Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Docklands Light Railway (RT 23)

  DLR welcomes the inquiry as particularly timely and relevant to the national transport debate.


  DLR was built as a "leap of faith" despite apparently attractive bus based alternatives and in hindsight this has proved to be a correct decision.

  The change in the scale of growth in Docklands, partly brought about by the provision of the DLR, made the original network grossly inadequate for demand. Rebuilding and developing the network in situ and with little earlier provision for upgrading was problematic. Most of these problems have been successfully overcome.

  There is substantial evidence that light rail (at least in the case of DLR) is cheaper than heavy rail, facilitates the growth of Docklands and reduces road traffic in a manner that road based public transport modes could not match.

  The experience of DLR demonstrates that light rail has its place in a hierarchy of modes, between quality bus and full heavy rail schemes. Light rail can play a valuable role in supporting the Government's objectives in terms of urban regeneration—particularly "brownfield" development—and in helping to address social exclusion.

  DLR's experience demonstrates how effective PPP and franchising can be in construction and management of light rail projects; it is challenging but delivers high volume within budget and to tight timescales.

  Co-ordination with land use planning and with other transport modes, particularly bus, is of considerable importance in maximising the benefits of light rail.

  There is Government support for many of the conditions favourable to the development of light rail and it is unfortunate if the impression given by Government in the White Paper is that light rail does not have a significant role to play. While light rail is not a panacea, it is important that maximum opportunity is taken to develop new systems—where justified—and to cost effectively extend existing networks.


  1.  Docklands Light Railway Limited (DLR Ltd) owns and manages the 22km automated light rail network in East London. It is a Government owned company with the status of a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) and is sponsored by DETR. It will be transferred as an entity into Transport for London when the GLA and the Mayor come into effect in the summer of 2000. Day to day operations on the railway are the responsibility of a franchisee, Docklands Rail Management Limited (DRML) and the extension of the railway to Lewisham is being undertaken as a PPP Concession. DLR Ltd's role is therefore to manage the franchise and Concession, to safeguard and develop the railway's assets and to plan for its future. DLR has played a significant role in the regeneration of Docklands and this role will continue.

  2.  A map showing the DLR network is attached as Appendix A.


  3.  The original £77m DLR network opened in 1987. This ran between Tower Gateway, Stratford and Island Gardens and was operated using 11 two-car units. From the start the railway was operated automatically, the first in the UK and used a computerised train control system. Releasing on-train staff from the need to drive the trains allows them to concentrate on customer service and commercial duties and is a distinctive and much appreciated feature of the DLR.

  4.  The initial railway was very much a "leap of faith", since contemporary studies for the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) suggested that the resident and working populations on the Isle of Dogs—as then envisaged—might adequately be served by dedicated busways. Nevertheless the DLR was seen as a higher quality public transport option and the provision of a railway, rather than a bus network that could later be withdrawn or changed, demonstrated commitment to the growth of the area.

  5.  Shortly after the authorisation of the original DLR in 1982, plans for the Canary Wharf complex were developed. The London Docklands Development Corporation's projections for the working population of the Docklands increased nearly five-fold between 1985 and 1990. The developers of Canary Wharf sought and partially funded an extension of the DLR to the Bank.

  6.  In the light of the further development of Docklands to the East of the Isle of Dogs, the Beckton extension was constructed, opening in 1994. The construction of the extension coincided with the re-signalling of the railway to cope with the hugely increased number of passengers. The Alcatel SELTRAC moving block signalling and control system was installed and the original fleet of trains was replaced by a new build of 70 units.

  7.  Construction of a further 4.2km extension across the river to Lewisham began in 1996. It is expected to open before the end of this year, in advance of its scheduled January 2000 opening date. It has been constructed by a Concessionaire who will maintain the asset for 24.5 years and be paid a fee based on availability of the infrastructure and the number of passengers using the new link.

  8.  In 1997 the operation of the railway was offered as a seven-year franchise. This was won by Docklands Railway Management Limited, which is owned by Serco. The franchise offered a considerable saving in cost compared to the projected continued public sector operation. Moreover, increased performance targets for service reliability, information provision and availability of lifts and escalators were set—and accepted by the franchisee. The vast majority of these increased targets have since been met.

  9.  Following a difficult period for Docklands in the early 1990's use of the railway has grown on a rapid and sustained basis. From 8.3 million annual journeys in 1990, traffic grew to 12.5 million journeys in 1995 following the opening of the Beckton Extension. Since 1995 annual growth has exceeded 20 per cent each year to reach a forecast 29 million journeys in 1999. With the opening of the Lewisham extension, more than offsetting some loss of business to the Jubilee Line Extension, DLR journeys are forecast to grow to 48 million in 2001 and over 60 million in 2003.

