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Building an Urban Railway: 30 Years of the DLR | The B1M

Building an Urban Railway: 30 Years of the DLR | The B1M

The Docklands Light Railway, known as DLR, is a driverless automated light metro system that was designed, in part, to rejuvenate the Docklands area of London. A low-cost alternative to extending London’s underground network, the half train – half tram has surpassed all expectations, rapidly expanding to become a vital part of the city’s transport infrastructure. Opening in 1987 with 11 trains servicing 15 stations, the DLR has spread across east London and now has 145 trains connecting 45 stations. This makes the Docklands Light Railway larger than the entire metro systems of many major cities, including San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro and Yokohama. Passenger numbers have also risen dramatically. While 6.7 million people travelled on the line in its first year of operation, an incredible 122 million passengers used the DLR in 2016. As the line celebrates its 30th anniversary, we look at the story of how the DLR was born and chart its growth into a hugely successful urban railway; an example for other cities around the world to follow. The DLR was created to breathe new life into the Docklands area of East London, which had declined as the docks closed and manufacturing relocated. In July 1981, the London Docklands Development Corporation (or LDDC) was created to coordinate the redevelopment, and one of its first actions was to investigate an affordable public transport system that would attract businesses to the area and kick-start housing development. The LDDC’s preference was for a highly visible, automated, driverless system with a futuristic look. The DLR was born. The UK Government specified that the entire new railway had to be built within a £77M budget. With this in mind, a study was undertaken
to identify the optimum routes and station positions that would rejuvenate the area without breaking the bank. Two routes were chosen. The first an east-west route that connected the Docklands and the City, with the second running north to south to link the Docklands to residential north east London. To minimise costs, the DLR used existing infrastructure wherever possible. In total, eight miles of track was laid across disused train viaducts and existing surface railway formations, connected with new elevated concrete viaducts. The built stations were all above ground, generally unstaffed and united in design with a short half-cylindrical glazed blue canopy being a common feature on the platforms. It was decided not to connect the DLR into the main tube network where it arrived in the city, as this would have required the construction of an expensive underground station. Instead, track near the disused Minories Station (adjacent to today’s Fenchurch Street Station) was repurposed as the city terminus of the line. On the 31 August 1987, the Docklands Light Railway opened to the public with two lines running from Tower Gateway to Island Gardens and from Stratford to Island Gardens. The railway of the future had arrived. The trains were fully automated with no driver, although a “Train Captain” on each train was responsible for checking tickets, making announcements and controlling the doors. Due to the rapid development of the Docklands, the DLR proved much more popular than expected and expansion of the system began almost immediately. Being separate from the Underground network was clearly a major flaw of the initial system. To resolve this issue, the line was extended to Bank Underground Station. This £149M connection into the heart of the City of London, through a 1.3 km tunnel, opened in 1991. As the original trains did not meet safety and fire standards for operating in underground stations, the fleet was sold to the city of Essen in Germany where they were used on their tram system, and a new fleet installed. Also in 1991, Canary Wharf station opened. Originally planned as a regular station, due to the growth of the office complex, it was redeveloped into the largest station on the network with six platforms serving three tracks under a large glazed roof. Following these developments, the line was further extended to the East of Docklands. Starting at the existing Poplar Station and terminating at Beckton, this extension added 11 stations to the Docklands Light Railway, substantially increasing the overall size of the system. When the eastern extension opened in March 1994 the DLR had almost doubled in size from 15 to 28 stations in just 7 years. Early on in the development of the DLR, Lewisham Borough Council had expressed an interest in bringing the Docklands Light Railway south of the river, which would of course mean tunneling under the River Thames. The Council commissioned a feasibility study to investigate the extension and in 1993 the UK Government approved a £200M project to connect-in Lewisham railway station via Greenwich. This was the first private finance initiative (or PFI) on a railway in the UK. To allow the DLR to pass under the Thames, its route had to be realigned. This meant the demolition and rebuilding of both Mudchute and Island Gardens stations, with Island Gardens being reconstructed completely underground. The 4.2km extension opened ahead of schedule on 3 December 1999, adding a further five stations to the network and taking the DLR south of the river for the first time. By 2004 the line was serving almost 50 million passengers a year, but it was the continued growth of London City Airport that provided the impetus for the next extension. To connect the airport into London’s transport network, an eastward branch that followed the approximate route of the former Eastern Counties and Thames Junction Railway was created. This extension, which cost £140M, opened on the 2 December 2005. Two years later, work began on extending the route further under the Thames to Woolwich Arsenal station, connecting the DLR to the North Kent main line. Costing £180M, this extension opened in 2009. The latest extension to the DLR was undertaken ahead of the London 2012 Olympics Games. A line was opened from Canning Town to Stratford connecting the Games’ two major venue clusters at the Olympic Park and Excel. This extension added seven stations to the network bringing the total number of stations to 45 operating across six lines. The Dockland Light Railway has been hugely successful, extending over so much of east London that the name now seems largely inappropriate. Over the past 30 years, the line has been steadily extended, and this doesn’t look set to stop anytime soon. There are several planned extensions to the network being discussed that will make the system even larger. These include an extension south from Lewisham to Forest Hill; east to Dagenham Dock; across the river to Thamesmead and west to continue the line underground from Bank to Charing Cross and Victoria. The DLR has grown into a truly urban railway and is a shining example for other cities to follow. Happy 30th Birthday. If you enjoyed this video and would like to get more from the definitive video channel for construction, subscribe to The B1M.

