Starting from Scratch - the development of transport in London Docklands (1997)
Part II: The Detailed
Part II - Contents
6. The Jubilee
Line story - this page
(Note: This Monograph has been reproduced by kind permission of the Commission for the New Towns now known as English Partnerships. It is published for general interest and research purposes only and may not be reproduced for other purposes except with the permission of English Partnerships who now hold the copyright of LDDC publications)
6. The Jubilee Line Story
Large Illustrations and Tables
Figures 15 - 18:
The first proposals for a new Tube Line into South-East London had their origins in the British Transport Commission London Plan Working Party Report of 1949. In the years that followed, however, the main priority for London Transport was the construction of the new Victoria Line. It was only when this was under construction in the mid 1960s, that attention was switched to what was then called the Fleet Line. This was to be constructed in four stages, taking over the Stanmore branch of the Metropolitan Line and connecting it to Charing Cross as the first stage, extending this to Fenchurch Street as the second, possibly running on to Lewisham via Surrey Docks as the third, and finally to Addiscombe as a fourth stage. (Fig 14 - 108kb)
Parliamentary powers were granted for the first stage in 1969, and after funding was secured from the Government and the GLC, work started on the construction of the first section of the new route, from Baker Street to Charing Cross. in 1971. The line was subsequently renamed the Jubilee Line in recognition of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, the expected opening date. In fact the Jubilee Line opened on 1st May 1979.
Improving connections to Docklands
By the early 1970s the need for improved connections for Docklands was beginning to be recognised. The 1973 Docklands Study, undertaken by Travers Morgan for the Department of the Environment and the GLC, looked at possible rail connections in the light of the development considered likely. This study came to the conclusion that the needs of Docklands could be met with the construction of a lower cost 'Minitram' system from Fenchurch Street, linking in with the proposed second stage extension of the Jubilee Line (Fig 15 - 108kb) This, the first precursor of the DLR, would link areas north and south of the river. and could ultimately have been extended to Barking and Thamesrnead, with three new river crossings.
However, the idea of a full scale underground connection was not abandoned and the 1974 London Rail Study undertaken by the DoE, GLC, BR and LT promoted the River Line, an extension of the Jubilee Line from Fenchurch Street to Thamesmead. This was considered to have advantages over a less conventional system such as 'Minitram' because of the use of proven technology, and the integration with the rest of the Underground network. It also avoided problems associated with the acquisition of surface rights of way.
The proposed line would include five new river crossings and would link Surrey Docks, the Isle of Dogs, the Blackwall Peninsula,the Royal Docks, Woolwich and Thamesmead. The route is shown on figure 16 (108kb). The Study gave a higher priority to an extension of the Jubilee Line eastwards to Thamesmead rather than south to Lewisharn and on to Hayes and Addiscombe.
The idea was taken up by the Docklands Joint Committee, and after a period of consultation and review, especially as to whether the new link should be a Tube, tram or bus, the Underground scheme was endorsed in the 1976 London Docklands Strategic Plan. The proposals included two options east of Custom House in the Royals: one taking a northerly route through Beckton and then direct to Thamesmead and the other taking a southerly line through Silvertown and Woolwich Arsenal before reaching Thamesrnead. (Fig 16 - 108kb)
The project in abeyance
By the late 1970s the Government was under increasing pressure to cut spending. In 1979 the Government asked the GLC to develop ideas for a lower cost alternative, and in 1980 after further review the 1976 proposals were abandoned. The search was on for a cheaper option which would still allow the regeneration of the Docklands area. The proposals for the DLR grew out of this study, which eventually led to the approval of the initial railway in 1982.
Strategic thinking about mass transit links for East London continued. In Public Transport-the Next Ten Years published in 1985, the GLC investigated a proposal to extend the Jubilee Line along the southern side of the Thames, largely using the rail corridor from Surrey Docks to Abbey Wood. This is shown on Figure 17 (108kb). This did not in the end form part of the study's recommendations, which did, however, include the extension of the DLR from Custom House to Woolwich and Thamesmead.
More proposals and studies
During 1985, however, the proposals for Canary Wharf were also taking shape.
As these unfolded it became increasingly clear that with the scale and type of activity now proposed for Docklands the capacity of the DLR would need to be increased, and that a better link from Docklands to the City was also required. The result was that the DLR City extension was approved in 1987 and opened in 1991, together with a fourfold expansion of the capacity of the railway. This involved increasing the rolling stock, lengthening the platforms to accommodate double car trains, and strengthening the structure of the viaducts. By 1988 the construction of Canary Wharf was giving a fresh impetus to development proposals elsewhere in the area and a further high capacity link to central London was needed. In particular a direct link to the main line BR terminals of Waterloo and London Bridge was considered important to give rapid access to travellers from the south, south east and south west.
The first response to this was a proposal in early 1988 to extend the Bakerloo Line from Waterloo to Canary Wharf via either London Bridge or Bricklayers Arms. This could then be extended with two branches; one to Stratford and possibly Tottenham Hale and the second via East India/Brunswick to the Royals. This is set out in Figure 18 - 108kb. Political difficulties were anticipated because of the diversion of the Line away from its present South London terminus at Elephant and Castle, and proposals were then developed later in the year by Canary Wharf developers Olympia & York for a stand-alone railway from Waterloo to Canary Wharf and Westcombe Park.
This would be capable of extension and was regarded by the promoters as a possible core for a future high speed east-west regional metro. (Fig 19 - 115kb). O&Y offered significant funding contributions to London Transport at this time to help pay for this line.
At the same time as these proposals were being developed to improve access to Docklands, a separate exercise, the Central London Rail Study (CLRS), undertaken by the Department of Transport, British Rail Network South East, London Regional Transport, and London Underground, was looking at the problems caused by the rapid growth of employment and rail traffic into Central London. This increased traffic had resulted in congestion and overcrowding on many of the routes into London, particularly from the east. The CLRS considered an extension of the Jubilee line via Ludgate either to London Bridge or to Stratford and then llford or Hainault. (Fig 20 - 115kb). As a solution to the problems of Central London, these had low benefits and did not compare well with alternatives such as CrossRail; but it was recognised that an extension of the Jubilee line through Docklands via different route options could be an attractive alternative to the stand-alone rail line proposed. These were then examined in a further study, the East London Rail Study (ELRS) commissioned by the DoT, following a statement by the then Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Channon, in January 1989, in which he announced initiatives to improve transport to Docklands. (Fig 21 - 115kb).
The East London Rail Study
The ELRS was set up to examine the best options for improving rail access from Central London to Docklands and East Thameside. In particular, it was to consider whether this should be developed as a stand-alone option or directly connected to the rest of the rail network, and what alignment should be chosen, particularly between Charing Cross and London Bridge, and at the eastern end of the route.
