Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the opening of the DLR. Originally intended as a low cost option to support the Docklands redevelopment programme, the DLR had a somewhat troubled gestation. Now, however, it forms a vital part of London’s transport infrastructure.

To help celebrate its birthday, we’ve pulled together some images from its past. If any readers have memories of the DLR’s construction or early years, please feel free to share them in the comments.

This also seems a good opportunity to highlight the existence of our new Flickr photo pool – The London Reconnections Photo Pool. If you have photos of London’s transport infrastructure, old or new, then we’d love to see them.

Indeed, if anyone has any DLR photos they feel would be of interest and would compliment those below, please feel free to add them to the pool and let us know that you’re happy for us to share them, we’ll look to add a selection to this article.

Building the Line

To minimise cost the DLR used a lot of existing infrastructure where possible. The photos below show the remains of Leman Street Station on the old London Tilbury & Southend at the end of the seventies, the construction of the DLR on the site and the same location today.

The old Leman Street Station

The old Leman Street Station, courtesy Danny McL

The DLR under construction

The DLR under construction, courtesy Danny McL

Leman Street today

Leman Street today, courtesy Danny McL

New building work was, obviously, also required. The photos below focus on Canary Wharf. Intended to open as part of the original stretch of line, it soon became clear that plans for a two platform station on the site were insufficient and its opening was thus delayed whilst the station was redesigned and expanded.

The site of Canary Wharf station (or thereabouts) in 1985

The site of Canary Wharf station (or thereabouts) in 1985, courtesy DaveAFlett

Looking south in 1985

Looking south in 1985, courtesy DaveAFlett

Canary Wharf station in 1991

Canary Wharf station in 1991, courtesy DaveAFlett

Mudchute under construction in 1987

Mudchute under construction in 1987, courtesy Steve White2008

The Beckton Extension under construction in 1990

The Beckton Extension under construction in 1990, courtesy Steve White2008

DLR Station mockup elements, 1994

DLR Station mockup elements, 1994, courtesy Steve White2008

The Early Years

The early years saw rapid change and expansion on the DLR, along with some troublesome early problems. In design terms, it was very much a product of its time, as the images below highlight.

The DLR in 1987

The DLR in 1987

The DLR at All Saints in 1987

The DLR at All Saints in 1987, courtesy Andy Neal

The (now demolished) Island Gardens station in 1987

The (now demolished) Island Gardens station in 1987, courtesy Andy Neal

A DLR Train Captain in 1987

A DLR Train Captain in 1987

The DLR at Stratford in 1993

The DLR at Stratford in 1993, courtesy Andy Neal

Inside the DLR, March 1990

Inside the DLR, March 1990, courtesy Steve White2008

The DLR (and Charlie Brown's!) in 1987

The DLR (and Charlie Brown’s!) in 1987, courtesy Steve White2008

The other side of a Photo Op, 1989

The other side of a Photo Op, 1989, courtesy Steve White2008

Ticket machines at Poplar, 1990

Ticket machines at Poplar, 1990, courtesy Steve White2008

Modern Times

Recent years have seen the DLR become a critical part of the London transport network. The images below are some of our favourites from its recent history.

The DLR in the snow

The DLR in the snow

The new South Quay station in 2009

The new South Quay station in 2009

DLR Trains en route from Germany in 2009

DLR Trains en route from Germany in 2009

Delta Junction in all its glory

Delta Junction in all its glory

Many thanks to all the Flickr contributors who kindly agreed to let us use their excellent photos in this article

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There are 56 comments on this article
  1. John Bull says:

    On a personal note (which is why its not in the main article), one of my favourite memories of secondary school is going on a trip to Docklands in about 1993.

    In art lessons we’d been doing a term looking at photography and reflections, and we’d been split into groups to do project work. Myself and a few of the lads persuaded the teacher to let us do ours on the new DLR and the way it reflected off all the new glass buildings in the area. He agreed, and armed with cameras (and permission notes from parents) we were allowed to spend a week going up to Docklands to take photos of the DLR and commuters with the light playing on them, reflecting off of buildings etc. etc.