  10.  DLR passenger journey numbers for the period 1990-2005 are included in Appendix B.

  11.  After its successive extension and re-signalling the DLR system is possibly the "heaviest" light rail system in the UK. With the ability to carry up to 380 passengers in a standard train of two 2-car units frequencies of up to 20 trains per hour (with future potential to move to 30 trains/hour) DLR has the capacity to move up to 8,000 passengers per hour in each direction. In the morning peak hour 6,500 passengers currently board at Bank station alone. By comparison, even a dedicated two minute frequency double deck bus service could not offer practical capacity of more than 2,000 passengers/hour. Light rail also offers considerable potential for expansion while even dedicated bus corridors have a limited capacity.

  12.  Given this capacity and the number of passenger journeys, the total capital cost of the DLR system and its expansion (£954 million over 12 years including the Lewisham Extension) compares favourably with alternatives such as heavy urban rail or metro schemes. DLR has cost the equivalent of £35 million per km but this figure is heavily skewed towards the tunnelled extensions to Bank and Lewisham and the cost of re-signalling and re-equipping the initial railway. It is reasonable to conclude that a considerable further amount could have been saved where the system to have been built originally with a higher capacity or with greater provision for future expansion. By comparison, the JLE will cost in excess of £170 million per km and the Meteor link in Paris is reported as costing £75 million per km.

  13.  Moreover DLR currently covers over three-quarters of its overall operating costs and the majority of the capital cost of both the Lewisham and London City Airport Extensions are expected to be covered by fares income.


  14.  The problems that DLR has faced, and now largely overcome, stem from the need to rebuild and dramatically increase the capacity of the system in situ. While a minimum cost network was all that could be justified in the mid 80s, the need to continually extend the railway, replace and triple its fleet of trains and—most importantly—replace its signalling system, lead to evening and weekend closure of the network and substantial unreliability in the early and mid 90s.

  15.  It was this need to rebuild and redevelop, rather than any inherent defect in the infrastructure or control systems, which was problematic in the 90s. However, in the past year, even with further changes underway for the Lewisham Extension, DLR performance has been satisfactory and continued to improve, with the Franchisee consistently exceeding the key targets for service reliability and departures. These targets have been successively raised as part of the franchise agreement and now serve to demonstrate the levels of reliability that can be achieved in a relatively stable environment.

  The latest performance statistics for the network are as follows:

Performance Against Service Quality Standards—July-August 99

Basic Service Departures
Service Reliability
Ticket Machine Availability
Lift Availability
Escalator Availability
Information Display Availability

  16.  The Canadian city of Vancouver has adopted a system that is technically similar to DLR, the "Vancouver Skytrain". This is simpler to operate with a single line and is powered by linear induction motors. It demonstrates high levels of system performance in terms of capacity and reliability and performs a key role in controlling road traffic growth. It currently runs at full capacity in the peak and new extensions are now planned which will introduce some of the operational complexities with which DLR is familiar. There is a high level of integration with bus services which feed into the rail stations and through ticketing between modes based on a simple zonal system. The Skytrain experience again demonstrates the potential of high capacity light rail to fulfil an important role in controlling and reducing road traffic as part of an integrated urban transport system.


  17.  With total daily DLR journeys now exceeding 100,000 on weekdays, the railway is playing a substantial part in reducing road congestion in East and Central London. Forty-three per cent of those entering the Isle of Dogs in the weekday peak currently arrive or depart by DLR and it is fair to say that the Canary Wharf complex (which at the present time is still waiting for the full opening of the Jubilee Line Extension) would have been unable to function without the railway. It is simply not possible to bring today's resident and working population to and from Docklands by road based public transport and car trafic alone.

  18.  The benefits to Docklands of a light rail network have therefore been twofold. DLR both removes potential road journeys but also makes possible substantial regeneration and development of jobs and brownfield housing which could not be sustained by road based modes of transport alone. The use of light rail permits concentration of employment (and housing) within a compact area. This assists in reducing the demand for greenfield development which is usually of a low density nature with a high dependence on the private car.

  19.  Light rail, compared to bus, offers a service that is environmentally friendly, has no emissions at the point of use, has a first class safety record and can be operated at surface, viaduct or in tunnel. With its own dedicated right of way light rail is less prone to traffic delay and obstruction.

  20.  The DLR network serves both the "old" and "new" communities of Docklands and serves to support the Government's objectives of reducing social exclusion. One of the features of the former docks area was its history of very localised employment and relatively poor links to other parts of London. This became a significant disadvantage with the end of traditional centres of employment. As well as bringing in those from elsewhere to work in the Isle of Dogs the DLR performs a significant role in offering travel to work opportunities to existing Docklands residents. In the peak periods flows through DLR's Bank station are fairly closely balanced between those heading out to Canary Wharf and those heading in from the Docklands to work in the City.