Although there would be some advantages in a stand-alone route through the introduction of new management and technology, and possibly a new type of rolling stock, these were considered to be outweighed by the advantages of connection to the rest of the network, particularly for passengers, who would not have to interchange at the western end of the route. It was also advantageous to use existing depot facilities. Proposals for an extension of the existing Jubilee line (the most recent tube line to have been built in London) came out of these conclusions. There were two options for the proposed Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) alignment through Central London. (Fig 22 - 106kb)
In passenger and cost terms there was little difference between these two Central London options, although the route via Waterloo gave somewhat greater relief to overcrowding in the central area. However, development interests outside the City of London were almost unanimous in their support for the Waterloo route, in part because of the importance of Waterloo station as a terminal for commuters (accounting for 20 per cent of BR arrivals in central London), and as the terminal for cross-Channel rail traffic.
East of Canning Town, options existed to take the route north to Stratford or east to the Royals and Woolwich, and possibly on to Thamesmead, or even both. However, the route to Stratford, already an important transport node, would attract substantially more traffic and would be cheaper than the route through the Royal Docks.
The only remaining choice outstanding at this stage was for the section between Canary Wharf and Canning Town where options existed north of the river via Brunswick/East India and south via North Greenwich. The North Greenwich route would open up the Blackwall peninsula in a part of Greenwich which is particularly inaccessible, where at that time development of up to 9,000 homes was proposed. British Gas had also offered to make a significant contribution to the cost of the new station (as had developers at Leamouth in respect of the alternative station at Brunswick). The North Greenwich station would also provide an access point to the railway for bus and car travellers from south of the river and would thus help to balance the flows on the line. It would also relieve the busy Blackwall Tunnel, and provide two further crossings of the river. The southern route was therefore chosen, and provision was made for safeguarding a station at North Greenwich.
Understandably the developers and interests groups in the Leamouth area were strongly opposed to the choice of the Greenwich route, and campaigned vigorously against it. LDDC, however, on balance supported the southern alignment, seeing that it provided a further valuable strategic connection to south London, and would also help regenerate the Greenwich peninsula.
In addition, although a route through the Royal Docks to Woolwich was not given a high priority initially, it was recognised that this might be desirable at some future date. Provision was therefore made for an underground junction at North Greenwich, to allow for a future extension to the Royals.
Demise of Olympia & York
After the study was concluded, only a short time remained for the preparation and deposit of a Parliamentary Bill by November 1989. After a concentrated effort by the project team a Parliamentary Bill was submitted in 1989 for which Royal Assent was received in 1992.
An important component of the package was a large contribution from Olympia & York towards the costs of the scheme, in recognition of the development benefits that would arise at Canary Wharf. However when the first payment of £40 million became due in April 1992, Olympia & York were in financial difficulties and the banks appointed administrators.
Without a private sector contribution the Government would not authorise the project, and the scheme stalled. All through the remainder of 1992 and 1993, discussions continued among the various parties in an attempt to break the deadlock. London Underground held together the design team to allow for a rapid resumption of the project when the funding issues were resolved.
An interesting diversion that came and then went away again during this period was a proposal to relocate a substantial number of civil servants in Docklands out of the headquarters of the Departments of Environment and of Transport in Marsham Street.
In mid 1992 the creditor banks for O&Y offered £100 million, but in November 1992 the Government again reaffirmed that its decision to proceed with the JLE would depend on the previously agreed contribution of £400 million being met in full.
Negotiations on bringing O&Y out of administration to allow this contribution to be provided continued up until Autumn 1993. Eventually following a High Court decision dismissing an objection to the move, Canary Wharf came out of administration, and the banks were able to organise a loan from the European Investment Bank to fund the contribution.
On 29 October 1993 the Government finally gave the go-ahead for the scheme. Construction started almost immediately and by the beginning of December, there were clear physical signs that at long last the project was under way.
The building of the line is scheduled to take 59 months, giving a completion date in Autumn 1998. At the time of writing September 1998 is still the target date for opening. Although this is a six month slippage on the original completion date, the times are still an exceptional achievement for such a complex tunnelling project.
The new railway
The new railway will provide a high capacity fast connection between the Isle of Dogs and the centre of London and the important gateway of Stratford. Journey times between Canary Wharf and London Bridge will be 7 minutes and between Canary Wharf and Waterloo, with its Channel Tunnel Terminal, 11 minutes.
The line will also have wider benefits for London in terms of bringing the Underground to areas of London previously unserved, such as North Greenwich and Bermondsey, and improving access from London Bridge and Waterloo to Westminster and the West End.
The construction of the new railway was seen as an opportunity for imaginative station designs, in keeping with the importance of the railway. One feature will be the incorporation of platform doors to improve safety and comfort on the underground stations, which will be a first for the network.
Twelve of Britain's most talented architects have been asked to create ,a new architecture', strikingly different from the previous generation of station design. The resulting stations will be worthy of London as a world city.
7. The Docklands Light Railway Story
The birth of the DLR
Large Illustrations and Tables
Tables 2/3: Initial Evaluation
and Jobs Forecast 1982
The birth of the DLR
By the time the LDDC was set up the plans of the 1960s and 1970s for Underground extensions to East London had faded, and LRT, LDDC and the GLC set up a working party to consider other ways of improving public transport. This time there was a consensus that light rail was the preferred option, although there were differences between LRT, LDDC and the GLC about the type of system it should be.
What type of system?
LDDC's preference was for a highly visible, automated, driverless system with a futuristic image, such as had been successfully commissioned in the USA and Canada. LRT favoured a more low key, functional, simple system, with tram type vehicles and a minimum of new, untested technology. The GLC wanted a local railway, particularly serving existing residential communities. There were, therefore, different views on the routeing, the extent of street running, and choice of technology. Combining these three different visions for what was to become the Docklands Light Railway (Fig 24 - 89kb) into a single project produced some dilemmas.
Several routes were examined, including some with a significant length of street running, and these were compared with a base network of express buses. In the event the practical possibilities narrowed to a choice between two routes - an east to west route from the edge of the City to the Isle of Dogs and a north to south route from Mile End to the Island. This latter route included about 1.5 km of street running on the busy A 11, one of the main radial routes into London from the east.
What the railway could do for development
As had happened earlier in the 1960s and 1970s, it was found that neither route was likely to be justified on transport benefits alone and a case had to be built around the effects the railway would have on creating the development it was designed to serve. Site by site analysis of key areas adjoining the railway was carried out by the LDDC to establish the likely development with and without the railway. From this work two features emerged. First, it was strongly believed that the railway could stimulate different kinds of development, for example high employment, high value industries rather than warehousing and distribution, and second, that the two alternative routes would perform rather different functions. The east-west route would provide the link between Docklands and the City. This would be of benefit to existing and future residents and also establish a link which might encourage City related businesses to consider locating in Docklands.
The north-south route would provide a link from the main residential areas of north east London into the proposed employment areas of the Isle of Dogs.
The two routes were complementary rather than alternatives and a case for both was agreed.
The total cost of the two schemes was £65m. Table 2 (96kb) is part of the key table from the evaluation in the report of the working group - Public Transport Provision For Docklands.
The Green Report, as it became known, was submitted to Government in Summer 1982 and to the surprise of many, by the Autumn the Government had given the go ahead.
The then Secretary of State for Transport, Nicholas Ridley, specified however that the railway had to be built within a £77 million total project outturn cost cash limit. This cash limit was to have a strong influence on the form of contract for building the railway at a later stage.
