The Branch Line Society


Docklands Explorer
24th/25th June 2016

Around 100 members assembled by 22.00 for our 6-car special 'Docklands Explorer', an overnight railtour of this intricate network at a time of year with maximum daylight. Running overnight with the lines to ourselves, allowed unusual moves not possible during the daytime intensive service (even Sundays).

The Stratford International P2 departure (and trailing crossover) was a highlight and one of the rarest 'passenger' sections of Docklands Light Railway (DLR) track and was soon followed by the middle line ('Stratford siding') between Stratford and Stratford High Street stops. The Beckton branch was taken and Royal Victoria siding (north side of the stop) to the conductor rail limit. Track continued ahead, presumably an emergency overrun. After the passing of a couple of services, the tour returned wrong line to Canning Town P1, reversed and headed for Woolwich Arsenal P3. Then via the facing crossover after London City Airport, and the trailing one before King George V to head under the River Thames.

The DLR staff with our tour at Stratford International before setting off.
[Alan Sheppard]

After waiting for services, we ran back to Canning Town, this time into the higher level P4, then (after crossing onto the line from Stratford P4A & 4B) to Poplar P3, West India Quay P2 to P1&2 at Canary Wharf, where each of the three (through) lines - all done on the tour - have bilateral platforms. Next to Mudchute bay P3 opened Jan 2009 but engineering works prevented further travel toward Lewisham.

Returning through Canary Wharf (P5&6) and West India Quay P3, the tour took a left turn for the City termini. First Bank (a DLR zero datum except for Stratford International, the '0' for that branch), to run through to the single-track turnback siding tunnel extension past the station (another highlight), then return to the departure platform (P9). A train arriving from the wrong direction with people on board, and not in passenger service caused some confusion for late-night travellers waiting on the platform!

The end of Bank turnback siding from the front of the train.
[Kev Adlam]

Tower Gateway (the stop is behind on the left) siding.
[Kev Adlam]

Tower Gateway at 2am 'no entry' signs (left) can be ignored, as this day can the sign on P2 (right) 'SYSTEM NOW CLOSED'.
[Glen Wells]

From Bank, it was back to Canary Wharf P3/4 and beyond Crossharbour into the middle turnback siding (once the southbound track, which was diverted east). Turning back (what else do you do in a turnback siding?), it was through Canary Wharf middle line (P3/4) and West India Quay P3 to Tower Gateway siding, north of the running line. Then off to Shadwell P1 to reverse and reach Tower Gateway P1/2 (another 'zero' point an another 'two faced' line with separate platforms to exit (P1) and join (P2) trains) for a 'middle of the night' comfort break. By the time Poplar had been reached again, the various shenanigans had resulted in four out of five of the crossovers (four trailing and one facing) between Tower Gateway and Shadwell being covered. The one not done was the first, normally used by departures. From Poplar, the tour ran wrong line to All Saints P2 to reverse over the trailing crossover and run through Poplar Depot carriage wash to exit and cross to Poplar P4 and past Delta Jn (reverse). After Poplar (a popular place on this tour) this time P1, it was wrong line to Bow Church south facing crossover, used to join the line to Bow Church P1 (reverse). Running wrong line (what else?) south and reversing in Poplar P2, Beckton beckoned.

'The morning after the night before' - awaiting announcements at Beckton P2 ...
[Glen Wells]

Various manoeuvres allowed the train to cover four more trailing crossovers (1): before Blackwall, (2): after East India Dock, (3): after Royal Victoria and (4): after Custom House. Then a wrong line run all the way from Canning Town to Beckton P2. A longer than expected break was taken there, due to arriving early, allowing passengers to stretch their legs, or more likely, catch a few minutes sleep, as units for the day's first services (starting 05.23 ex-Beckton) left the depot. Leaving Beckton, the facing crossover before, and the trailing crossover after, the tunnel were taken before turning left into Beckton Depot itself.A clockwise loop was taken via the carriage wash and Siding 'AB', allowing participants to see some of the DLR's non-passenger vehicles. After a short run to Gallions Reach and back to the depot's 'AB' Siding, the tour returned to Stratford, taking the crossover to the middle line north at Stratford High Street for a set down at Stratford P1. Then the facing crossover was used for final wrong line running to Stratford International (again rare P2) and the end of a highly unusual tour.

A member calculated that, in approaching 8½ hours, the tour had travelled 61 miles (to the nearest ¼)! Thanks to Dave Dawson, Ben Grellier, the train crews and controllers at the DLR for enabling our tour to run. Three charities benefited from £550 each as a result, two nominated by the DLR (Whizz Kids and St Josephs Hospice) and Marie Curie, nominated by our tour organiser member Glen Wells.