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The DLR is ready to take up centre stage

Posted: 25 February 2011 | Jonathon Fox, Director, Docklands Light Railways Limited | No comments yet

If you don’t already know the ins and outs of Transport for London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) you’re about to learn, as the DLR prepares to take up centre stage during the London 2012 Games. With a new extension soon to open serving Stratford and the Olympic Park, the DLR will be at the forefront of public transport in London during the Games. With all eyes and ears on this unique and fully automated light rail system, for Intelligent Transport, DLR Director Jonathan Fox tells us a little more about what it is that separates the DLR from the pack.

With an annual growth rate of around 8%, the DLR is now carrying more than 75 million people a year and a quarter of a million people every week day. Passenger numbers are forecast to rise above 100 million by 2015 so the DLR has been looking carefully at ways to develop and improve the network.

If you don’t already know the ins and outs of Transport for London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) you’re about to learn, as the DLR prepares to take up centre stage during the London 2012 Games. With a new extension soon to open serving Stratford and the Olympic Park, the DLR will be at the forefront of public transport in London during the Games. With all eyes and ears on this unique and fully automated light rail system, for Intelligent Transport, DLR Director Jonathan Fox tells us a little more about what it is that separates the DLR from the pack.With an annual growth rate of around 8%, the DLR is now carrying more than 75 million people a year and a quarter of a million people every week day. Passenger numbers are forecast to rise above 100 million by 2015 so the DLR has been looking carefully at ways to develop and improve the network.

If you don’t already know the ins and outs of Transport for London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) you’re about to learn, as the DLR prepares to take up centre stage during the London 2012 Games. With a new extension soon to open serving Stratford and the Olympic Park, the DLR will be at the forefront of public transport in London during the Games. With all eyes and ears on this unique and fully automated light rail system, for Intelligent Transport, DLR Director Jonathan Fox tells us a little more about what it is that separates the DLR from the pack.

With an annual growth rate of around 8%, the DLR is now carrying more than 75 million people a year and a quarter of a million people every week day. Passenger numbers are forecast to rise above 100 million by 2015 so the DLR has been looking carefully at ways to develop and improve the network.

The DLR is operated through a computerised system closely managed and monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at the DLR control centre. This modern rail system operates mostly on elevated track which uses smaller and less heavy vehicles than other forms of rail. Automatic Train Operation is used and during peak periods on some parts of the network trains operate at intervals of 2 minutes. It offers more frequent stops, can navigate sharper curves and steeper gradients and trains are generally quieter than those used for conventional heavy rail. Generally trains operate automatically with no driver but each rail car has a console concealed behind a locked panel at each end of the rail car from which they can be manually driven. Likened to the responsibilities of a ‘train captain’, a Passenger Service Agent (PSA) is on-board every train and able to take manual control of the train in certain circumstances including equipment failure and emergencies. Because of the absence of a driver’s cab, seats in the fully-glazed car ends provide an unusual front and backward view for passengers.

Aside from driving the train when required, the role of the PSA is to patrol the train to check tickets, make audio announcements, control the closing of the doors and for the safety of passengers. The DLR also employs Travel Safe Officers to patrol trains and stations alongside the British Transport Police. The majority of Stations are unstaffed and in addition to full CCTV covergage, the visible presence of staff offers additional security for passengers who can always directly approach a staff member on the train if they need to.

During the heavy snowfall this winter, the DLR’s infrastructure allowed it to continue running while many other transport providers struggled. Passengers were praising the DLR on social media sites, referring to the railway as “the snow plough of London” and “the trusty Mexican donkey that just keeps going-and-going”. The DLR’s “shoe collectors” provide a different way of delivering power to the train – collecting power from the underside of the conductor rail. This has the effect of providing better protection during inclement weather as ice cannot form on the conductor rail. All points heaters on the DLR also have heating conductors, helping to prevent freezing.

One of the cheapest modes of rail transport to run in London, the DLR generally covers its operating costs. DLR is able to provide high capacity and high value services for lower operational costs. Also typically less expensive to construct, it is an ideal mode of transport for moving large numbers of passengers along busy routes. The DLR serves some of London’s busiest corridors including the financial hubs of the City of London at Bank station and Canary Wharf.

The railway has flourished since its humble beginnings when it opened in 1987 with 15 stations, one carriage trains and spanned 13km of track. In 2011, the DLR will have extended to nearly 40km of track, with 45 stations and 149 vehicles, now owning a third of the UK’s light rail fleet1. The original railway was built on a modest £77 million budget. Over £1.5 billion has since been spent upgrading the DLR, making it the fastest expanding railway in the UK with the sixth extension to the original network currently under construction between Canning Town and Stratford International.

