The Docklands Light Railway, or DLR as it is more commonly known, is a light metro that operates in the East End of London and other parts of East London and South East London (south of the River Thames and east of Tower Bridge. It is London’s second rapid transit system after the London Underground with its trains all run by computers which is a first for any London railway - several other London Underground lines have also since changed to automatic operation.
During the late 1980s, London's Docklands were going into a stage of redevelopment like much of the East End was. There had been plans for decades for a railway that would link the East End and Docklands with the city, but nothing had come of it. When the Jubilee was opened, it terminated at Charing Cross, and no further extensions eastwards were planned.
Deciding on a cheaper rail link than an expensive extension for the Jubilee line, plans were made for a railway that would make use of already built (but abandoned) routes as well as being able to run along the street like a tram. Plans were made up which would have had the line running along Burdett Road in Tower Hamlets to Mile End where an interchange with the Central and District lines. Other plans had the line using old railway routes which passed through London's Docklands to the Thames riverfront south of Millwall.
The original line
In 1987, HM Queen Elizabeth II opened the initial line which compromised of two routes: Stratford to Island Gardens, and Tower Gateway to Island Gardens.
The Stratford route runs alongside the First Great Eastern railway and then along the disused railway cutting of the closed North London Railway from Bow to Poplar. From there it goes on to new line which ascends across Aspen Way and through the Canary Wharf area and then southbound from there to the Millwall area. From here the original route passed along a bridge of the Millwall Extension Railway which closed decades earlier. It then continued to the riverfront where it terminated on the site of the original North Greenwich station. The current route goes underground at Millwall and crosses underneath the River Thames to Greenwich, and then Lewisham.
The Tower Gateway route passes alongside the LTS railway line from Fenchurch Street to Limehouse. It then picks up on a disused bridge once used by the London and Blackwall Railway, and from there the line ascends and meets up with the Stratford route above West India Quay.
The original line was only 13 km in length and the fleet consisted of 11 single car trains which covered the entire system.
During this decade, a lot of work began on the system, with two extensions being completed. In 1991 Canary Wharf was opened, amd in 1993 and 1994 new trains which were composed of two carriages were added to the system. This caused platforms to be lengthened, which caused problems at Island Gardens. Also in 1991 the Bank branch opened, with an island platform built beneath the ones of the Northern line.
In 1994, the Beckton extension opened, with the Tower Gateway route continuing eastwards from Westferry to Poplar, creating a trinagular junction between lines. From Poplar the line diverges eastwards from the Stratford branch and passes through Blackwall. It then curves around the Bow Creek to Canning Town which allowed interchange with the North London line which does not serve Canning Town anymore, and later it allowed access with the Jubilee line. From here it goes further east, passing the ExCel Centre and then dips underground at Beckton Park and rises up again at Gallions Reach. It then goes north-west to terminate at Beckton.
In 1999 the Lewisham extension opened. From Crossharbour it goes to street level for Mudchute and then underground for Island Gardens and Cutty Sark, with the line crossing underneath the River Thames between the two. It then surfaces at Greenwich for interchange with Southeastern National Rail services. Then it goes along a newly constructed bridge and dips again into Lewisham.
2000sThe first significant change was the rebuilding of Heron Quays. Also in theKing George V Station early 2000s, the DLR trains were refurbished and sported a new liverly of red, blue and grey. These trains were also updated to include electronic displays informing passengers of the next station, as well as a recorded message of the next station.
In 2005, the London City Airport extension was opened. From Canning Town the line diverges towards the south and follows Silvertown Way to Connaught Crossing where it heads into London City Airport, and then down to street level to terminate at King George V. Another extension is being built from here to Woolwich Arsenal, with the tunnel under the Thames having been finished in late 2007.
Langdon Park became the latest station on the line in December 2007, with it opening between All Saints and Devons Road. It was the first new station to open on an existing route since 1996 when Pudding Mill Lane was opened.
Future plansThe main plan for the DLR is the upgrade to three car trains, which is proposed to go into force on the Stratford to Lewisham and Bank to Lewisham routes. Extensions of platforms have been in planning and construction stages for years, with South Quay having to be forced into moving further east from its current locations. Selective door opening will have to take place at Island Gardens and Cutty Sark due to the surrounding tunnel preventing platform extensions.
As well as the Woolwich Asenal extension, there are plans to take over the disused North London line route from Stratford to Canning Town. This is in development, and the extension would go from Canning Town to Stratford International. New stations would be built along the route at Star Lane, Abbey Road and Stratford High Street, as well as new interchange occurring at West Ham and Stratford International. This is proposed to be completed by 2010, in time for the 2012 Olympics.
An extension from Gallions Reach to Dagenham Dock station is also in planning, but work will not begin until after the 2012 Olympics.
There have also been plans for many years to extend further into zone one, but nothing has been secured. The most popular option would have the line continuing from Bank into new tunnels to Aldwych where it would pick up on the abandoned Jubilee line tunnels that extend almost as far as Aldwych from Charing Cross. The line would terminate at Charing Cross and would allow a new interchange with London Underground line, the Bakerloo. This has been proposed for 2026. Extensions from Tower Gateway seem unlikely.
There have also been proposals for new stations on the King George V route at Thames Wharf Station and Connaught Crossing Station.