From plans to project
The project then had to move quickly from a planning exercise to becoming a real railway. The first step was to try to reconcile the different visions of the clients. At an early stage the street running option was abandoned. Because of the timeframe for EZ benefits it was seen as vital that the railway should open within five years, (1987) and the street running option could have jeopardised this timescale. In any case LDDC believed that street operation would remove the opportunity to have an automated system, and this would not be right for the area, or have the right image. All parties were also concerned about the constraints imposed by having to choose a system which was compatible with road traffic.
An alternative was put forward to route the railway to Stratford, using an existing British Rail (BR) right of way. This also had the advantage of linking in with BR Eastern Region and the Central Line, and was accepted by all as the preferred option over Mile End.
It was also decided at this stage to provide staff on the trains but not at stations. If stations had had to be staffed, station costs would have doubled because of the need to provide facilities for staff, and in a number of locations there would simply not have been room for this.
There was therefore a real choice to be made between a railway with only a few staffed stations, and a railway with at least double the number of unstaffed stations. Not only did capital and operating costs influence this decision but also the effects on accessibility. The cash limit restricted the extent to which the east to west route could provide a good interchange with the Underground at Tower Hill. It was therefore important that the railway gave good accessibility at the Docklands end of the journey, and the decision was therefore taken to have unstaffed stations in order to maximise the number of stations which could be built and to introduce security cameras at all stations.
A study was undertaken to identify the best locations for stations, taking account of existing and future catchments and opportunities for interchange, particularly with buses. The number of stations which could be afforded was uncertain and priorities had to be established. Inevitably there were conflicting views on the balance between serving existing communities and the development areas. In the end sixteen stations were agreed, and two were safeguarded for construction in the future (Carmen Street and Pudding Mill Lane).
Another important principle established at this stage was that all stations and trains should allow for disabled access. This meant that lifts and ramps were available at all stations, and trains were designed with platform height floors. DLR was the first British public transport system where this approach had been taken.
These various decisions were made during 1983 and the early part of 1984, during which time two Private Bills were submitted to Parliament seeking powers to acquire the land to build the railway and operate it.
Design - build
In parallel it was decided to adopt a design-build approach to the contract in order to maximise the benefits of competition in getting the provision of the most facilities within the budget. Above all, the cash limits meant that a cost overrun was out of the question, and this approach was the best means to avoid it.
The design build contract was completed, and the railway opened in 1987, on schedule and having been built within budget. There were problems, however. The race to complete on time had left elements of the computerised control system and the new rolling stock inadequately tested, and it became obvious that the time allowed for testing and commissioning of the new computer system had been underestimated. None of the problems was insuperable, but it was a sensitive issue when the railway had to be closed immediately after the official opening by HRH Queen Elizabeth II to allow further testing to be done.
The DLR effect
The DLR was the first significant transport infrastructure to be built in Docklands for decades. The start of its construction in 1984 itself stimulated development in Docklands. This stimulus was reinforced by the time limited EZ benefits, the expansion of many City businesses in the run up to Big Bang, and the national development boom. There was a rapid growth in activity in the Docklands property market, culminating in 1987 with the signing of the Canary Wharf development agreement.
The 10 million sq. ft. office development originally proposed was, in itself, greater than the total initial forecasts of development on the Isle of Dogs. It rapidly became evident that the capacity of the initial railway, at around 1600 passengers per hour (in each direction) on each branch, was far from adequate to meet the growing demand forecasts. As a consequence of this, major upgrading of the railway was commissioned, involving strengthening and lengthening of platforms to accommodate two car trains, upgrading of the signalling system, and an extension west to the heart of the City at Bank.
The planning and justification of the Beckton Extension
The Corporation had from the outset intended to serve the Royal Docks, Leamouth, and Beckton by extending the Docklands Light Railway eastwards, and in 1985 options for the route to Beckton were examined in detail. (Fig 25 - 51kb).
There were two key questions to be answered:
The essence of the proposal was to extend the DLR eastwards from Poplar to Cyprus and Beckton via Custom House. The objectives were to complete a relatively low cost rapid transit spine linking the majority of the residential and development sites together and completing a direct connection to the City.
River Lea Crossing
There were 3 options for the route alignment in crossing the River Lea. (Fig 25 - 51kb) The Corporation selected Route B, on the basis that it was quicker, would produce less visual clutter at Canning Town, and would best serve the sites at Leamouth, Limmo and Thames Wharf, which were difficult to access.
The London Borough of Newham, however, favoured Route A because it served a larger residential catchment directly within 600 metres of a station, and could tap feeder bus services on the Barking Road and the A13. (Route A1 was an early version of Route A)
The choice of route over this section was eventually settled by a Parliamentary Committee, which found in favour of the London Borough of Newham, and this route was thus adopted.
East of Custom House
East of Custom House there were essentially 3 options.
Option C made use of the old coke line route running from Connaught to Beckton with the section through the park running in tunnel. This was favoured by Newham, but was not liked by the majority of residents.
Option D, paralleling the alignment with Strait Road, was preferred by the Corporation, as it was felt to be better both on development and environmental grounds. A majority (57%) of residents also favoured this route, although many were still worried about the impact of the railway on the adjacent housing areas.
Option E, for a line to North Woolwich, serving the airport, could not be justified in its own right as it would have generated far less passengers than either of the other two options, and was also potentially extremely expensive.
It was therefore considered, briefly, as an additional spur to the main route, but the passenger levels were still too low to justify the capital cost. The airport at this time had a projected maximum throughput of 1.2 million passengers per year, and this would only have generated a maximum of 200 DLR passengers per hour during the peak hours.
Providing a spur would also have diluted the level of service on the main Beckton branch, where passenger projections were much higher, and this was not felt to be justified.
An additional factor was that at the time when decisions were being taken on this issue, in 1986, the airport was under construction, and safeguarding for a DLR station under the airport terminal was not favoured by the airport developers Mowlem, who were working hard to achieve their target opening date in 1987. Nor were the developers prepared to make any financial contribution to such a spur.
The Bill for the Beckton Extension was finally deposited in November 1986, and after being interrupted by the General Election of 1987, and subject to a Parliamentary Committee hearing on the Canning Town Route, it finally received Royal Assent in July 1989, with construction starting in January 1990. The railway began carrying passengers in March 1994 initially on a shuttle service between Poplar and Beckton.
Discussions about the funding of the new line were long and difficult. Whilst the initial railway had been jointly and equally funded by LRT, as successor to the GLC, and LDDC, the Department of Transport were not prepared to allow LRT to part fund the Beckton Extension and the Corporation was left to make a case to Government based solely on the development case for the line. This was despite the high transport benefits, as well as regeneration benefits demonstrated for the line.
The LDDC therefore spent a year making a case to Government on this basis. The 'with' and 'without' railway scenarios assumed varying policy objectives, assessments of what the market would be likely to achieve, and were quantified in terms of numbers of jobs created, and increases to the value of land in public ownership.
Table 4 (89kb) shows the scenarios used to test the case for the line. Case D was eventually agreed as the basis for the scheme, and approval was finally given by Government to deposit the Bill in November 1986. LRT agreed to act as LDDC's agent for the scheme.
