The London Docklands is the name given to some areas of eastern and south-eastern London. Till the middle of the 20th century, the Docklands was where the various docks and dockyards used to be. Though the docks were originally built and managed by a number of private companies (for example, East India, West India, etc.), it was not till 1909 that it all came under the management of the Port of London Authority.
Today, the area is a mix of the commercial and the residential, and old housing estates and newer steel and glass structures as a result of massive efforts at redevelopment of an area that used to be predominantly labour class. The introduction of the Docklands Light Railway or DLR in 1987 fulled the development of an area that did not have good transport connectivity. The Docklands area has always been a trade hub for centuries; today, it is a hub of a different kind—the central business district of London is located here.
The DLR is a fully automated light metro or light rail system to exclusively serve the Docklands area of London. It is quite distinct from the London Underground, and is also part of Transport for London. During my year’s stay in London in 2008–2009, I remained ignorant of the DLR largely because the Tube Bus took care of most of my travel requirements and I rarely travelled to the Docklands area.
Then one day, while returning to Central London from a day trip to Greenwich, the DLR turned out to be the most convenient mode of travel, and to use a clichéd term, travel was never the same again. It is a trip that I still remember, as a very different London emerged through that journey, very distinct from the Victorian and Georgian London that I had come to associate London with and love.
Such was my fascination for the DLR, that on one rainy and cloudy day, I spent a few hours travelling by the DLR, getting off at stations that caught my fancy and exploring the Docklands area on foot. I saw a very different London that day. A quieter London, steel and glass apartments, residences converted from warehouses, an airport by the river, colourful buildings, and so much more.
Presenting a sampling from that lovely day of a very different London courtesy the DLR journey that I took in July 2009 !
With very few exceptions, all DLR stations are small, compact and functional. The Tower Gateway DLR Station hardly seemed like a terminus with just 2 platforms and it was deserted.
The trains were empty when I travelled in the early afternoon, but this was not the case in the evening, when I got caught in the office rush hour. These trains are a class apart—they are completely automated, and that means that these trains have no drivers. It has one of the most advanced automated railway systems in the world and has a practically accident-free reputation.
Since the DLR trains I travelled in were empty and do not have drivers, I got a chance to sit at what would have been the driver’s seat. The next two pictures are taken from that perspective.
I also shot a video of the journey from Limehouse to Westferry Station, which you can see below. This has been shot from what would have been, I guess, the driver’s seat if there had been a driver in the first place. The tall buildings that you can see in the background are the iconic buildings in the Canary Wharf area.
One of my favourite DLR stations is Royal Albert, as it has a very picturesque location—on the banks of the Thames. And across the river is the London City Airport. I spent a very happy hour there watching and photographing planes land and take off. From what I could make out, the London City Airport has a single runway and planes often had to, literally, wait in queue before taking off. Swissair, British Airways and Air France were the 3 airlines observed here.
The East India Quay DLR Station is another station where one can see dramatic views of the redevelopment happening in this part of London, with factories and warehouses either being demolished or renovated for residential purposes.
The DLR stations in the Central Business District are a symphony of steel and glass and very corporate with some stunning architecture, colour combinations and the textures. The results are simply awesome.
It had just finished raining when I reached the Limehouse area. The sun, clouds, the deserted boats made for an interesting photo-op.
I hate comparisons, but as I walked through the London Docklands and travelled by the DLR, I couldn’t help but compare it with Navi Mumbai and the Central Railway’s Harbour Line in Mumbai. The very first picture in this post reminds me of part of Navi Mumbai, until one looks closer and sees the dirt and grime and the poorly maintained structures in Navi Mumbai. As for the second comparison, the areas that the Harbour Line passes by in Mumbai have a rich heritage and history but you wouldn’t know it as the stations don’t display it, the trains don’t show it, and the travellers don’t care as they are too busy getting from point A to B. What a waste !
I’m sorry, I got a little sidetracked, but the above comparison was inevitable and unconsciously done.
I would love to see what this area has become today, 3 years after I saw it. The London Docklands would be a hotspot of activity right now with the 2012 London Olympics and the DLR would be stretched to capacity transporting people to the various events being held in East and Southeast London.
PS: do tell me about your impressions of the different London seen through this post. And if you have travelled by the DLR, then please share your experiences here.