The Docklands Light Railway is ageing now and there’s a tussle with central government over whether TfL can get the money it needs for upgrades


The Docklands Light Railway, overshadowed somewhat by the shiny new Elizabeth Line, might suffer further ignominy at the hands of Transport for London’s “managed decline” scenario – possibly hitting service reliability.

“Managed decline” is an emergency response to the devastating hit on TfL’s finances. This came about with Covid, which pushed ticket sale revenue to crisis point, and then the subsequent work-from-home culture which has reduced passenger numbers.

TfL has been unable to squeeze much help from central government which is seemingly playing politics – Tory transport secretary Grant Shapps keen to show Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan who is boss.

Despite the £5billion emergency grant, the Mayor and TfL says it’s simply not enough. In response, Mr Shapps has accused the mayor of making false claims about the imact of cuts.

So TfL is looking around to see where savings can be made – savings that don’t impact on customer safety.

DLR shows signs of ageing

Step forward the plucky old DLR which is beginning to show signs of ageing. New rolling stock was bought before the crisis hit but the signalling system and autonomous driving system is beginning to show its age.

A paper put before the TfL Programmes and Investment Committee TfL committee meeting, to be held on Wednesday (July 20), comments, “The equipment was the forerunner to later systems installed on the London Underground. We are working with the supply chain to identify how best to keep these systems in an operational condition as parts and software become increasingly difficult to support.”

There’s a bid for £40million to be approved for various projects related to the DLR line but much depends the government’s next move.

The paper says, “If additional funding is not available, a prioritisation of the TfL Investment Programme will be required, and some programmes and projects will not be taken forward and revised authority will be sought as appropriate.”

The government next sits down with TfL at the end of the month to thrash out a longer term settlement.

A TfL spokesman said, “We continue to discuss our funding requirements with the Government. There is no UK recovery from the pandemic without a London recovery and there is no London recovery without a properly funded transport network in the capital.

“It is essential London receives the sustained long-term Government funding that is vital for the coming years if a period of ‘managed decline’ of London’s transport network is to be avoided.” 

Other Royal Docks projects

  • A tender has been issued for “concept design” for Pontoon Dock station and consultants have been appointed to review work on the new Thames Wharf Station between Canning Town and West Silvertown (near the Limmo peninsula).
  • “Another asset group that has declined below standard without investment,” says the paper, “Are DLR’s lifts and escalators. Over the next two years a substantial programme of renewals and overhauls is planned.”
  • Meanwhile, millions will be set aside to investigate the lamentable state of the Woolwich Ferries which are unreliable, often leading to a one-boat service, tailbacks and frustrations. The money will go towards increased resilience after work has been carried out to improve the mooring system.