Further changes to the system
There were two major problems with the DLR system which were also being examined throughout the period 1987 -1989. These were:
Both of these system characteristics had been identified as major constraints to the capacity of the system.
North Quay Delta Junction
The Delta Junction was an elevated, tightly curved, at-grade junction, at the very heart of the DLR system, through which all trains had to pass. Changing the Delta Junction to separate out all the conflicting train movements would:
Decisions were difficult, but eventually the junction upgrading was agreed, a Parliamentary Bill to obtain the necessary powers was deposited in November 1989. Construction started in 1991, and was completed in June 1993.
Changing from Fixed Block signalling to Moving Block
The debate about the need to change the DLR's signalling system was protracted.
Moving block had not been used before by London Transport, and was relatively unknown to them. Olympia & York, who had a large stake in ensuring that the DLR could deliver the service capacity that O&Y had paid for, were convinced that a moving block signalling system such as that which controlled the Vancouver Skytrain would provide a more reliable and more frequent service than fixed block ever could.
The basic difference between the two systems is as follows:
The technical arguments went on for some time, but in the end London Transport decided to change the whole system to moving block. It was not an easy option. It was to mean changing the Beckton contract, and using this contract to retro-fit the initial railway with the new system.
It was also recognised that making the moving block system work on a railway as operationally complicated as DLR would not be simple. (Subsequently London Underground have chosen moving block technology for both the new Jubilee Line Extension and the upgrading of the Northern line.)
The DLR was Britain's first automated light rail transit system with computer operated driverless trains. A number of things made the first years of operation between 1987 and 1991 particularly difficult.
First, the amount of time needed to commission and debug a computer operated system of this kind had been seriously underestimated. Whilst a reasonable assessment had been made of the time needed to complete and snag the more conventional civil engineering work, the unfamiliarity of the new computer controlled train system meant that that the effort needed to test it fully and make it work had been underestimated.
Second, because new contracts were let for the upgrading and extension of the system before the defects liability periods and snagging of the initial contract had expired,(the stations, structures and the train control and signalling system were all being upgraded) there was a diffusion of responsibilities which made it very hard for the DLR management team to allocate responsibility to a particular contractor when the final system still had problems.
Finally, the pressure of use by commuters from the outset meant that DIR had little opportunity to recover from setbacks and test the system during down-time to overcome problems. The upgrading of the railway, the extension to Bank, and the addition of the Beckton extension and the new Delta junction meant that weekend and evening closures were needed for possessions by contractors. DLR were not able to use the railway for testing at these times, and to compound the problem inevitable omissions and errors by the contractors often left the railway in a faulty state when passenger services were resumed.
The contract for the initial DLR placed responsibility for design and build with one contractor under a turnkey arrangement. All the subsequent expansion and extension of the railway was carried out with a variety of contractors, however, and DLR's own management had to assume responsibility for systems integration for all these other contracts. Whilst the DLR team were experienced in the management of civils contracts, they had no particular experience or expertise in the critical area of systems engineering/integration. There is no doubt that the lack of a systems engineering approach contributed to the unreliability of the railway in the early years.
Change of ownership
Operating difficulties reached a nadir in Summer 1991 when performance fell to an all time low. (Fig 26 - 36kb) The option of complete closedown for a year was considered and rejected. Government decided that because of the DLR's crucial importance to regeneration, combined with London Transport's preoccupation with resolving problems on the rest of the Underground network, it had to keep the railway open but change ownership from London Transport to LDDC. LDDC would bring a more local focus to resolving the railway's problems and would be able to give it a higher priority than London Transport. In 1992 the ownership of DLR was transferred to the LDDC, and a new management team was appointed. The new team introduced changes in service operating patterns to reduce pressure on the signalling system, more creative approaches to solving software problems, and improved management practices, particular for the Beckton project. A key change was the appointment of a Prime Contractor to take full financial and performance responsibility for all outstanding contracts involved in making the Beckton Extension operational, and of integrating the new signalling system across the entire network. A significant improvement in service reliability was noticed soon afterwards, and by 1993 DLR was performing much better.
A new signalling system
Between 1994 and 1996 the DLR again had intermittent periods of poor performance which were extremely frustrating for people living and working in Docklands, and all related to the constant upgrading and extension of the railway. The Beckton line opened in 1994 but using the new, more sophisticated 'moving block' signalling system. For a year the Beckton line and the initial railway had to run on different control systems and this again caused some operating problems. Meanwhile at evenings and weekends the signalling system on the Initial Railway was being upgraded to tie in with the Beckton system and this work was eventually completed in July 1995. Soon after this weekend and late evening services were reintroduced, and in April 1996 frequencies at Bank station increased to 15 trains per hour.
During 1995 the DLR team ordered new software in a more advanced but simpler 'Second Generation' computer language. This should further increase the railway's reliability and enable any software problems to be dealt with more speedily.
Damage to South Quay
In February 1996 the terrorist bomb at South Quay damaged the station and railway viaduct. DLR moved quickly to prop up the viaduct and patch up the station to get services running from South Quay southwards again by April 1996, and permanent repairs were started in December 1996.
DLR Lewisham Extension
Extension of the DLR southwards under the Thames to Greenwich and Lewisham was first proposed by LB Lewisham in 1985. The extension has consistently drawn widespread support, not only from LDDC, DLR and LRT, its original promoters, but also strong all-party enthusiasm from the London Boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Tower Hamlets, as well as from all affected constituency MPs. Public consultation in 1988 resulted in 85% of respondents declaring themselves in favour of the extension.
Despite the scheme's manifest benefits, it was not possible to obtain Government approval until November 1990, following a concerted campaign and extensive work by LDDC, LRT and the London Borough of Lewisham. An enabling Bill was laid before Parliament, promoted by LRT. Even at this stage the proviso was that the new line was to be funded entirely by the private sector. In the intervening period and since, many studies and analyses were carried out, including Environmental Assessments, Traffic and Revenue studies, and Economic & Financial Cost-Benefit Analyses.
The case for Lewisham Extension
Justification for the new extension comes from the major benefits it will bring to London as a whole, to Docklands, to the Boroughs south of the River and to DLR itself.
The route of the new extension follows an alignment judged to have the feast adverse environmental impact, with five new stations south of the river, and two replacement stations on the Isle of Dogs. Despite widespread general support, there were still petitions in both Houses of Parliament against specific aspects of the project. In addition, the transfer of ownership of DLR from LT to LDDC in the middle of the House of Commons' proceedings caused some uncertainty. As a result, Royal Assent was not received until 27 May 1993, but in the end there were very few significant changes to the scheme as originally promoted. (Figure 28 - 37kb)
Private Sector project
Following Royal Assent, the next step was to determine how the project could be funded by the private sector. Responsibility for the project within Government was transferred in August 1993 to the Private Finance Unit of DoE. It was decided to promote the scheme as a Private/Public Sector Joint Venture under the Private Finance Initiative with DLR running the trains. Official go-ahead on this basis was announced in the Chancellor's Budget statement on 30 November 1993. On the same day, the Secretary of State for the Environment stated that he had instructed DLR and LDDC to give the project top priority.