    Every morning we’d head up and spend about 2 hours bumming round on the DLR taking photos, then head down to the Trocadero and spend the rest of the day in the arcade. We were never rumbled (and got an A for the project if I remember).

    I had a hunt around at the weekend for the photos, but sadly they’ve long since vanished. I’m still pretty mean at both Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat though thanks to that week’s training!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The photos of construction activity remind me of a searingly hot day and walking right round the Isle of Dogs to see what was being built. I don’t recall taking photos unfortunately. I do have some shots from the early days of DLR operation that I will need to scan and upload although a couple will duplicate what you already have – Island Gardens and West India Quay. I have stuck 4 photos of the new Vauxhall station entrance on the Flickr group pool.

  3. Neil Woollcott says:

    My dad worked on 1 Canada Square and when the DLR opened he took me on the route for the day. I think there were only two routes at that time and I travelled up and down on each of them, visiting the Visitor Centre. I have a picture of me as boy with my DLR colouring set standing in front of one of the trains.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I find none of the DLR units to be aesthetically pleasing and the decision to paint the end of the newer units black quite bizarre. It’s a shame that they just missed on the TfL colour schemes worn by the Tube, Tramlink and Overground. Someone on photoshopped a later build in TfL style with a turquoise base reflecting the colour of the DLR roundel. Perhaps one day we’ll see the real things wearing this livery.

  5. NickF says:

    That Train captain pic wasn’t 1987. In the background is the later-built Canary Wharf station.

    I moved to the Island in 1988 and the Canary Wharf stop was a ghost station with no platforms or shelters – if originally there, it was gone by 1988 and the trains just paused mid-way between West India Quay and Heron Quay as if in the middle of nowhere.

    I can’t remember whether the original destination indicators were roller blinds but later the commonest form of destination display on the original units was a rotating ‘toblerone’ display.

  6. Anonymous says:

    @ Nick F – I think the original units did have automatic blinds but they ripped and got jammed as happens with bus displays despite today’s technology being more advanced. The quick fix was to use a rotating rectangular display given destination options were pretty limited back then – Poplar, Stratford, Tower Gateway and Island Gardens. Canary Wharf station was, I think, constructed but was completely overtaken by events with the redevelopment well under way by the time the system opened. I can certainly recall the trains pausing at the point where the station would have been if it hadn’t been in the middle of a building site. The DLR is an incredible story of almost perpetual railway development over 25 years. I wonder if it would ever have been approved if someone had said at the outset how much more money would be needed to get the system to its current extent! I recognise it has delivered huge benefits but people tend to look at the cost first.

  7. Taz says:

    Re Anonymous, an attraction of the early system was probably the low initial cost and the possibility of incremental additions as unknown future property developments occurred.

  8. Geoff Smith says:

    When the DLR opened there was the slightly odd experience of ‘calling’ at a station, Canary Wharf, which did not yet exist but had been programmed in.

  9. Greg Tingey says:

    L-R Photo Pool
    I have a collection of photos 1961-64 (& a few to the end of steam) all taken in London, whilst I was still at school, before going off to Manchester for 3 years ….(64-67)
    Assuming I can FIND the prints & scan them, how do I then transmit to you for putting up on the pool site?
    I don’t have (nor want) a Flickr account, as I use photobucket – & that only occasionally.
    E-mail me directly if that is more convenient

  10. Jim says:

    A few early memories:

    – the surreal feeling of sitting at the front with noone driving
    – passing the dismantled station at Canary Wharf
    – the long wait at Island Gardens waiting for the train to come off the single line section
    – Train Captains ‘helping’ the leaf doors shut with a foot on the early sets

    I thought ‘Train Captain’ as a term was excellent PR. What nameless official turned them into ‘operatives’ I wonder.

