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.