DLR and LDDC, under the guidance of the Department of the Environment's Private Finance Unit, established a Joint Project Office to take the scheme to market. A 24.5 year concession was awarded in September 1996 to the City Greenwich Lewisham Rail Link consortium for the design, build, financing and maintenance of the extension, making it available for the running of DLR services. It is expected to come into operation in early 2000. The major part of the capital cost of the extension has been financed by the Concessionaire with some grant coming from Government and contributions from the London Borough of Lewisham (£4.8m) and Deptford City Challenge (£1m) together with contributions for Cutty Sank Station from London Borough of Greenwich (£1m), University of Greenwich (£1m), National Maritime Museum (£100k) and sponsorship and development inputs (£2.3m).
The process of marketing the scheme, negotiating with the bidders and finally selecting a preferred bidder and awarding the concession took longer than expected. New factors complicated the forecasting of traffic and revenue on the future extension during 1995 and 1996. These were the introduction of the Government's new rail fares policy to restrict fares increases to be in line with inflation or less (thus producing less revenue than forecast originally) and the announcement that Greenwich would host the Millennium Exhibition, which could significantly increase ridership in the first years of operation. There was also the question of whether a Cutty Sank Station would be built as part of the scheme. Discussions on how and whether this station could be funded continued during the Summer of 1996. The outcome was that with the additional participation as site development agency of English Partnerships, sufficient third party funding was found to allow Cutty Sark Station to be included.
The total cost of the project had also risen to more than £200m, including costs of private finance, the bulk of which (some 60%) is being provided through a bond issue on the capital markets with 10% coming from subordinated debt and equity funding, 25% as compensation from Central Government for the effect of capping rail fares in London, and 5% from local contributions.
This is a much higher percentage of private finance than achieved for any other public sector project to date in Britain, except for tolled estuarial road crossings, and at the time of signing it was only the second bond financed project under the Private Finance Initiative, and the first bond to be issued unsecured by third party guarantee.
With Government's further requirement that there should be substantial transfer of risk from the public to the private sector as well as risk and benefit sharing between the two, realisation of the project has broken new ground in developing opportunities for private investment in public infrastructure projects.
Franchising the DLR
In 1994 John Gummer, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, announced that the DLR would be franchised to the private sector. The competition for the franchise began in 1995 and was successfully concluded with the award of a seven year franchise for the operation and maintenance of the railway to Docklands Railway Management Limited (DRML) starting on 6 April 1997. DRML is a joint venture of the former DLR management team and SERCO plc. From the outset the management team declared their interest in competing for the franchise and so the process of the competition was handled by a dedicated team with no interest in the franchise, working closely with the Department of the Environment, Treasury and the LDDC. The reason for franchising the railway at this point was to secure savings in the cost of running the railway whilst at the same time raising quality and performance standards. The franchise contract requires a core set of services which will assist the continuing regeneration of Docklands and DRML is free to exceed this in both quality and quantity terms so that it attracts more passengers and revenue. A holding company, DLR Ltd, has been set up to monitor train service quality and performance against targets. Depending on its performance, DRML will receive additional payments or deductions from its fee payments from DLR Ltd. The holding company also owns the assets and infrastructure of the railway, is managing the implementation of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project for the construction of the Lewisham Extension and will continue the strategic development of the railway, including any further extensions or improvements.
8.The Development of the Docklands Road Network
The need for new roads
The inadequacy of the principal road network within and to Docklands was underlined in the London Docklands Strategic Plan (LDSP) of 1976. The LDSP made abundantly clear the seriousness of then current traffic congestion even before the development of Docklands.
The lack of opportunity to cross the Thames by car or bus was always seen as a major contribution to the traffic congestion problems on all the main roads in the area.
Despite the traffic restraint policy adopted by the GLC and the environmental concerns of the local Councils, the LDSP report included firm support for:
Support for these schemes rested on the link between good communications, investment and jobs. The Jubilee/River Line was also part of the transport plan. Interestingly, market research carried out in the general business and employment sectors in the late 70s indicated that the most important highway schemes for retaining and attracting employment were considered to be the South Woodford to Barking Relief Road and the East London River Crossing.
Although the LDDC built the Enterprise Zone roads in the early 1980s, including the two lane road across the north of the Isle of Dogs parallel to Poplar High Street, there was, in the period to 1986, no significant progress made by the GLC on any of their schemes. The DSRR and Jubilee Line were abandoned by the GLC and the Government in 1980, and the value of (non trunk) major roads still committed for the area was reduced to about one tenth of what had been proposed.
LDDC's plans for Docklands highways
Meanwhile the LDDC had started planning for schemes north of the river to make up for the lack of progress. The new direction and commitment for major road building strategy sprang from an LDDC report approved in March 1986. This presented a costed road programme for the area and stressed the need for additional DoT improvements on the A13, support for ELRC, and further improvements to the approaches to Blackwall Tunnel.
Later that year, the LDDC unveiled its proposed strategy for a network of new roads, running largely east-west through the area, designed to provide greatly improved access to all the key Docklands development sites.
The Memorandum and The Accord
To help build a partnership on the local highways programme the LDDC entered into pathbreaking agreements with Newham Council: the Memorandum of Agreement in 1987; and with Tower Hamlets Council: the Accord, agreed in principle in 1998. Under both agreements the LDDC sought co-operation from the Councits to help road and transport developments in return for LDDC investment in local housing and community schemes.
Under the Accord Tower Hamlets Council made its land available for construction of the Limehouse Link and Poplar Link (Aspen Way), and as Highway Authority agreed not to oppose the LDDC's major road schemes in the Isle of Dogs and Limehouse.
In return the LDDC agreed to provide new housing accommodation and to assist housing refurbishment for council tenants to a far greater extent than the direct housing loss due to the road schemes. The building of the Limehouse Link directly affected 169 homes, largely at St Vincents Estate and at the Barley Mow Estate. Under the Accord the IDDC rehoused people from an additional 296 units and a number of families who were sharing homes. In total 556 households were rehoused. Most of the rehoused families were offered new housing association homes, mainly on the Isle of Dogs, and some opted for refurbished Council homes.
The LDDC also agreed to fund a £35 million package of social, economic and community initiatives to benefit Tower Hamlets residents.
These wider initiatives helped to alleviate the road construction disturbance and also reflected the wider responsibilities of the LDDC as not only being a provider of infrastructure investment but also a regeneration authority.
To implement the highways strategy, the LDDC resolved to use its Compulsory Purchase powers (CPO) where it was not able to buy land by agreement. In Newham only one CPO public inquiry was held in 1985 for the Eastern Gateway Access Road. Otherwise no public inquiries were needed and the roads were built following full consultation.
In Tower Hamlets there were CPO inquiries for the Poplar link, Limehouse link and Lower Lea Crossing. The only opposition at the inquiries came from affected landowners from a local pressure group, the Docklands Consultative Committee (which opposed roads in principle), and from individual local Councillors. The Accord helped to alleviate the impact of the road schemes, and approval to all the main CP0s was given by the Secretary of State for the Environment in 1989.
