On 31 August 1987, the Docklands Light Railway began operation, serving a previously-neglected area of London which had undergone extensive redevelopment. Basically, a bit which was turned from a dump into the nice shiny business park you see today. You can call it ‘urban regeneration’ all you like, that’s the truth guys.
The initial DLR was comprised only of two routes, from Tower Gateway and Stratford to Island Gardens – however, before long it was soon expanded to the behemoth we see today, with extra terminals at Bank, Beckton, Woolwich Arsenal and Lewisham.
However, this is all detail – what really matters is that the DLR is brilliant, recently being named the second most-loved tube line on the entire network.
But why is it brilliant? Well, here’s 10 reasons.
10. The funky design of Tower Gateway
I like the fact that the DLR doesn’t sully itself with connecting directly to Tower Hill tube or the nearby Fenchurch Street station. When the DLR first opened, it meant that a trip over the road, through that bubble dome and up the escalators to the exciting new railway in the sky was like entering an impossibly glamorous new world. An impression which wore off a little as you went through Shadwell but still.
9. The space-age station that is Canary Wharf
It’s a station in the air and part of it is actually in a skyscraper. What more do you want?
8. Royal Victoria for the Cable Car
Yes, of course the cable car is a massive waste of money and total personal folly of our idiot former mayor Boris Johnson, but at least it is a pretty fun ride – even if does cost NINE QUID for a return – and the trusty old DLR will take you to the start of your ride. Yes, it probably is quicker just to get the DLR and Jubilee line from Royal Victoria to North Greenwich but still. Yes, not many people use it. ALRIGHT IT IS A BIT STUPID, FINE.
7. The Cutty Sark
Another cracking destination on the DLR, the Cutty Sark is, when all’s said and done, a great bit of boat, at least when it’s not on fire. Also, just down the road you’ve got the Greenwich Observatory and Greenwich Park, without doubt one of London’s top parks, although it only achieved a mid-table placing in our ranking of ‘parks ranked by how many terrible people you’ll find in them’. Some good boozers there too, and you start the marathon there which is very nice. Much to recommend it all round, and the DLR will take you there without so much as a single complaint.
6. The bit like a rollercoaster near Poplar
Wide-eyed, you’ve got on at Tower Gateway, you can’t believe there’s no driver (more on that later), you’re outside, you gawp with amazement at Canary Wharf in the distance and then – HELLO – what’s this? Whoah, there’s loads of line crossing over each other, and WHOAH we’re going uphill and now HANG ON we’re twisting round some tight corners (the tightest curves in operation on the railway, fact fans) and DON’T BOTHER BOOKING ALTON TOWERS THIS YEAR MUM, JUST GET ME AN OYSTER CARD AND I’LL JUST RIDE THE DLR ALL SUMMER.
5. Abbey Road (no, not that one)
Imagine travelling over from Japan or wherever, thinking “Yes, we really must visit Abbey Road while we’re in England”, not really doing your homework and ending up at the wrong one, in the diametrically opposite end of London. Well, two things: one, at least the good DLR people make this sort of amusing poster to gently inform you of your mistake and two: you’ve accidentally ended up on the best line on the underground the riding of which is more fun than listening to the Beatles, so you’re the real winner.
4. East India Station
Do you know, I always thought this was called East India Dock station. I’ve literally only just discovered that the ‘dock’ is not part of the station name. If TfL aren’t careful they’ll end up with another ‘Abbey Road’ on their hands and let me tell you a cheery poster will not do much to deal with the anger of someone who thought they were going to Chennai. Anyway, I digress, this station is brilliant because the historic Greenwich Prime Meridian runs through the Eastbound platform (marked by an illuminated blue line underneath the tracks at street level), so you can stand on both the Western and Eastern hemispheres. Although of course the Prime Meridian is not the actual Meridian as they got their sums wrong – that’s 117 metres further east, between Neutron Tower and Switch House. Still, meridians, they all count don’t they, as the famous saying goes.
3. London City Airport
The gentlemen’s airport; truly is there a better way to travel than DLR, then out of London City? No EasyJet or Ryanair punters to put up with (yes, obviously most of time you fly EasyJet and Ryanair, but you don’t class yourself as one of them do you) you’re in and out like a flash, pausing only to pick up your copy of the Financial Times. God you’re sophisticated aren’t you. You’re a winner. Fly the friendly skies, ride the DLR: this is what maketh a man.
2. The rollercoaster bit when you go underground towards Bank
OK so the Poplar bit is brilliant. But as you leave Shadwell (thank god), heading west, the excitement builds, for the final stretch into Bank bit has that added frisson of danger; hurtling into the dark, into the unknown, the wind howling past your ears, just like you’re on an underground Nemesis (MUM HONESTLY I DON’T CARE IF THEY’RE DOING 20% OFF WITH THE VOUCHERS, WE DON’T NEED TO BOTHER GOING THIS YEAR). Now, of course, in the cold light of day (or the warm dark of the Tube), what’s actually happening here is that you’re essentially just now on a normal Tube, but don’t listen to the haters, the whole point is that it feels wrong. A DLR train underground, out of its natural environment. Like a dog with a cat’s face. But it feels so right. Not, admittedly, like a dog with a cat’s face, that’s just wrong. Subs, can you change that reference, it doesn’t work. Thanks.
1. Driving the train
Honestly, what else did you expect?
It is perfectly acceptable to push kids out of the way to be able to sit at the front and pretend you’re the driver. They’ll get their chance when they’re older and stronger. This is your time and you are getting this goddam train to its destination. Pro tip, it’s 100% worth sitting at the back of the train, going in the opposite direction to the way you ultimately want to go, getting to the terminus, and then claiming the throne at the very back, which becomes the front when it goes back the other way.
Also brilliant in and of itself: sitting at the back looking out. So good that people have written poetry about it. You don’t get that with the District Line do you.