The last time we addressed this subject was in reference to the speculative DLR Horizon 2020 report. Now, however, TfL have – without any accompanying publicity – put up a new map of potential DLR extensions. Tantalisingly, there is no comment on the proposals, which of course provides a golden opportunity for speculation.

Some of the proposals were, in some sense of the word, already “official.” Others were known about but were little more than rumours and others are a bit of a surprise. You can see for yourself on the map above what the proposals are. Here is a bit of background to them.

Dagenham Dock extension

It is no surprise that this is present. The preparatory work has been done for this right up to the point of applying for a Transport and Works Act order. This government is talking about making the procedure simpler for getting major projects to happen so there may be some rejigging with the accompanying paperwork and procedural process but it should get easier not harder.

The crux is that this extension depends on a rational reason to develop it. That reason would likely be housing, with developer contributions to the extension’s construction implicit. This scheme is acknowledged as critical to the redevelopment of the area and without it it seems likely that redevelopment won’t happen. The converse, however, is also true – if there is no current appetite for redevelopment then the scheme won’t happen.

Ultimately though, the Mayor’s cancellation of this project in the recession was really just a bit of posturing. Just about everyone thinks it will happen one day but no-one knows when.

Double tracking between Bow Church and Stratford

This is almost a no-brainer but this is the first time it has been referred to in a DLR document although Modern Railways did mention it a couple of years ago. The real surprise is that this wasn’t included as part of the Crossrail works, given that the DLR track is being diverted anyway to enable the Crossrail Pudding Mill Lane portal to be built. One suspects that the idea behind this is not an increase of frequency, but an aid to reliability and enabling the system to recover from disruption quicker.

An Extension to Victoria

Again this has been reported by Modern Railways which normally has reliable sources. This desire to extend westward started with considerations such as the desire to balance the eastern and western parts of the DLR. With most trains terminating at Bank, this was rapidly becoming a critical part of the system affecting the system’s overall capacity. To get a frequency of every two minutes or less at Bank one really needs to make it a through station, although of course this potentially just shifts the problem further down the line.

A further desire was to get to Charing Cross, with the bonus of being able to use the former Jubilee line platforms at next to no cost instead of the hundreds of millions of pounds now needed for new underground platforms. One suspects that the DLR is counting on the fact that no-one these days wants new lines to have “tube” sized tunnels and trains, and the difficulties of finding a new route through the existing spaghetti of underground services and foundations means that the DLR has the advantage as it can happily cope with tight curves and severe gradients.

It will be interesting to see the rational behind going to Victoria and whether the analysis shows this as solving a problem or creating one. If it ever happens and Chelsea-Hackney also materialised, then Victoria is going to become a very busy underground station indeed.

An extension from City Thameslink (itself on the line of the Victoria extension) to Euston and St Pancras

As far as I am aware this idea is completely new. The word that hits you between the eyes here is “opportunism”. With the Central London Tram just about dead as an idea, we have here the alternative and arguably better solution to the problem of capacity on the Aldwych-Holborn-Euston corridor. You can almost feel that someone is already itching to propose a further branch to Camden Town.

The need to go to Euston is no doubt fuelled by the hope of riding on the coat tails of HS2. The clever bit is to go on to St. Pancras, as the need for a good convenient link between Euston (HS2) and St Pancras that can actually cope with the level of future traffic seen as a critical part of the HS2 proposal. This in turn probably means that this part of the route needs to be near the surface, or even elevated to fulfil this requirement. The actual location on the map of the terminus at St Pancras is in the top north-western corner, which is identical to that already suggested for a rapid people system between the two main railway terminii. This is analogous to the idea of having the DLR go between Stratford domestic and International. You have got to put something in place anyway so why not just extend the DLR to do it?

Southwards from Lewisham to Catford and Forest Hill

The idea of going to Catford is a relatively old one (it appeared in, but also predates, Horizon 2020). Indeed if it weren’t for the difficultly of crossing the A20 just south of Lewisham station it would probably have been done by now, as Catford is an obvious choice and it wouldn’t be too difficult to make the land available. It would also provide new journey opportunities and numerous benefits to the Hayes line and the Catford loop. However crossing the A20 is a major challenge that either involves massive engineering work at Lewisham and abandoning the current DLR infrastructure or diverting the A20.

Realistically I suspect that the latter would only happen as part of a bigger scheme to deal with the traffic problem in Lewisham, but that doesn’t mean to say it won’t happen one day. The surprise is the idea of going on to Forest Hill. It is easy to see the benefits of providing a link to this busy hub, but the area between Catford and Forest Hill is a residential area that is very built up. A solution at ground level or involving a viaduct does not seem very attractive whereas a tunnel would be very expensive.

Overall, If a significant portion of these ideas were to happen, it would bring the DLR much more into the core of providing transport in London. Indeed, it can be argued that the “Docklands Light Railway” is becoming more and more inappropriate as a name. Indeed although it may have started out as the perceived “cheap option” in transport terms, the DLR is rapidly moving beyond that tag. This, alongside expansions like those listed above, will increasingly mean the DLR has to face up to consequences of its growing complexity – from identifying the lines clearly to the average user, to providing sufficient depots to enable the system to work reliably and have sufficient resilience to keep functioning.

The bigger the DLR gets, the more people rely on it and the more unacceptable a breakdown in service becomes. If any of the these proposals actually happen, then we really will have to change he way we think about the DLR.

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Written by Pedantic of Purley