In addition the highways schemes were governed by statutory planning procedures. In the case of the Limehouse Link the LDDC's Planning Committee submitted their proposal to grant planning permission to the Secretary of State for the Environment in May 1988 as a departure from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Borough Plan. The Secretary of State decided not to call in the planning application and the LDDC formally granted planning permission in June 1998.
Throughout construction of the major highways schemes the LDDC acted to minimise disruption for local people and to work within environmental health legislation, while still delivering the essential highways network on time. The cut and cover design of the Limehouse Link, for example, minimised the construction impact as, once the tunnel roof was in place, construction activity took place underground.
In the residential areas of Tower Hamlets, noise and vibration limits during construction were determined by agreements under Section 61 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, negotiated by the LDDC with the Borough. Part of the agreement provided for secondary glazing to properties along the routes.
The Limehouse Link was perceived by the LDDC and by developers and investors as a critical part of the highway network, providing an important direct connection between Docklands and the City and West End. It was also intended to bring significant traffic relief in Limehouse and secure an improved environment for residents and future development.
In the course of planning the 'predecessor' of the Limehouse Link (the DNRR), the GLC had carried out extensive public consultation. As mentioned earlier, the DNRR was first suggested in a public consultation document published by the Docklands Joint Committee in July 1975, and in the LDSP of 1976.
The LDSP considered two alternative DNRR alignments through Limehouse, (Fig 32 - 59kb) though no recommendation was made on either. One route followed the line of an improved Commercial Road (A13) between West India Dock Road and Butcher Row (Option A) and the other followed a line to the south, crossing Limehouse Basin by a swing bridge and connecting into The Highway (Option B). To the east, both alternatives continued along the line of the Poplar Link Road, which has subsequently been built in phases across the north of the Isle of Dogs.
Variations on these options, one of which included the use of the disused railway viaduct (Option C) which now carries the DLR, were elaborated - but there was considerable public opposition to these preferred options of the GLC and London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and consensus about alignment could not be reached.
Finally, in 1983, following the announcement of the proposed abolition of the GLC and the emerging proposals from 1984 onwards for large scale office development at Canary Wharf, the LDDC had to make more progress, and four Limehouse options were investigated (Fig 33 - 75kb):
a) Widening of Commercial Road plus use of Narrow Street
This scheme would have had significant traffic and environmental problems within Limehouse, and would also have required expensive engineering solutions on the Commercial Road to deal with the two railway overbridges, and the two significant waterways passing under the alignment. One of the bridges at Limehouse Station carries the Fenchurch Street commuter service to East London and Essex, and the other, at Lowell Street, though disused, is a listed structure.
b) A river based scheme
A road sunk into the Thames would have been the most difficult option in engineering terms, and might have had significant hydrological effects on the river course.
The preparation of the engineering solutions for such a scheme would have necessitated significant delays, and uncertainty about the implementation of the scheme would have been high. A number of demolitions of riverside properties in Narrow Street and elsewhere in Limehouse would also have been necessary.
c) At grade land based scheme
Perhaps even more than option 'a' this option was considered entirely unacceptable on environmental grounds. The intrusion and severance caused by a four lane surface highway would have been considerable in this location, and would also have required a substantial amount of demolition.
d) Tunnel scheme
It soon became apparent that the tunnel scheme should be the preferred option. To minimise the amount of demolition in this residential area a serpentine route under the Limehouse Basin linking a number of parcels of derelict, underused and cleared land was considered.
Any other route would have created much greater demolition, disruption and dislocation, as more homes and businesses would have been affected.
Putting the scheme underground provided much greater opportunity for subsequent redevelopment. The resale of the developable land above the route would help offset the additional cost of a tunnel. The traffic benefits were also better, as the user would have a grade separated, dedicated route and the community would have complete relief from rat-running.
The serpentine route under the Limehouse Basin was therefore selected, and in 1989, following the public inquiry, work started on site. The Limehouse Link opened to traffic in May 1993.
Selecting a route and scheme through Limehouse was therefore a long drawn out exercise begun in the mid 1970s. The Limehouse Link was planned and built in seven years, compared with the average for a Department of Transport highway scheme of 13 years. Obviously a tunnel is more expensive than an at grade scheme but there is no evidence that the Limehouse Link is expensive compared with other urban tunnels. Interestingly, there is no data available comparing tunnel costs nationally.
Leamouth and the Royals
The LDDC's plans for improvements to the road and rail network in the eastern part of the Urban Development Area were meanwhile well under way.
Government, the LDDC, and the London Borough of Newham were all determined that the Royals should take advantage of the opportunity to put in the transport infrastructure in advance of development. In the mid 1980s, of course, it was much easier than it had been earlier to make the case for this, with proposals for Canary Wharf developing alongside.
A road network had been designed for the Royal Docks which sought to maximise access to the vast tracts of development land, whilst minimising the severance effects that such new roads would produce.
A circuitous alignment was developed, with many roundabouts en route to access development sites and discourage through traffic from diverting from the A13. Pressure to take a new road across the north side of the Royal Victoria Dock was resisted for this reason. The LDDC had no wish to see the new Royals roads made attractive to through traffic commuting into London.
The basic form of the Royals road network was largely agreed by 1985.
The roads ran in an S shape (Fig 10 - 95kb) through the Docks, and were designed to integrate with the new DLR extension in an environmentally acceptable way. Rather than put most of the railway high up on viaduct, as had happened in the Island, a different solution was adopted in the Royals. The DLR & BR rail corridor across the north side of the Royal Victoria Dock was kept to a minimum width, with pedestrian bridges linking housing in the north with development sites, and beside the Royal Albert Dock the railway and its stations were integrated with the road.
The new bowl stations, designed to a concept originated by Richard Rogers and Partners, have a three tier arrangement, with a DLR station at the bottom, pedestrians crossing the road/rail corridor at grade in the middle, and a roundabout road junction at the top.
Lower Lea Crossing
As part of the strategy in 1986 it was decided that it was important to reduce the severance effect of the River Lea between the Royal Docks and the Isle of Dogs by building a new bridge.
Both areas had suffered for many years from the very severe congestion caused by the pinch point in crossing the River Lea at the A13 Iron Bridge (Canning Town). The Department of Transport's proposals for removing this pinch point were likely to take a decade or more to resolve, and so the LDDC developed plans for a new road bridge, the Lower Lea Crossing.
The Royals road and rail programme, and the Lower Lea Bridge proposal were intended therefore to facilitate development of the remaining sites in the east.
All of these proposals were tested against various development scenarios, and proved sound. Following lengthy negotiations, the London Borough of Newham became supporters of the proposals, and the Royals roads started construction without the need for any public inquiry. They were all completed between 1989 and 1990, in advance of any development in the Royals. The Lower Lea Crossing was opened in December 1991.
Status of the Docklands highways
The Limehouse Link and East India Dock link were opened in May 1993, marking completion of the Docklands highways. All the new LDDC schemes are private streets, operated by the LDDC as traffic authority and street managers, with Traffic Orders in the joint names of the Corporation and the relevant Boroughs. At the time of writing it is planned that ownership of the Limehouse Link, East India Dock Tunnel and Aspen Way will pass to the Highways Agency, whilst the LDDC's other private streets will be adopted by the relevant highway authority.