  11. Whiff says:

    My main memory is of just how desolate a wasteland the whole Isle of Dogs area was back at the end of the ’80’s and it was a great novelty watching these dinky little trains, even though at that stage they didn’t seem to be serving anywhere people might want to go. I also remember what an absolute thrill it was as a little kid to be able to sit where the driver would normally be sitting.

    The comments about the small-scale and piecemeal early development of the line are spot-on especially when compared to the extravagance of the Jubilee Line expansion a decade, and a completed Canary Wharf, later.

  12. timbeau says:

    I rode the whole system on the first day. If anything of the original Canary Wharf station was built, it had certainly gone again before the line opened.

  13. Anon 13:45 says:

    Lots of old DLR stuff on this site

  14. NickF says:

    @anon 13:45 – great link.
    For most of the eighties and nineties we had little in the way of weekend or evening services due to the incremental building works, I seemed always to miss the bus at Tower Gateway and have to stand in the biting wind for half an hour waiting for the next ‘every 15 minute’ bus. That is the downside of the growing pains, but as others have observed, there just wasn’t the basis for something more elaborate in the beginning. The wide open spaces of Docklands as it was, tell the story.

    Opening of the DLR, for those who were the early arrivals on the wharf, like my brother who was a Littlejohn Fraser employee it was a great step forward compared to the earlier slog on the busses. The Litteljohn Fraser buidling was the only non-Canary Wharf group building on the Wharf as it pre-dated the main development, but in its turn it is now gone.

    Busses too have changed out of all recognition over the years, remember when the Docklands Minibus routes were running? LT actually had some competition, though we disparagingly referred to the minibusses as ‘breadvans’. Now we have the bus-train that runs round the island – it consists of a D3 following a 135, following a D7 – then nothing for 10-15 minutes before the next 3-bus train comes. Is this scheduling by design or accident?

  15. Anonymous says:

    It’s the samevdown Brighton Road to Purley in the evening. It’s timetabling by three different people who don’t talk to each other if you ask me.

  16. David S says:

    I remember when it opened in some respects it was unlike anything we had. You bought a ticket then had to go and get it validated, and the train captain checked the tickets as he walked round. These days I see them normally sitting down between stops in the middle carriage. I also remember a few weeks before it opened; one unit crashed through the buffers at Island Gardens and was left hanging off the end. It has brought with it re-generation and should the branch to Dagenham go ahead then I am sure it will do the same for that area as it has done elsewhere.

    NickF- I also remember the docklands transit minibuses, run by Harry Blundred. LT refused to let him into the Travelcard scheme and so they ran round mostly empty.

  17. Alan Griffiths says:

    2 points re later additions:

    1) The station at Pudding Mill Lane was put into the first (or second) Act by the House of Lords after LB of Newham lobbying. DLr didnlt want to build it, but later (according to T Banks MP who spoke up for the amendment) realised that they would have had a long delay in increasing the number of trains between Stratford & Bow Church without it.

    2) the station at Canning Town was put into the Beckton Extension Act by the House of Lords after LB of Newham lobbying. LDDC wanted DLR to cross the Lea next to their new road bridge, and just didn’t get the point of interchange with the Jubilee line.

  18. swirlythingy says:

    @David S: Please say there are photos somewhere of that alarming Island Gardens incident?

  19. Taz says:

    The construction photos show why it was impossible to justify the cost of the proposed deep-level River Line tube extension of the Jubilee Line through this industrial wasteland, where the only signs of development are those of the DLR. Ten years later it was a completely different story, with the Jubilee Line eventually arriving by a different route.

  20. Greg Tingey says:

    More on this on the “DiamondGeezer” web site.
    Note my comment there about DLR being built on the cheap (LDDC were given a fixed sum by the Treasury/MoT/DafT, since they hated railways – as they did all the time 1963-2012) & LDDC had the sense to build it, knowing it would have to expand …..