  • Great video.  I may be the only party pooper but I really don't like the DLR; it just smacks of compromise, no driver but there is a train captain, not part of the LU except when it arrived at bank, part tram part train, using former railway alignments and building massive new contrasting bridges, train of the future that looks a lot like the present and those extensions under the Thames are real messes.  If you want to see what a railway designed by committee, paid for by a government who didn't like rail, look at the complex mess of lines, stations, and organization that is the DLR.

  • This is a really good history. I feel like it told me almost everything I wanted to know^. Thank you.

    I think you could have touched on its significance as a driverless railway, though it's not a construction issue.

    (^ Personally I would have like a comparison with the Tube on some technical issues like the maximum speed, minimum radius, maximum gradient, axle loads.)

  • surprised you don't have more subscribers man! this is a very well recorded, narrated, and illustrated video. i love how the DLR uses moving-block signalling, and honestly i wish every train would hurry up and end up driverless and moving-block, just because of how much better those systems are!

    i'm disabled and many tube stations are just complete no-go areas for me, but the DLR is amazing.

  • The map at 0:41 is not accurate, even accounting for the topographical rather than geographical nature of it. Island Gardens was the original southern terminus of the DLR, it is located just north of the river Thames not just south. The original Island Gardens station was located on a brick arch viaduct terminating just short of the river. It was resighted into a subsurface design to allow for the extension south of the river to Greenwich and Lewisham

  • You pronunciation is terrible … with or any derivative ends in a th sound not a V, the same goes for the worth growth and south…. none end is a V or F sound.  And the 'Minories' station is pronounced as the word Min as 'Minimum'.

  • In the grand scheme of things, would it have bankrupted London to put it underground? It doesn’t do much for local amenity especially going into the future I would think. London needs all the help it can get re aesthetics/beautification. It is, after all, the centre of the civilised world.

  • I especially liked the POV video watching the trains go through the stations.

    But I have never been to London (sadly)…so a quick, 5-10 second overview of the line routes, superimposed on a map (so I could pause it for reference) would have been invaluable.

    Though I think it was still a great video.

  • I remember when it started. It was like a Toytown railway, and it closed every weekend. Now it's nothing short of amazing how it's opened up so many places which used to be near impossible to visit on public transport.

  • I started working for a small firm in Docklands in 1985. Initially I had to get to Mile End station and catch the Docklands express bus along the red brick road to my work at West Ferry. The DLR couldn't come quick enough. When it arrived, I t was easier for me as I got on at Tower Gateway, and later from Bank. (I was commuting from Hounslow). The factory was demolished to make way for Canary Wharf and we moved a few miles to Poplar. I remember when the DLR opened and the Queen travelled on it – only for the automatic system to stop working and the Train Captain had to take over the driving. I can still remember a sheepish looking Captain standing next to HMtQ driving his train. I wonder if anyone else remembers that?

  • The US NAVY stationed me in London 1970-1972. I was able to ride the new Victoria Line extension. Back then, the main expansion concept was The Fleet Line.

  • Nice video, 30 years ago went just like that, and recalled clearly it opening, when in that year, 1987, worked as a security guard. Then we had the great storm in London, such a cleaver system, and too bad the Croydon Tramlink did not adapt the same (fail safe) system before the Sandilands trash crash, as unsafe due to driver error. All in all, very impressed with the DLR, as so fast, but would like to see the Stratford to Canary Wharf section extended south, instead of terminating.

  • Lovely stuff and a good point about the DLR name now being somewhat inappropriate, I'd never really thought of that but you're right.

  • Excellent video. However it would be interesting to hear about the rolling stock. There was an opportunity to make them sleek and futuristic but they look rather drab, blocky and low tech.

  • An incredible system. Just needs to be extended further east into Barking, Dagenham and Havering (potentially the estuary area of South Essex).

  • I was in London last year and certainly have pleasant memories of riding the DLR, as I stayed in a hotel near Shadwell. It was fast, frequent, reliable, and there's no way one can resist those front windows. Although I'm surprised they don't have air conditioning

  • Don't compare the DLR with the subway system in Yokohama – many of Tokyo's lines go into Yokohama; Yokohama's municipal subway alone dwarfs the DLR.