The new DLR extension to Stratford International will connect with the existing Southeastern station which operates High Speed 1 services between London and Kent. The extension includes seven stations, four of which are brand new and will provide much needed transport links to the local communities: Star Lane, Abbey Road, Stratford High Street, and of course Stratford International. This new line will provide services directly to the Olympic Park and connect with other Olympic venues such as ExCeL and Woolwich. It will open to the public in late-Spring 2011 well in advance of the Games.

During the Games, the DLR network will be vital, not only serving the Olympic Park but three other key competition venues including the ExCeL exhibition centre, Greenwich Park and the Royal Artillery Barracks. Over the Games period, up to 500,000 people a day (double the daily average) will be travelling on the DLR – that’s all the additional Games spectators plus the normal commuter traffic. It will no doubt be a challenging period for the DLR, which is why detailed planning started years in advance.

The DLR has always been one of the most well-liked modes of transport in London, evidenced by high customer satisfaction. Passengers have been known to compete for the very front seat on the train, enabling them to have the ultimate train ride experience. But the DLR isn’t just popular for its novelty factor. In 2008, the railway started rolling out brand new rail cars onto the network to enable trains to run as three car services rather than two car, increasing capacity by 50% and allowing more people to travel, with higher levels of comfort. Six hundred and sixty people can now comfortably board a three-car train which isn’t far from the capacity of a London Underground Circle Line train.

A logistically and technically demanding project, the £208 million three-car capacity enhancememnt project included viaduct strengthening over a variety of terrains including water (North Dock), bridge upgrades, 23 platform extensions at 17 different stations, construction of two new rail junctions and a £30 million state-of-the-art station at South Quay.

Fifty-five new vehicles were procured in parallel with the three-car project. Part-funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority, the new vehicles have increased DLR’s rail fleet to 149 cars. All the cars that have operated on the system to date look similar, but there have been several different types, some still in service and others sold to other operators. The new B2007 rail cars are derived from a German light-rail design intended for use in systems with street running and were purchased from Bombardier in 2005 and delivered between 2007 and 2010. The last vehicles entering into service in June 2010. The benefits of the new trains have come to full fruition with increased services and more space on busy routes for passengers. The new cars also offer better acceleration and deceleration, altered door functions to enable faster boarding and alighting, increased space on-board and more leg room, and a sleeker appearance.

DLR’s popularity has also been attained through its consistent and impressive reliability scores. In November 2010, reliability on the railway was 98.6% and has remained high into 2011.

DLR has also been installing a series of new Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) across its network which host a range of new benefits including multi-lingual options and Oyster card compatibility. The project was completed at the end of 2010 and the new TVMs are now easily accessible across the entire network.

The railway’s uniqueness is also marked by it being London’s first, and only, fully accessible transport system. All platforms offer step-free access to trains and all stations have lifts or ramps, making journeys much easier for people using wheelchairs, with prams or carrying heavy bags. The last 24 years has seen the DLR grow dramatically with it now carrying more passengers than many other rail operators in the UK. With the 2012 Games on its doorstep, the DLR is ready to take up centre stage, exceed passenger expectations and demonstrate its fullest capability. New Crossrail developments taking place alongside the DLR network will include a new station for the DLR at Pudding Mill Lane and the Crossrail station at Canary Wharf will provide the final catalyst for the step change in additional development for Canary Wharf . The DLR continues to work towards acquiring even more rail cars to add to its fleet and is seeking to increase capacity on the network. The potential for a new extension west of Bank has been identified which, given the go ahead, would revolutionise the DLR network. It is an exciting time for transport development in London, and the DLR will continue to grow with its passengers and help connect them in every way possible.

Reference

1. DfT Light Rail Statistics (2010)

About the Author

Jonathan Fox started his career in 1986 as an Operations Management Trainee with British Rail. This led to a number of operational and commercial jobs on British Rail’s former Southern Region culminating in a senior commercial role at London Bridge on the former South Eastern Division.

In 1989 he joined the then Trainload Freight Business Unit managing various contracts in the petroleum sector. In 1992 he joined Rail Freight Distribution as part of the commercial tram planning the launch of commercial services through the Channel Tunnel. This led to a number of commercial roles following the opening of the Tunnel in 1994, particularly in the automotive and intermodal sectors.

In 1998 he joined Allied Continental Intermodal in Reading, a joint venture company between British and French Railways and Swiss forwarding company Intercontainer, as Chief Executive.

In 2001 he moved to English Welsh and Scottish Railways (EWS) as General Manager of its International Division, taking responsibility for all through-freight traffic passing through the Channel Tunnel. His tenure there included day-to-day management of the illegal immigrant crisis at Sangatte.

In 2003 Jonathan joined Transport for London as Director Rail Projects, taking sponsorship responsibility for TfL’s involvement in such projects as Crossrail and the East London Line.

In December 2004 he became Director of Docklands Light Railways Limited.

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Will MaaS be the saviour of public transport in 5 years time? Will it become mainstream or still be considered on the fringes? Where will it succeed and where will it be more difficult to implement?

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