Visitors to London who are also transport enthusiasts (‘railfans’) sometimes ask for advice as to the ‘best’ things to see on London’s railway network. This page is part of a guide which aims to answer that question.
If this is the first time you have reached these pages then it is best to go to the Opening Page which sets the scene, explains the difference between the small and the large profile trains, offers advice on the best type of ticket to buy and photography tips.
Alternatively, it is possible to view everything on one page
Local Light Railways
London also has two rail networks which provide local transport within relatively small parts of the greater London area. In virtually any other British town these networks would be large enough to form excellent cores serving large parts of the entire conurbation; its only because London is so big that they seem so 'small'.
Many people who live in regional towns outside of London look upon London's transports with envy, wishing that similar investments could be made in their home areas as well. For lower capacity routes trolleybuses (which share the same clean air attributes) would also provide a discernable 'step change' improvement on diesel buses. The core issue here is that the Treasury wants people driving cars so that it can receive high levels of income from the taxes imposed on motoring fuels.
|The DLR uses two main types of rolling stock, both of which have been built in various batches - B90/B92/B2K above and B07 below.
At present (autumn 2015) DLR trains have either red or black ends; eventually they will all be black.
Map modified by me, original source & license:
Ed g2s / Dtcdthingy / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Docklands_Light_Railway.svg
To encourage standing passengers to move inside the trains the seating layout inside B07 trains is being changed with some transverse seats being turned around to become longitudinal seats (autumn 2015).
Click map to see larger version in a new window!
Most of the DLR system is elevated on modern or historic viaducts, however there are a few sections which are below ground. These are Bank - 'near to' Shadwell; 'near to' Mudchute - 'near to' Greenwich and 'near to' King George V - Woolwich Arsenal.
The DLR uses driverless computerised trains, although a human member of staff (called a passenger service agent / PSA) travels on every train. In addition to closing train doors at stations the duties of the PSA included checking that passengers have valid tickets and offering travel advice.
When it first opened the DLR featured three main sections, two of which mostly reused former ‘heavy’ railway lines with the section through Canary Wharf and the former docks area being newly built on viaducts. The stations are mostly modern with glass shelters, although exact architecture will vary depending in when they were built or rebuilt. One of the most modern stations is Langdon Park which is on the route served by Stratford - Canary Wharf trains. This is on a north-south alignment and if you wish to photograph the station name this is best attempted in the morning.
The routes to Beckton and Woolwich Arsenal were built as extensions to the system. They are largely on viaducts and serve semi-derelict industrial areas which are slowly being regenerated. Although serving different parts of the Docklands area for part of the way these two branches are within eyesight of each other so that it is possible to see and photograph trains ‘in the distance’. One very unusual feature of the Beckton branch is that part of it was built as a combined road and rail project. This is because it was built by a Government-sponsored development agency which had been made exempt from the Governments' usual financial criteria for railway investment. These financial criteria are so onerous (in other words biased against rail-bourne public transport investment) that it is usually impossible to build road and rail - especially not light rail / tramway - as one package.
For the sake of completeness, the route south of Mudchute station to Lewisham was also built as an extension - originally the line ended at an elevated Island Gardens station; this was resited underground so as to access the tunnels under the River Thames.
The section between Stratford and 'near to' Bow Road (via Pudding Mill Lane station) is located alongside the mainline railway out of Liverpool Street station and especially at busier times you will see many types of train. The section between Limehouse and where trains for Bank go underground / Tower Gateway stations is alongside the route used by mainline trains from Fenchurch Street which nowadays comprise of Class 357 Electrostar multiple-units.
The most recent section of the DLR to have been opened is the route between Canning Town and Stratford International stations. This is mostly alongside the Jubilee Line.
|Bow Church still retains its original design of
platform shelters, from when the system first opened.
|Langdon Park is one of the DLR's newest stations.|
|Canary Wharf and other towers from London's Docklands financial district plus the Millennium Dome / O2, the Emirates Air Line cable car and two DLR trains as seen at sunset in December from Pontoon Dock DLR station. One of the DLR trains is calling at West Silvertown station and is easier to see in the larger version of this image.||Some DLR stations only have platforms long enough for double-unit trains, so when triple-unit trains are used the fronts and backs of the trains stop outside the station and the doors remain closed. Passengers wanting these stations should walk through the inside of the train to a section which is within the station platform.|
|The DLR uses what are essentially modern-day articulated trams and Elverson Road station is perhaps the nearest it comes to having a stop within the street domain like a normal 'street tramway'.||Unlike most tramways the DLR uses an under-running third rail system. Thanks to the laying snow some third rail power collection shoes are easily seen sticking out from the side of this train.|
The DLR is unique amongst London's railways in that it uses an under-running third rail power supply system. The advantages of this system are twofold. It is much safer, as the sides and top can be covered - reducing the danger to railway staff who work in close proximity to the tracks. In snowy weather the underside is protected from the snowfall and therefore considerably less likely to be covered / blocked by snow or ice. This helps keep the service running in weather conditions which sometimes defeats London's other railways. London's other railways which use powered rails collect their power from the top surface, which is easily blocked by snow / ice, preventing the train collecting electrical power.