[Note by Webmaster: The Limehouse Link, Aspen Way, the Prestons Road Flyover and the East India Dock Link were taken over by the Commission for the New Towns on an interim basis. In July 2000 they were taken over by the Greater London Authority]
The DoT's schemes
In 1986, the Department of Transport, having trunked the A13 between Canning Town and Butcher Row, also committed to a programme of major improvements on the A13, and to ELRC, which had just completed its passage through the longest road inquiry ever.
At the time of writing the remaining major A13 schemes are scheduled for completion by 2003, 17 years after their announcement.
The A13 Iron Bridge/Canning Town Flyover and the A13/Woolwich Manor Way schemes are to be progressed as Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO) projects. The A13/Prince Regent Lane improvement is to be investigated further, on the basis of a more southerly alignment, before decisions can be taken on implementation.
The East London River Crossing, however, was postponed by the Secretary of State for Transport in July 1993, subject to finding an environmentally acceptable way of building the scheme. (See Part 1 for details)
In April 1996, the Secretary of State published a Transport Strategy for London which included proposals for a new multi-modal river crossing at the location of the previous East London River Crossing. Revocation Orders for ELRC were published in July 1996. The local crossing, Thames Gateway Bridge, is discussed later in this chapter.
There has been an increasing realisation in recent years of the importance of the new river crossings, not only for Docklands, but also for other regeneration areas in the Tharnes Gateway and for the existing residential and commercial communities of East London.
Until July 1993, the East London River Crossing (ELRC) had been taken as a fix in all development scenarios for the Royal Docks. The announcement by the Secretary of State in July, stating that ELRC would be reviewed, was a signal to rethink the river crossing and development strategy. The position was exacerbated by the hostile reception given by local businesses and residents to the proposal for a high level bridge at Blackwall.
In view of all these uncertainties, LDDC commissioned a study, ERICA, to look into the development implications of the river crossings for Docklands. The Government Office for London (GOL) consulted on the various proposals in 1995, seeking views on a number of possible crossings to the east of Tower Bridge.
GOL's response to the consultation was published as a part of the Transport Strategy for London, published in April 1996.
The individual studies and crossings are discussed further below.
ERICA (Eastern River Crossings Assessment) Study
This work was commissioned by the LDDC in October 1993 and reviewed the relative merits of the four proposed river crossings. Lewisham DLR extension, Blackwall Third Crossing, Woolwich Metro and ELRC or a more local replacement facility. This was the first time road and rail crossings were considered equally in terms of transport benefits as well as socio/economic impacts and achievability. The study, which reported in January 1994, helped the Corporation to reappraise its priorities on river crossings, and gave the highest priority to the Lewisham Extension of the DLR. Second was a local crossing in the Gallions Reach area, then Woolwich Metro, and finally a third crossing at Blackwall.
Tower Bridge and Rotherhithe Tunnel
In West Docklands, concern about the lack of adequate reliable cross-river capacity led to two studies looking into new or replacement facilities.
These studies in 1993 and 1995 considered the need for new or replacement crossings between Tower Bridge and Rotherhithe Tunnel. The consultants, Mott McDonald, concluded that new crossings could not be justified and with controlled use and regular maintenance, both Tower Bridge and Rotherhithe Tunnel could remain in use for fifty years or longer.
LDDC's view, however, was that dependence on two historic crossings, either of which could be closed for reasons other than structural integrity, was not a satisfactory situation for a developing area and at least one alternative crossing should be safeguarded. To date this safeguarding has not been possible, as there is no consensus about the location of such a link.
Consultation on river crossings and Transport Strategy for London
The Government Office for London consultation in 1995 included the Blackwall third crossing, Woolwich Rail Crossing, a multi modal Gallions Reach crossing and crossings to the east of Beckton. The main proposals, however, were the first three crossings. GOL's response to the consultation was presented in A Transport Strategy for London published jointly by GOL and the Department of Transport in April 1996. On river crossings, the strategy proposes a package approach, whereby all three crossings would be promoted under the Private Finance Initiative. As well as the tolled Gallions Reach crossing. it was proposed that the improved Blackwall crossing should also be tolled. The Strategy document also announced that the East London River Crossing orders should be withdrawn in favour of the Gallions Reach crossing. The river crossing package was to be promoted under the Transport and Works Act or through a hybrid Bill.
Fresh options for Blackwall Third Crossing
It was accepted in the Government Office for London consultation document that the 1993 consultation on the third crossing at Blackwall had been fruitless. Since that time GOL has commissioned a number of studies into environmentally more acceptable options which would also provide more capacity for local movements and cater for commercial traffic. As a result of this work, additional safeguarding instructions were published in April 1997. It is anticipated that a preferred route will be announced later in 1997.
Thames Gateway Metro or the Woolwich Rail Crossing
The idea of linking by tunnel two British Rail lines, the North London Line which terminates at North Woolwich in the Royal Docks, with the North Kent Line at Woolwich Arsenal on the south side of the river, has been discussed over many years.
It was resurrected as an option for the Jubilee line Extension in the late 1980s and explored further in the second East London Rail Study in 1992, commissioned by London Transport and the LDDC. The conclusion of this study was that a new rail tunnel at this location would create a new rail corridor which could help regeneration of the Royal Docks, Woolwich and Thamesmead. While further work was under way on the feasibility of the scheme in 1993, the concept of the Thames Gateway was gathering momentum, and the tunnel came to be seen as a way of facilitating a new rail connection between East London and North Kent. For this reason the scheme started to be called Thames Gateway Metro. During 1995 and 1996, LDDC, together with London Transport, British Rail and Railtrack, commissioned further work which has demonstrated that the scheme is feasible, and that a core scheme of six trains per hour could be provided between Stratford and Abbey Wood, and could be extended further east to Dartford with additional infrastructure. The scheme has a cost benefit ratio of 1.3:1 but if all the regeneration aspirations in Thames Gateway are realised this could rise to 2:1.
Thames Gateway Bridge or Gallions Reach Crossing
Following the ERICA report the Corporation, together with Thamesmead Town Ltd, carried out a number of studies between November 1994 and June 1996 to establish the feasibility of a multi modal crossing at Gallions Reach. Thames Gateway Bridge Summary Report, published in February 1997, contains the findings of these studies. This crossing would provide a new local link between the Royal Docks and Thamesmead (Newham to Greenwich), and would carry a dual two lane road, as well as a dedicated public transport facility.(Fig 36 - 92kb) It would be tolled, with tolls being charged in such a way to discriminate in favour of local trips whilst discouraging through traffic. It would be mainly funded by private money and promoted by either the local authorities, Government Office for London (GOL) or a residuary body. In 1997 GOL published a safeguarding line for the Thames Gateway Bridge, prior to the revocation of the ELRC Orders in April 1997.
