Docklands Light Railway – 19th June, 1990

To serve the public passenger transport requirements in the area of London’s derelict docklands, now being extensively developed, a new and growing light railway system has been created. This Docklands Light Railway (DLR), like London Underground, is a wholly owned subsidiary of London Regional Transport.
Broadly, in engineering terms the DLR is little different from modern urban rail systems except in having rather smaller vehicles. The classical light rail vehicle, unlike that of the DLR, would have low-level boarding, overhead wire power supply, normal driving positions, probably track brakes etc. The DLR has, however, minimised civil engi- neering costs by using routes and viaducts of disused railways and adopting small radius curves (down on 40m) and steeper gradients (up to 6$) but is not built under Light Railway Orders.
From Act of Parliament 1984, the first train was delivered in 1986 and public service started August 1987. Currently there are 12.1km of route open with 15 stations and 11 vehicles. The routes could be described as a star with the Operation and Maintenance Centre at the star point (Poplar) and three routes to Tower Gateway, Island Gardens
and Stratford. Extensions to the London Underground’s Bank station and to Beckton in the East are under construction.
The railway is somewhat of a sightseeing feature – to see developing docklands from the train and to see the trains from the streets – both to integrate and encourage use. The stations are simple in construction, most are elevated and have hydraulic lifts for the not- so-agile, awnings for some weather protection, they are unattended but closed circuit T/V and two-way communicat’or with the Controller provides assistance in case of need.
Our visit was to be an engineering one and 16 members enrolled. But, due to severe disruption of services on the Brighton-Victoria line several members were very late in London and then had to sit for over 30 minutes in a DLR train on the way to the 0/M Centre before it started. Eight members never made it to London. So 4 members arrived at 2.p.m.
and 4 more at about 2.40.
So at half strength some 45 minutes late, thanks to railways BR and DLR, we had a talk by Ken Martin on the development and future of the railway. He confirmed what we had seen in that mornings press that DLR had offered its II trains for sale (at one million pounds each) because they do not meet fire requirements for underground use, end doors are required in future for safety reasons, outside sliding doors required, fewer seats to increase capacity (224 crush to 284) and regenerative braking to be adopted. Also the railway was to be re-signalled.
The vehicles are of steel construction with 4 double doors per side. The bodies are articulated on three bogies having air spring secondary suspension, rubber primary, disc brakes, resilient wheels, a single frame-mounted motor on each outer bogie driving both axles through right-angled gearing and flexible couplings. The vehicles are 28m long and 39t tare.
Power supply is at 750V dc collected by under-contact from a protected third rail of aluminium having a stainless steel rubbing surface. There is some problem with ‘gapping’ but use of more two-vehicle trains will reduce this.
Automatic train operation, protection and supervision, respectively ATO, ATP, ATS, systems are of course provided. For ATO, each train when in a station receives instructions from the central computer for the run to the next station (speeds, coasting etc.) The Captain closes the doors, and starts the train which drives itself. ATP is the overriding fail-safe system which prevents collisions and wrong movements by means of audio-frequency track circuits, interlocking (solid state) and wiggly wire overspeed protection. ATS sees to route settings, time-table and service matters. Present operating headways are about 4 mins, reducing to 2 in future.
The railway aims to be user-friendly, with the small open trains and young well trained captains who, in addition to driving when needed, see to the quality of service-: the writer has seen a passenger being asked to take his feet off the seat and another captain run after passengers with a bag left on a train.
We were shown round the vehicle maintenance depot, the supervisory control room and signalling equipment room.
Those of us who got to DLR got a fair idea of the railway as a whole and rode over the full 12km before leaving – not without another DLR train delay of about 10 min. Fortunately it was lovely weather.
It was disappointing that so much was to be changed after less than three years service. It is hardly acceptable to excuse the lack of foresight on grounds of rapid growth and a non-too-generous financial provision at the start. Maybe the use of a turnkey fixed price contract for the whole railways should take some of the blame.
In a few years time the DLR will have the two new extensions running, quadruple the present capacity and current improvements such as more escalators and should be a very fine public passenger transport system.
H. B. Calverley.