Transport enthusiasts need to be aware that the DLR has photography rules which differ from London's other railways (of all types). To the DLR anyone using cameras (still image / video) at the same station for more than 10 minutes is seen as "working" there. Even tourists taking a few photographs!
Normally when people are working on a railway they need to comply with a range of safety requirements which includes completing a risk assessment, having public liability insurance, signing in and out at the start and end of the work duties and possibly even undergoing safety-related training. Sometimes the railway operator would also wish to supply a member of staff to oversee the filming and help ensure safety. All these cost money!
The best advice which can be given here is to explore the system filming one train and catching the next (even if only to the next station)... which for some routes will be very easy as even on Sundays trains come every 10 minutes (or more frequently) whilst at stations served by multiple routes trains are even more frequent.
The DLR also prohibits filming during the Monday - Friday rush hours, when many stations are very busy. But they welcome visitors at quieter times - which means all day weekends plus Monday - Friday 10am - 4pm (10:00 - 16:00) and after 7.30pm (19:30).
Unfortunately, as on all railway systems there are some staff who make up their own rules and simply say "no".
Suggested sample rides
Many tourists like to take the DLR out of Bank station, sitting at the front and watching where they are going. At an absolute minimum you should travel at least as far as Canary Wharf. This station has 3 tracks, but 6 platforms. Every train opens its doors on both sides! Whilst Canary Wharf is at the heart of London's Docklands financial district there is also an indoor shopping mall which includes food courts and free toilets / restrooms. If you go to Crossharbour and walk alongside the railway northbound towards South Quay then you will pass a road junction (Marsh Wall South Quay and Limeharbour) where the elevated railway turns a sharp corner, and from near to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road it is possible to see (and photograph) both sides of the train simultaneously! Plus for added benefit you will see the train’s reflection in the glass wall building. This is easiest with triple-unit trains and at times of the year when the trees are not in leaf.
To increase system capacity and avoid travelling over a flat crossing, Monday - Friday daytime trains from Bank going to Lewisham use a specially built by-pass track which misses out West India Quay station; the ride is the nearest to a (low-speed) rollercoaster that public transport could ever offer, with the by-pass track threading its way over and then under existing lines.
Another popular destination is the historic Greenwich area; for the ‘touristy’ sights you want Cutty Sark station (which is deep underground) and because many trains are now longer than when the station was built (in other words - the platforms are shorter than some of the trains) you should avoid being at the front or back of the train if travelling to here. However, railfans may prefer to travel to Greenwich station, which is a Victorian-era station with 4 platforms that is also served by SouthEastern trains (from Cannon Street and London Bridge mainline stations) and was rebuilt to create space for the DLR trains. South of Greenwich the line is elevated and twists and turns as it follows a river valley. Especially when looking out of the window on the left (travelling south) many historic wharfs and other light industrial sites can be seen, although some of these may be disused. Elverson Road station probably represents the nearest the DLR gets to being a street tramway. The DLR station at Lewisham is next to the mainline railway station; interchanging passengers will need to go through ticket gates - but obviously since you should have a valid ticket so this should not be a problem.
Having arrived here, if you then take a train (destination: Hayes) from Lewisham to Elmers End you can then also sample the Tramlink system. See the Tramlink page for further information. Although I have always been happy to pass through the Lewisham stations, this is a high crime area where I would NOT be happy walking about the streets, especially not with cameras visible.
|The DLR has expanded very considerably from the early days when it used single-unit trains. This triple-unit train is seen at Canary Wharf in what has become London's second financial centre. Out of sight behind me is the Jubilee Line station of the same name.||The ponds and water features in the rather twee park above Canary Wharf Jubilee Line station, with a DLR train passing by in the distance.|
|Canary Wharf DLR station as seen from one of the streets which passes below it and the back of a southbound train which has just departed from this station.
|Two DLR trains at Stratford International station.
This is near to the station used by Javelin trains from London
St Pancras station which travel on HS1 (High Speed 1).
|A DLR train at Pontoon Dock station, as seen from the Thames Barrier Park. Looking in the other direction it is possible to enjoy a grandstand view of the Thames Barrier!|
The Thames Barrier Park is free to enter. Its facilities include: the unique sunken garden seen in the image above-right, pleasant lawned areas to sit on, a childrens' playground, a small café and free toilets - which are very cramped and perhaps more suited to smaller people! NB: because of vandalism the toilets are only open when the café is open.