  • Love the DLR i remember first using it when i was little and Mudchute station was being rebuilt. I worked on the DLR during the Olympics and the foreign tourists who came loved it, it was extra busy but it made no difference to the service and trains were always on time so we never had to close the stations to ease overcrowding

  • extending the dlr is extremely unlikey. the core network is bursting at the seams. there currently dozens of new high rises under construction and many more blocks flats planned. there wont be the spare for lines further out. any extra money will be squeezing in more trains and bigger stations.

  • You have so many great photographs of interesting buildings and other construction, that it would seem to be very natural for you to create or contribute to computer screen savers such as those for Microsoft windows as a way to educate people about contemporary architecture as well as to advertise your channel on YouTube.

  • They should extend it to catford but in a longer way than southeastern. Here are the stations coming from lewisham

    Hither green
    Grove park
    Beckenham road
    Lower Sydenham

    Just my mind ok

  • I think i Would Be interesting to Know how much more or less the DLR Cost in comparison to a monorail System the Same length over the 30 years.

  • 1) Half train half tram? In what respect is the DLR half tram?
    2) The DLR was connected to the Underground at Stratford when it opened.
    3) They're not called "Train Captains" any more, that was dropped quite soon after the DLR opened. They're Passenger Service Agents. 007, licenced to close doors…

  • I rode on it the day it opened. There was a big delay as a dog had got on the line between Mudchute and Island Gardens. Reliability was a problem in the early days but it was a joy to travel on.

  • 0:49 DLR is run by the French Parisian Transport Compagny : The RATP. Look at the logo. It’s the London Sub with RATP colors.

  • I subscribed to this channel the other day but this shit is so blatantly pro Tory I am sick of it already, going to unsubscribe.

  • Mike Ambrose, where are you now?
    Lewisham extension actually soft- opened 20 Nov 1999 with free travel on the new section. Fullprice travel started on the 22nd. 3 Dec refers to the opening of Cutty Sark.
    Excellent video otherwise.

  • Whenever I come across mentionings of Montreal's forthcoming Réseau express Métropolitain I'm reminded of the DLR:

  • I prefer using the DLR to the tube to be completely honest.

    But like the also very good Croydon tram: I unfortunately don’t think it’s going to get any extensions for some time if ever. Crossrail and the thameslink upgrade has eaten up the London transport project budget for about a decade and now they’re talking about crossrail 2. Plus the country’s economy will have to deal with Brexit soon.

    I think that the Dagenham extension has been kiboshed because they’re instead going to extend the overground for less money (and don’t care that the service will suck).

    Extending the DLR westward to Charing cross via an interchange at thameslink/ludgate circus is a fantastic idea IMO but sadly once the Elizabeth line is operating; for a long time people will say that it’s not needed.

  • before my mother married my father and moved to Japan, she use to be a train driver of the DLR in its early years and she has photos of her driving.

  • The Docklands Light Railway Has Been Hugely Successful
    yet in rush hour they do not add more than three carriages going towards Beckton. Why is that?

  • It's crying out to be extended north from Stratford International to St. Pancras International and west from Bank, through an abandoned (proposed) extension of the Jubilee line as far west as its old platforms at Charing Cross, in my humble point of view. Also, the extension to Dagenham Dock (which Boris Johnson threw out the window claiming it would cost "magic money we haven't got" that he was blowing on vanity projects) should be restarted

  • Wow if only NYC wasnt so corrupt with unions that steal your money and bribe politicians, maybe we could have regular expansions to our subway system like this

  • I hope they do extend to Thamesmead because Thamesmed has no train stations.. They should also extend Riverboats to Kew Gardens and thamesmead

  • You cannot pronounce the names of the stations plus you have Island Gardens south of the river on your map!!!!! WTF, is this just because I know the system well that I could spot the failures, can I trust the other crap you've told about Dubai and the USA? Fuck know mate, unsubbed

  • I've used the DLR since its inception and i am happy to report that it is the line that i enjoyed using the most in London, an added benefit is that it links into Crossrail.

  • I have fond memories of living on the IOD and commuting on the DLR. I got on at Crossharbour and went all the way to Bank, every morning. Today, I am on the continent and I drive to work. I would give my right arm to be back on the DLR, rush hour or not.

  • The DLR is a rickety uncomfortable ride. It’s certainly great to have in the absence of a tram or a train, but. It really is cheap and unconfortable

  • I used to commute from Tower Hill to Heron Quays shortly after it opened in the late 80s it was horribly unreliable but great when it was working.
    At Heron Quays the stairs used to wobble as you descended to a derelict dust bowl. It is totally unrecognizable now and a big success ?

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