  21. Alan P says:

    @swirlythingy I can’t find the photo online but I certainly remember it being front page news on the Evening Standard, along with a picture of the front of the train overhanging the road. Maybe someone at the paper could assist?

  22. Littlejohn says:

    Alan P 03:19PM, 31st August 2012

    My memory of the picture is the same. The best I can find on the internet is You need to go to the second Chris Blackhurst story (A transport of delight – DLR, one of the world’s great railway journeys) on the LH Side. It is referred to near the bottom.

  23. Gareth M says:

    I got up very early to go on the first DLR train, but because I believed what it said in the Evening Standard, I went to Tower Gateway rather than Poplar, where the first public DLR train actually went from. I can still say that I went on the first one from Tower Gateway to Island Gardens, though. Later in the day, I heard a boy saying to his dad that he wanted to go on “01” (the lowest-numbered unit) and his dad said “I don’t think 01 is going anywhere” – someone had thrown a brick through one of the train’s windows. A railway magazine later said that it had been done by some “charming little kiddies” who wanted to show that there was “more to Eastenders than soap”. I remember stopping at the “closed before it opened” Canary Wharf station, and how empty that area looked before the Canary Wharf development.

  24. anonandonandon says:

    @anonymous 03.17PM 30/8: (off-topic) we once had a similar situation on two bus routes in Hertfordshire that shared a common section for about 7 miles. Both ran every-other-hour on Sundays, and called at pick-up points 5-10mins apart… followed by no bus along that section for 1hr50mins !!
    I rang one of the companies concerned and asked if ‘you two can work together to sort out this stupidity’ and seem to remember being told that they were not allowed to co-operate, as that could be deemed as ‘anti-competitive behaviour’.
    So much for bus deregulation improving the service for passengers…

  25. Taz says:

    Photos show the original Canary Wharf station sited between two wharehouses that were to be renovated for new use. These were demolished before the line opened to make way for the current development which required the current station. That indicates how fast redevelopment occurred. A new low-rise office block was demolished before occupation to make way for a high-rise block! The Beckton and Bank extensions were being developed before the “Initial Railway” opened. The DLR has proved to be remarkably adaptable. The next move to four-unit trains may be more of a challenge for current short platforms.

  26. Twopenny Tube says:

    Taz: “Photos show the original Canary Wharf station sited between two wharehouses …”
    There is a spelling correction to be made there, but be careful which letter is removed or changed to make a proper word.

  27. timbeau says:

    Taz “Photos show the original Canary Wharf station sited between two warehouses that were to be renovated for new use. These were demolished before the line opened ”

    I recall on the opening day travelling on the line that the warehouses which extended the length of Canary Wharf sghown in dave Flett’s 1985 picture were still there. The untidy gap where one block (“shed 31”?) had been removed to make way for the railway looked like a missing tooth.

  28. Anonymous says:

    @Anon, 29th August. Those colour schemes are clean and fresh and would brighten up even the dullest day. Perhaps some day somone DLR will come across this image and say yes, this is how the trains should look.

  29. Egduf says:

    @swirlythingy and Alan P

    There was certainly a photo of the incident on the front page of the East London Advertiser with the headline along the lines of “Over the Edge.”

  30. Dave says:

    This has prompted me to search for and (finally) find something I hadn’t seen for years.

    It’s a series of programs on systems design, using the DLR as a case study. I haven’t yet watched it all again, but I seem to remember that it included some interesting history about the options and decisions.


  31. charlesn132 says:

    When I was a kid the PSA’s used to give out Docklands trains filled with sweets. Some of them even let me drive the trains (I think in protected manual) and make announcements to the passengers. (yes, I do know that this is slightly off topic, but just thought I’d share that).
    I wonder if anyone here has done that too…

  32. Rogmi says:

    I remember coming back after a trip to Lewisham not long after the DLR had opened to there and the captains were letting children start the train. It wnt down very well with the children and was a nice bit of PR. Young (and perhaps not so young 🙂 ) children enjoy that and gives them something to tell their friends about.