More information about the Thames Barrier Park can be found at these links:
|Thanks to the sharp curve it is possible to benefit from the rather unusual ability of seeing both sides of DLR trains as they pass
Harbour Exchange Square, which is between South Quay and Crossharbour stations. The glass wall building adds extra interest.
This southbound triple-unit train was photographed a little after midday, on a sunny winter day when the trees were not in leaf.
|Passing modern residential dwellings near East India station.
Depending on the type of English one speaks these could be
known as apartments, high-rise block of flats, condominiums...
Present-day DLR services
Over the years train services have varied slightly as the system has expanded; nowadays there are five primary routes, some of which overlap to provide multiple destinations from each station:-
*This will sound bizarre but services from Stratford International to Woolwich Arsenal or Beckton tend to alternate; one is operated during weekday rush hours and the other the rest of the time! At all times it is best to take the first train and change at Canning Town, if need be.
Tower Gateway station is a (short) walk from Tower Hill Underground and Fenchurch Street C2C railway stations. The station is distinctive because it has 2 platforms but just 1 track. To make life easier one platform is for arriving passengers and the other platform is for departing passengers. This is the only station in London which uses this system. The arrival platform is also a good photo-spot to watch trains on the nearby C2C service travelling to / from Fenchurch Street station.
At Stratford the two different DLR services use different sets of platforms - trains to Canary Wharf via Pudding Mill Lane use platforms 4a and 4b which are at the upper level at the western end of the station whilst trains to Beckton and Woolwich Arsenal use platform 17 which is at the lower level and next to the main station entrance. In the opposite direction these trains use platform 16 and travel to Stratford International station; this platform is next to the Jubilee Line platforms.
At Canning Town the two different DLR services use different sets of platforms - trains to or from Bank / Tower Gateway / Canary Wharf use platforms located directly above the Jubilee Line whilst trains to or from Stratford International use a totally separate island platform between the Jubilee Line and the bus station. This means that passengers travelling to stations on the Beckton and Woolwich Arsenal branches have a choice of two different platforms from which to catch their trains.
|Tower Gateway Station features a single track flanked by two platforms, one of which is dedicated to arriving passengers and the other to departing passengers.||An alternative and free way to cross the river Thames is via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. This view shows the southern entrance with the Docklands financial centre visible in the distance.|
The Greenwich foot tunnel is near to Island Gardens and Cutty Sark DLR stations. This marvel of Victorian engineering was built so that people who live in this part of south London could reach jobs in the docklands area without having to use the expensive and unreliable ferry boat. It opened in 1902 and is free to use. The southern entrance is very close to the Cutty Sark historic visitor attraction, and nearby are also the centre of Greenwich, the Greenwich Observatory and more. On hot summer days the 10 minute walk through the tunnel offers a cool refuge from the ferocious summer sun.
More information about the Greenwich Foot Tunnel can be found at these links:
|When the DLR extension to Lewisham was built the existing British Railways station at Greenwich was reconfigured to create space for the DLR trains to call within the existing platform area.
However only northbound DLR trains and southbound SouthEastern trains benefit from cross platform interchange.
|The view on the left shows a southbound SouthEastern Class 376 train plus a northbound DLR B07 train.||The view on the right shows a northbound SouthEastern Class 465 train plus a southbound DLR B90/B92/B2K train.|
|London City Airport (LCY) flight departure information on
the high level DLR platform at Canning Town station.
|A sculpture named Landed near to the ExCel Centre which is near Custom House station. See text below for more information.|
Close to the ExCel Exhibition Centre which is near Custom House DLR station (Beckton branch) is a 2009 sculpture by Les Johnson / Bronze Age Foundry in tribute to the history of the communities of the Royal Docks and the men who worked there between 1885 and 1983. It was funded by a charitable appeal supported by the Royal Docks (London) Trust who have a webpage at this link http://www.royaldockstrust.org.uk/ . The sculpture can be a challenge to photograph, especially on sunny days when shadows and the direction of the sun can get in the way.
Even on Sundays the DLR operates frequent services - typically every 10 minutes, or less. But before travelling it is always wise to check whether weekend engineering works mean that some of the system is closed.
The DLR also looked at - twice! - on the page about shared service routes and in the Stratford station section of the page about busier stations in zones 1-4 where there is a wider variety of trains to see. This includes a photograph showing the different locations of both sets of DLR platforms.
A C2C Class 357 train passes Shadwell station whilst an eastbound DLR train makes a station stop. This view is looking east, the trains are travelling west towards Fenchurch Street and Bank stations.
citytransportinfo is also here:
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