London: Pt 24 – The Docklands Light Railway

Up until the late 1980’s, the London Underground was the only large scale railway system (aside from the old trams which stopped running in 1952 etc) to serve the British Capital, London. The only limitation with the system was that it didn’t serve the old Docklands, which today are 1 of Londons thriving commercial hearts, now linked up by the DLR, which 1st opened in 1987…

Docklands Light Railway 

Founded – July 30th 1987

Stations – 45 (as of 2015)

Lines – 7 (as of 2015)

Track Length – 21 miles (as of 2015)

Claims to Fame – Completely Automated

An Early History:

The London Underground itself has seen various extensions over its lifetime, with the Victoria Line being opened in 1968, and the Jubilee Line in 1979. London was expanding rapidly however, and after Greater London was created in 1965 there were various areas now within London that weren’t served by the tube, noticeably a lot of South London, and the old Docklands. The original idea was to extend the Jubilee Line towards the Docklands, through Lewisham and other areas. Whilst an extension would indeed bring the line to the docks, it only has 1 station, at Canary Wharf. The intended route around the Docks was abandoned on cost grounds, and a new system decided upon. It would follow existing unused railways/viaducts around the docks, complemented by a number of new concrete bridges to fill in any gaps in the route.


The 1st route to open was between “Island Gardens” at the edge of what became Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, and Tower Gateway (serving the Tower of London)/Stratford in the Borough of Newham. As the area around the Docks expanded, and the financial district at Canary Wharf was built (still expanding today) more capacity was required, so the DLR saw it’s 1st extension in the early 1990’s.


1991 saw the arrival of a new branch line to Bank (pictured above), in the City of London which was already served by the Central, Waterloo & City and Northern Lines of the London Underground, allowing passengers to interchange between the 2. A passenger walkway also existed between the station at Tower Gateway, and the nearby Underground Station at Tower Hill (Circle & District Lines).

The stations in the centre of what became Canary Wharf already existed, as they lay between Island Gardens and Tower Hill on the original line, being:

West India Quay, Canary Wharf, Heron Quays, South Quay, Cross Harbour, Mudchute


Canary Wharf became the largest, and as the office complex grew, so did the station, from being a simple through station to a multi line 1, with an interchange to the Jubilee Line station. West India and Heron stations were also only a few minutes walk from Canary Wharf, so they all effectively served the same area. Connecting Canary Wharf station into the tower complex was a large shopping centre below ground, still open today. It was followed by a further expansion, to Beckton, shown on the map at the start of this post in the top right hand corner, in 1994 via areas such as Canning Town where you can interchange for the Jubilee Line.

Design Work:

The DLR is styled in the same way as the London Underground, with regards to the map and symbols. Instead of a Red Roundel it has a Turquoise 1, with the familiar Blue Bar in the centre stating the station name. Whilst there are maps specific for the DLR available, as shown at the top of this post, it is mainly featured on 1 large map which includes the DLR, Underground and Overground networks. Like the Underground, the map isn’t purely geographical, more depicting the general location of stations to clearly show interchanges etc.

On the Underground map the DLR appears as Turquoise Lines, alongside the Underground Lines and the Orange Overground routes, as shown above. They mainly serve the East/South East of London, whereas the Tube is largely focused North of the Thames, and across West London.

Later Expansions:

Since the Beckton line opened in 1994, there have been numerous other additions to the network, starting with that to Lewisham in 1999, which was effectively an extension from Island Gardens through the maritime town of Greenwich to Lewisham in the East.

It was followed in 2005 by a new line to London City Airport, diverting from the normal lines at Canning Town towards City Airport via the old Royal Docks. This was later extended again in 2009 to it’s final stop at Woolwich Arsenal where commuters can interchange with National Rail services towards Kent.

The final extension to date was opened in 2011, and runs from Canning Town to Stratford, and Stratford International to serve the Olympic Park, completed in 2012 for the London Summer Olympics. You may remember I mentioned earlier that 1 of the 2 original lines to open on the DLR served Stratford? Well that line still exists, with the new Stratford line running from Canning Town to Stratford via West Ham, whereas the original line lies further to the West.

Travel Zones:

London is covered by 9 Travel Zones, which dictate how much you would pay in fares to travel across them. Zone 1 covers the city centre, around Westminster/City of London/Southwark/Lambeth, with 2 – 6 then radiating out concentrically from there. Zones 7, 8 and 9 cover areas in neighbouring counties that the Tube uses, and a special fare zone covers Watford Junction in Hertfordshire for interchanges.

The Tube is the main user of the fare zones, however the DLR is also within them, operating across Zones 1 – 4. The Overground also runs through the various Zones, so there is 1 large fare system which allows you to purchase tickets for the Zones rather than individual forms of transport.

This means if you purchase a ticket for 7 days across Zones 1 – 7 you can use DLR/Underground/Overground as much as you like without paying extra, so at Bank you can leave the Underground and board a DLR train with no extra costs. This makes travelling around London so much easier and the different systems are almost 1 large 1 for travel purposes.

Rolling Stock:

Unlike the Underground which uses obviously different rolling stock across the different lines due to the varying sizes of tunnel, the DLR uses a small standard set of stock very similar in design.

Tower 16

The original stock were called P86/P89 stock, and were already being used in Germany effectively as a tram system. They were only suitable for above ground lines, and had to be replaced when extensions opened which had to utilise underground sections, such as the line into Bank, and the line South of Island Gardens.

The new stock, brought in during the 1990’s was B90/B92, built by Bombardier and stored at the depot at Beckton. They consisted of 3 cars, all of which are interchangeable. These were in turn replaced during the late 2000’s with B07 units, an example of which is shown in the picture above, although a smaller number of B90/B92 are still used, alongside a variation known as B2K from 2001.

Former Stations:

Despite the networks relatively short history compared to the Underground, there are a number of stations that no longer exist, including:

1) Tower Gateway, the original station was demolished and rebuilt to accommodate an increase in passengers, allowing users to embark at 1 side of the train, and disembark at the other simultaneously using 2 platforms.

2) Island Gardens, the original station was built close to what had been the Millwall Extension Railway, where North Greenwich station once stood. It was later demolished when the line was extended further to Lewisham, and a new station built in a better position for the new line.

The Future:

Various routes have been examined for future extensions to the DLR Network, including 1 to extend the Bank branch in the City of London through to Westminster at Charing Cross Station, allowing better access into the heart of London.  This isn’t the only idea to try and connect up major areas of central London with the DLR, as another line through to the major stations of Euston and St Pancras International. This would allow direct access to the West Coast, Midland and East Coast Main Lines from areas such as Greenwich without changing to the tube, along with Eurostar services to France & Belgium.

As of 2015 there are no new extensions currently under construction, however it is very likely that at some point in the future (probably within the next 5 years) that new lines will appear, particularly as new housing is built around South/East London.

We found that the DLR was the perfect counterpart to the tube to access areas that have no stations on the latter’s routes. We used the line to access Greenwich, areas around Canary Wharf etc, and there are many others areas such as Lewisham and Stratford that benefit from the DLR’s routes. You can also get direct transport to London City Airport, 1 of London’s 6 major airports. So join us next time for my final London post, examining a cult classic…


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