  33. NLW says:

    The June (1987) issue of the British magazine Modern Railways carried this item:


    The Managing Director of Docklands Light Railway Limited, Cliff Bonnett,
    has said the accident which occurred at Island Gardens station on
    10 March (Modern Railways, May) was primarily caused by unauthorised
    tests, carried out before required modifications had been carried out
    at the southern terminus. The train, which ended up overhanging from
    the elevated track after crashing through buffers, would have been
    ‘arrested’ if the protection system ‘in its full and modified form’
    had been installed. The train was being driven manually.

  34. Peter says:

    charlesn132 –

    My seven-year-old nephew was allowed to drive a train in that way in 1998, and his (prompted) broadcast strictures to mind the closing doors (or some such thing) caused many a smile amongst the crowd of passengers.

  35. Rogmi says:

    It’s taken a while, but I knew I had the paper somewhere 🙂

    DLR overrun at island Gardens on 10 March 1897
    Scanned in and temporarilly uploaded to:

  36. timbeau says:


    They had automatic trains 116 years ago?

  37. Rogmi says:

    It never caught on : -)

  38. John Bull says:

    Ha! Nice. I’ll transcribe/post as a full article tomorrow.

  39. Rogmi says:

    If you want the actual scanned picture (rather than the linked PDF) I can sort that out later


  40. Marlon Corgat says:

    I have just served 25 years on the DLR and seeing the old photos brings back some memories.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone photos of the old Blue posts public house (later named as The Buccaneer) 73 m/75 West Ferry Road, Isle of Dogs. The building was demolished in the late 1970s.
    Pete Preston.

  42. a friend says:

    Wonderful article!
    I just have a small comment to make.
    The photo subtitled “A DLR Train Captain in 1987” is actually misleading…
    Construction on the One Canada Square building (featured in the background) began in 1988 and it was completed in 1991. The DLR station (also featured in the photo) is the extended/reconstructed version from ’91 as well (the station that still stands today)…
    Therefore the photo cant be from any sooner than that.. I would love to know from when exactly that picture is actually taken though! That captain is really stylish!

  43. LadyBracknell says:

    In the very early days of the DLR, I recall reading a fantastically funny essay by Alan Coren on the dangers of driverless trains and the disaster of doors opening at yet unfinished stations. If memory serves, I think Mudchute was the mentioned.

    I used to be really squeamish at the idea of driverless train, but now I use the DLR almost without a qualm. I only get queasy if I am sitting at the front as the train travels between Cutty Sark and Island Gardens. It’s the longest minute of my life.

  44. Mr Beckton says:

    An old thread resuscitated gives me a chance to comment on the opening day

    @Gareth M : “I can still say that I went on the first one from Tower Gateway to Island Gardens, though. Later in the day, I heard a boy saying to his dad that he wanted to go on “01” (the lowest-numbered unit) and his dad said “I don’t think 01 is going anywhere” – someone had thrown a brick through one of the train’s windows.”

    I was actually in the train, standing in the front doorway right by the window when this event, which got quite wide publicity, happened on opening day. It was about 3 pm in the afternoon, and I’d gone down to Island Gardens and we were then heading to Tower Gateway. Leaving West Ferry, passing the flats at Three Colt Street which are very close to the line, there was a big bang and the glass crazed fully but there weren’t many pieces detached. We continued to Limehouse where the TC came forward , moved those nearest away, and drove manually and slowly to Tower Gateway where there were plenty of beaming but unaware officials on the platform whose faces were a picture as they realised just what was running in!

  45. Del_tic says:

    I have notice recently that part of the disused viaduct curve at Tower Gateway, near to the Bank dive down has been demolished. Any idea what this work is for?

  46. Anon5 says:

    This seemed to be the most recent DLR article so I thought it as good as place as any to post this news from TfL of frequency changes and new seating layouts. Obviously mods, move if you think it would be better elsewhere.

