From strength to strength
Tirelessly working on extending the capabilities of its stations and services has strengthened DLR’s operations in the capital
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) has established itself as one of London’s most consistent rail operators through the punctuality of the services it provides. In fact, with 97 per cent of trains arriving within three minutes of their scheduled time, DLR is one of the best rail providers in the mainland UK. Equally, customer satisfaction levels are currently at 96 per cent, underlining the quality service the operator provides to over 64 million passengers a year.
DLR, part of Transport for London (TfL), is currently undergoing a significant period of enhancement and redevelopment. The responsibility for the maintenance, operation and marketing of DLR’s network is entrusted to Serco Docklands. Serco has to meet a number of challenging targets covering reliability, departures, passenger journey times, station facilities, delay times, customer satisfaction and an agreed level of revenue protection. DLR has set itself a number of challenging upgrade projects for completion over the next few years, which will accommodate booming passenger numbers and open up access to the railway for millions of new users.
Jonathan Fox, who has been director of DLR for the past three years, outlines the next step for the company: “The railway is currently undergoing a comprehensive programme of extension to meet increased demand for services, and to link further areas in and around its network in East and South East London. For instance, a new station was recently completed at Langdon Park, Tower Hamlets, and DLR’s exisiting station at Stratford has been completely rebuilt with a radical new design. We are also continuing to drive regeneration in locations that previously suffered from poor transport links while directly serving prominent commuter areas such as Canary Wharf.”
One area that has received heavy investment is the extension to Woolwich Arsenal. Jonathan comments on the progress: “Construction is well underway to extend the City Airport extension to Woolwich Arsenal. The 2.5 kilometre twin tunnel link, part of TfL’s Investment Programme, will run under the Thames from DLR King George V station and connect with Woolwich town centre. The route will provide significantly improved transportation for the surrounding community, connecting Woolwich to London City Airport in five minutes, Canary Wharf in 19 minutes and Bank in 27 minutes. Local residents will benefit from improved access to employment and education opportunities, and Woolwich and the southern Royal Docks will see the creation of new jobs, homes, shops and leisure facilities. The extension is due to open on 28 February 2009.
“DLR’s extension to Stratford International is also well underway, with the aim of opening on 1 July 2010,” Jonathan states. “Similarly funded by TfL’s £10 billion Investment Programme, the route will be established by converting the former North London Line tracks between Canning Town and Stratford to DLR operation. The extension will encompass existing stations at Canning Town, West Ham and Stratford, and new stations at Star Lane, Abbey Road, Stratford High Street and Stratford International, the latter serving the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The extension will offer a more frequent and reliable service to that previously in place and provide capacity and flexibility for future local growth, where projections for job and housing growth are particularly striking.”
As the 2012 London Olympics approaches, DLR is already well ahead of the game in terms of its preparations for the Olympic and Paralympics Games. Jonathan elaborates on the company’s efforts: “DLR will play a key role during the Games, as it will serve the main Olympic Park and several competition venues. With around 500,000 spectators expected to travel on DLR every day, almost doubling current weekday passenger numbers, the railway will face a particularly demanding period. The Stratford International extension will provide a direct link to the Olympic Park and operate trains at just over two minute intervals during the Games.
“In order to safely and comfortably accommodate growing passenger numbers, and maintain a frequent and reliable service, work has begun on capacity enhancements that will enable DLR to lengthen its trains from two to three-cars,” Jonathan continues. “Three-car trains will begin running on DLR’s busiest route, Bank to Lewisham, in 2009, and across the rest of the network in 2010. In order to achieve a three-car service and meet the additional demand for the Olympics, 55 new rail cars will be added to the DLR fleet over the next two years thanks to funding from TfL and the Olympic Delivery Authority,” he adds.
DLR has employed a PFI concession model for much of its recent major extension work. Jonathan describes how the arrangement works: “Of the three concessions, Lewisham, and London City Airport opened on budget and ahead of schedule in 1999 and 2005 respectively, and Woolwich will open in 2009. Contracts are structured so that the concessionaire has the risk of construction and does not receive income until the extension is available for operation following commissioning and safety approvals. This encourages effective and punctual construction projects, and, because the concessionaire is responsible for maintenance, design and build are of the highest quality meaning upkeep is effective and efficient – maximising value and minimising whole life costs.”
Jonathan concludes by underlining the success that working in this manner has afforded: “Passenger numbers on the Lewisham extension continue to grow, from ten million in 2000 to almost 18 million in 2007, while user numbers are particularly encouraging on the City Airport extension and increased from four million in its first year of operation to five and a half in its second.”