: 340,000 (daily average, DfT 2017)
Docklands Light Railway Annual Ridership: 92.3 million (2022/23)
Docklands Light Railway Increase: 19.6%
Docklands Light Railway Headquarters: Endeavour Square, E20
Docklands Light Railway Operation:
Began operation 31 August 1987, 36 years ago
Docklands Light Railway Operator(s): KeolisAmey Docklands Limited (Keolis 70%, Amey 30%)
Docklands Light Railway Number of Vehicles: 149
Docklands Light Railway Train Length: 2 or 3 vehicles per trainset
Headway 3–5 minutes
Docklands Light Railway System Length: 38 km (24 mi)
Docklands Light Railway No. of Tracks: 2
Docklands Light Railway Track Gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Docklands Light Railway Minimum Radius of Curvature: 125 ft (38 m)
Docklands Light Railway Electrification: 750 V DC third rail (bottom contact)
50 mph (80 km/h) (Maximum Speed Capable)
40 mph (64 km/h) (Regular Operational Speed)