    Pic of new seats on Twitter

  47. Ed says:

    I can’t easily find usage figures of the DLR and stations, compared to rail services. I’m assuming growth has been rapid?

    If so, how long will minor timetable and seat changes buy until capacity is full? Crossrail is going to relieve it of course but then all DLR branches are seeing massive housing growth alongside, with much not walkable to Crossrail so usage is unlikely to drop too much – meaning in, say 5 years, we are back to where we were?

    The Beckton branch has a fair bit of housing now going up at Beckton. There’s also the Chinese business park. Crossrail wont do much for these areas.

    Lewisham branch has a huge amount of housing coming eg Elverson Road estates, Deptford Bridge housing, Asda redevlopment at crossharbour etc. Limited Crossrail relief?

    Woolwich the same. Numerous developments along the Royal Docks with only some stations being near a Crossrail station.

    Stratford too of course, though Crossrail effect will be more pronounced here. How quickly housing goes up around Star Lane etc will be a factor.

    Going above 3 cars will be very difficult so what is the plan if Crossrail fills up 5 years after opening and housing development continues apace beside many DLR stations, as seems to be the plan?

  48. Ed says:

    Oh, should add I know Crossrail will relieve some longer distance traffic eg people from Kent changing to DLR at Woolwich who will instead go to Crossrail at Abbey Wood (easier interchange than Woolwich), but will that be enough to compensate for a big increase in local traffic, and for how long?

  49. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Ed – there is data on DLR pass kms and journey stages in the TfL Travel in London report 7. You can also download a spreadsheet with the data that sits behind the graphs.

    In 1987 the DLR had 3m jny stages and 15m pass kms. The values for 2013/14 are 101m jny stages and 537m pass kms. I’ve never seen usage numbers for DLR stations despite there being passenger counters at all platform entrances. The various extensions have given big pushes to both metrics.

  50. Ed says:

    Many thanks for that. I vaguely recall seeing some station figures I believe but nothing recent, and who knows I could’ve dreamt it up.

    I said earlier that Crossrail will take a lot of people off the DLR at Stratford but I was wrong, at least for newcomers who work in Canary Wharf. That branch heading south would be better than Crossrail to Whitechapel then switching to an eastbound Canary Wharf train, so still a big demand on that branch. Futuue employment at Canary Wharf and residential population at Stratford are very large so no respite there. Indeed, the timetable changes are cutting back on Beckton to West Ham trains to increase Stratford to Canary Wharf, though the Beckton branch will see increased demand.

  51. Ed says:

    Another disclaimer! Of course there’s the Jubilee and it’s up to 36tph but a fair few developments are 5 mins to the DLR stations rather than 15 to Jubilee so that negates fewer stops on the Jubilee line (and the discomfort of a tube train opposed to a DLR where you can stand upright).

  52. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Ed – the latest TfL business plan shows what TfL are expecting to happen to the DLR. Service volume builds up over the next couple of years – I assume from running trains more frequently and for more hours a day at higher frequencies. KMs operated rise from 6m in 2014/15 to 6.9m in 2018/19. However pass jnys rise up to 2017/18 to nearly 130m and then there are drops for two years as Crossrail comes on stream. Patronage is assumed to build again from 2020/21. IIRC TfL are expecting the biggest impact on the Woolwich branch of the DLR.

  53. Alan Griffiths says:

    There won’t be much housing development near Star Lane DLR.
    East side is mostly 19th century terraces in good nick and late 20th century council built. West side fairly modern factories and warehouses.
    The point of the DLR station was to improve accessibility to the existing.

  54. Woolwich2009 says:

    Me and my girlfriend was the first people to be on the DLR 2009

  55. Jim elson says:

    And I was of the first non railway people to travel on the DLR when it first opened over 30 years ago. I was filming the Queen & Prince Phillip for ITN as they sat in the two front seats on the inaugural train. They loved it,& so did I right next to them.

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