  21.  DLR has benefited from a close relationship with the local councils, schools and residents. DLR has been a party to several successful SRB bids and EU funding initiatives. The railway supports local events and local voluntary initiatives and partnership organisations; publicity and information is distributed locally and is available in a range of languages for those for whom English is not their mother tongue. DLR has also been working with local education authorities to provide literacy packs for use in local schools.


  22.  In comparison with "heavy rail" Light Rail is uniquely suited to stimulating urban regeneration. It can offer single unit frequent services which can subsequently be increased to offer higher capacity. It is able to make relatively frequent stops without compromising overall journey time too greatly. It can take tighter curves and steeper gradients and so can follow existing and/or easily available alignments through urban areas. It is perceived worldwide as a high quality alternative to road based modes. Its inherent economics—higher fixed costs than bus but low operating costs—imply permanence of operation, which generates confidence among users and developers.

  23.  Light rail has a central position in the modal "hierarchy". It is suitable for passenger flows ranging between 2,000 and about 8,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Below this level of traffic bus options are more likely to be economic, above this there is an increasing case for heavy rail solutions.

  24.  In the 1990's the LDDC, as "owner" of the DLR as well as planning authority was able to co-ordinate land use with transport infrastructure, with major development taking place largely on or adjacent to the DLR. This has tended to maximise the proportion of journeys made by public transport.

  25.  The only major attractor within Docklands not served by the DLR is London City Airport. Here over three-quarters of passengers currently arrive by car or taxi. Plans to link the airport to the DLR network have been announced by Government and DLR is actively taking forward planning of the extension with an application for powers under the Transport and Works Act anticipated in early 2000. It is expected that this new line will eliminate nearly a million road journeys per annum.

  26.  There has been interest from several London Boroughs in further DLR extensions, to Barking in the east and Thamesmead, Woolwich and Bromley south of the Thames. This pressure to see the DLR extended reflects the benefits that are seen to accrue from integration into a frequent high quality light rail network.

  27.  In planning for the future DLR gains from being based within its principal markets with close involvement with the area and with the local authorities responsible for land use and transport planning.

  28.  Within the more regulated London bus framework DLR has had the benefit of integration with, rather than competition from, local buses. In this respect it has been more fortunate than light rail systems elsewhere in Britain. While there is a network of bus routes which serves Docklands, these are largely complimentary to the railway, and where they do run together, numbers on the railway far outnumber those on the buses.

  29.  DLR sees further integration between modes as one of the keys to the success of light rail. The first all modes "integration maps" have been produced for Docklands, showing National Rail DLR and bus routes together in easy to read format, as well as highlighting "mobility" bus services accessible to the mobility impaired.

  30.  DLR participates fully in the integrated London ticketing system with nearly all DLR tickets being zonally based and available for through travel to and from London Underground services. Through tickets to and from locations outside London have also been developed in partnership with ATOC and the individual operating companies. At the new Lewisham station there will be a single combined ticket office for DLR and Connex services.

  31.  From its inception the DLR has been a "fully accessible" railway with lifts or ramps provided at each station to allow access to those in wheelchairs. Provision for wheelchairs on trains was also an early feature on the DLR.

  32.  There has been a very deliberate emphasis on ease of physical interchange—cross platform interchange at Greenwich, the new multi-modal interchange at Canning Town and joint ticketing facilities.

  Improved "customer friendly" signage at key interchanges and access points has been a particular concern of DLR.

  33.  Such conditions for the effective development of light rail (modal integration, co-ordination with land use planning) now form a central part of Government transport policy. It is therefore surprising that light rail had a relatively low profile in the White Paper.

  34.  One of the principal concerns of promoters of light rail is the high and unpredictable cost of utilities diversions. While it is reasonable to look to light rail providers to contribute to costs of diversion, provision of information by utility companies is often delayed and—when provided—partial in its nature. This is a significant concern in controlling costs and in transferring risk to private sector concessionaires.

  35.  As with any transport system it is frequently more cost effective to extend and develop what is already in place than to make a step change. Once initial "pump priming" investment has been made extensions to existing systems can be increasingly cost effective. DLR has benefited from successive extensions and has now developed an expertise in this area of project management. The Lewisham extension is expected to open early and on budget and planning for the extension to City Airport is well underway. In this respect DLR now has an advantage compared to proposals for entirely new LRT systems which have to sustain one off costs, such as depots and control centres and climb a steep learning curve following their inception.

October 1999

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