The way forward
The package approach to the river crossings is a viable and balanced way forward. The three schemes in the package would provide improved accessibility, mode choice and would, in combination, cater for the regeneration needs of East London and the Thames Gateway. The package requires a promoter or promoters, and a sponsor, to take it through the hybrid Bill process, to organise the concession competition and oversee implementation. With LDDC's departure from the area in March 1998 the Thames Gateway Bridge will lose its main promoter. It is to be hoped that the package, which at present has considerable momentum behind it, will be taken forward by Government in partnership with the local authorities, and be implemented.
The struggle to launch a service
RiverBus, which was set up in 1988, but died in 1993, made a small but intriguing contribution to the regeneration of London Docklands and to its transport system. Observers noted how relatively few passengers it carried compared to buses and trains, but it had a romantic, pioneering image which attracted many supporters when it was struggling to survive.
There was a long history of attempts to run such services in London which help to explain its demise. Passenger traffic on the Thames grew in the 17th Century, but began to fall away as more bridges, roads and railways were developed. Steamboats flourished in the first half of the 19th Century, but the last company had gone into liquidation by 1886. Schemes this century included a 30 boat London County Council fleet in 1905-7 and a waterbus service initiated during the Festival of Britain in 1951 by a consortium of owners, and which withered once the South Bank site closed. Against this background, RiverBus was the tenth attempt since 1945 to run a commercially viable transport system on the Thames. There were various reasons why all these services failed, but over-ambitious schemes, lack of integration with bus and rail, lack of riverside facilities, boat design, operating difficulties and high costs were all relevant factors.
The birth of RiverBus
The raison d'etre of RiverBus was that it would serve two newly developed riverside areas, Chelsea Harbour and Canary Wharf, and piers in between, carrying residents and business people who would be prepared to pay a higher price than for a journey by tube or bus. The boats were relatively small, with 62 seats, and built to high internal standards of comfort. Staffing was relatively generous to keep customer service standards high. Demand for the service would grow as firms moved into Canary Wharf. This was the concept which attracted a Business Expansion Scheme grant in 1988 and the service, named Thamesline, was launched.
From the start, Thamesline was viewed with suspicion by the established operators and users on the River running tourist services and there were complaints about wash damaging other craft and creating problems for rowers and others, which meant they had to slow down. The catamarans had problems particularly with rubbish floating in the Thames damaging their propulsion equipment, and damage to the hulls from frequent docking. Already by the end of 1988 Tharnesline was experiencing financial difficulties.
Rescue came from a consortium of developers who saw that a Riverbus service was an asset to Chelsea Harbour and Canary Wharf, in marketing terms as well as for practical reasons. Docklands was still perceived as difficult to get to, with a limited service on the initial DLR (no underground connection at Bank at this time) and with the Docklands highways still under construction. RiverBus could also serve as a link between the mainline stations at Charing Cross, Waterloo and London Bridge and the new developments on the Isle of Dogs.
Funding from five developers and a grant of £500,000 from the Department of Transport and Department of Environment underpinned the new RiverBus service operation for the next four years. London City Airport also became a sponsor, and the airport service became popular with incoming airlines.
RiverBus increasingly attracted tourists and services started from St Katharine Docks and Greenwich, but in spite of a dramatic growth in passenger numbers to nearly three quarters of a million by 1992, RiverBus still depended on a substantial subsidy from Olympia & York who consciously promoted it as a service for the Canary Wharf commuters.
When Olympia & York went into Administration, the banks provided funds on a month by month basis with increasing reluctance.
RiverBus had to seek additional funders during 1992 and contributions were received from local government, the private sector and individual benefactors including a new supporter, Parkview International. When the final funding crisis occurred in July and August 1993 the immediate reasons were a shortfall in projected off-peak passenger demand and higher costs than budgeted for in the business plan.
The difficulty of operating a viable service
RiverBus went into receivership in August 1993. There are many views about why the service couldn't survive. but there are some fundamental problems in the way of running a commercially viable passenger service in London in the 1990s.
London has a highly developed bus, rail and tube network which is subsidised and offers joint ticketing and the Travelcard facility. RiverBus management attempted to secure inclusion in the Travelcard scheme and through-ticketing arrangements. This would only be financially viable for the service if it charged a premium to passengers on top of the Travelcard Scheme, but would have had the advantage of convenience and flexibility. In the event, London Transport was advised that the RiverBus could not be invited to participate since it would involve public sector grant for LT being passed onto the RiverBus which was a private sector commercial operation.
The result was that the journey between Waterloo and Canary Wharf was £2.80 by RiverBus and £1.20 by bus and rail. This made it more difficult for RiverBus to sustain or increase its commuter traffic or attract off-peak business users, particularly when there were steady improvements to the services on the Docklands Light Railway and the Docklands highways opened in May 1993.
The size both of the boats and of the fleet was insufficient for RiverBus to generate enough income to offset its overheads. In the absence of public or private sector funders to inject the substantial capital investment necessary to restructure its fleet, RiverBus could not build itself into a position from which it could approach profitability.
Other adverse factors included a failure to drive costs (especially manning costs) down fast enough, and the inability to utilise Westminster Pier - a factor critical to building market share in the off-peak tourist trade.
Other difficulties included the problem of generating sufficient demand at any pier throughout the day, the fact that demand from tourists is seasonal and weather-related, and the problem of providing services sufficiently frequent to be attractive with a small fleet. In conclusion it was hard for a commercial operation to compete in an uncertain market with subsidised public transport without its own subsidy from the developers of Canary Wharf.
In February 1994 the fleet of eight catamarans which provided the RiverBus service were sold by the liquidators to the Siam Development and Holding Company of Bangkok for tourist' use in that city. The three other boats reverted to the ownership of P&O.
Lessons for the future
The experience of RiverBus, even though it eventually failed, has encouraged others to explore further the idea of passenger transport services on the River. London First commissioned a study, published in January 1996, The Business Case for a Passenger Transport Service on the River Thames. This study was looking at different kinds of services from the current leisure trips on the River mainly used by visitors to London. Its main conclusions were that a 'hopper service' might be feasible linking the Central London tourist attractions, particularly with new, less accessible attractions coming on stream including the Globe Theatre and Tate Gallery Bankside Extension. For the Millennium, Greenwich's historic centre, the Millennium Exhibition site, car parks and Central London piers could also be linked by a hopper service. However, a service designed purely for commuters is unlikely to be able to operate at a profit without subsidy and while a hopper service could be used by commuters between Central London piers, it would not be feasible to run those services to Docklands.
During 1996 several business interests looked again at commuter services, with trial runs during the Spring between Central London and Greenwich via Canary Wharf. It will be interesting to see whether, spurred on by the Millennium, a form of river passenger transport will emerge again in London.
10. CITY AIRPORT - continuation page
11. PEDESTRIANS, CYCLISTS AND BRIDGES - continuation page
12. DOCKLANDS TRANSPORT PLANNING: THE ANALYTICAL SIDE - continuation page
13. FINANCIAL INVESTMENT - continuation page
Note by Webmaster:
Some readers will be interested to know about the progress made in developing the transport infrastructure since the LDDC closed its doors in 1998. There is a good summary of the various projects completed, in progress or planned at the website of the London City Airport Consultative Committee.