The DLR has a new map – with line colours on it!

A test ride at South Quay in July 1987. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

The Docklands Light Railway may well be worrying that its youth is behind it, and debating whether it’s time to leave London – for this month, the DLR turns 30.

The first passenger trains ran on the network ran on 31 August 1987, and at the time the system was much smaller than it is now: just two branches, from Island Gardens up to Stratford and Tower Gateway respectively. Even those lines had fewer stops than they have now: Pudding Mill Lane (1996), Langdon Park (2006) and, most important, Canary Wharf (1991) didn’t come until later.

Thirty years on, the network has tripled in size, in terms of both route length (from 13km up to 38km), and stations (from 15 to 45). Its tentacles now stretch to Bank and Lewisham, Woolwich and Beckton. There’s even a second route to Stratford, because you can never have too many. (That, at least, seems to be the core principle of London transport planning over the last few decades.)

All this has made for a more complex and confusing network than the 1987 version. So to celebrate the DLR’s birthday, Transport for London has produced a new map. Here you go:

You probably want to click to expand this. Image: TfL.

Two things about the map jump out at me. The smaller one is that hatched chunk of line at the very bottom, which shows that southbound trains from Bank to Lewisham skip West India Quay.

This has been happening for some time: a new section of track opened as part of network capacity upgrades completed in 2009 bypasses the station altogether. But most maps have tended to ignore the fact because, well, it’s difficult to illustrate and West India Quay is a five minute walk from both Poplar to Canary Wharf, so it doesn’t matter very much. This is – correct me if I’m wrong – the first network map that illustrates the bypass graphically, rather than with a footnote.

The bigger change is the introduction of line colours. I have very vague memories of this being a thing on some maps in the early 90s – Beckton was blue, Stratford was red and Bank was green, I think – but this is the first time it’s happened this century.

The line colours are helpful in communicating whether you can get a direct train between two specific stations. And while I instinctively dislike the way they’ve done it, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that the designers are a lot cleverer than me.

Look at all that lovely green. Image: TfL.

My instinct, you see, stems from my long-standing belief that the Northern line of the tube should be broken up into two separate lines, one running via Charing Cross and the other via Bank. Knowing which bit of central London your train is going to seems to me to be more important than knowing which suburb it ends up in.

The DLR designers took a different approach, colouring the lines based on which bit of suburbia they end up in to the south or east. That, in this case, actually makes more sense. Partly that’s because there isn’t really a DLR equivalent of the “oops, I wanted a Bank train” trap for tourists: the destination station alone should give you enough information, without any of that ‘via’ nonsense.


And partly it’s because the DLR doesn’t really serve central London: you’re more likely to want to know if your train will go to Canary Wharf, City Airport or Excel, three stations which are, helpfully, served by three different colours.

Or partly – I’m not ruling this out – I’m wrong about the northern line.

My only other complaint about this map is that the shades of green inescapably bring to mind three slightly different flavour mints.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.