The first of a new fleet of DLR trains has arrived in the UK, and there’s been a chance to see inside the train before it goes into passenger service.

(c) TfL

Transport for London (TfL) placed an order for a fleet of new DLR trains to replace over half of its older trains and expand the size of the fleet back in 2019. In total 43 new trains are being ordered — of which 33 will replace older DLR trains, while 10 will increase the capacity on the network, particularly in the Royal Docks routes.

There’s also an option to buy 11 more trains — which is being funded by the Housing Infrastructure Fund to support new housing developments in the Royal Docks area.

Although the DLR trains that are being replaced are barely 30 years old, which would be young for a national rail train, light railway trains tend to wear out quicker due to the track design which tends to have much tighter curves and the fairly intensive use they are put through. Ideally, they would be replaced around every 35 years, and with some trains now seeing over 30 years of service, the DLR needs to replace its trains.

The first replacement train to arrive at Beckton depot was delivered last month, and along with a second train arriving soon, will spend the next year in testing to secure regulatory approval to go into passenger service.

Unsurprisingly, the new trains are at once very familiar, and yet very obviously different from the existing DLR trains. The most obvious difference is the colour — which is officially DLR turquoise, and the new trains will match the official colour for the DLR on the tube maps, just as services on the rest of the TfL network stick to their official colours.

To complement the new livery, the trains are also supplied with a new moquette — called Poplar after the DLR’s original depot in Poplar, which includes a pattern of sailing ships in the design to recognise the docklands sailing ship heritage.

There are a lot of other changes as well though.

Yes, you can still sit at the front and “drive the train”, although there are now four front-facing seats instead of the eight that the current trains have. There’s also a change in how the train attendant drives the train when in manual, as safety standards now recommend that staff should be standing when carrying out safety functions — so the front seat control desk is taller than the current design so the staff don’t have to bend down to the controls.

The front desk boxes are also slightly deeper than older designs to incorporate some additional front impact protection.

There’s still plenty of space for children to see over the top and drive the train though.

Another difference is based on feedback from the on-board staff, the Passenger Service Agents (PSA), who noticed that the window next to the front seat tended to get foggy when the trains are full on a cold day — so the window has a nearly invisible heating element in it to keep that window clear so that the PSAs can see the platform mirrors.

When the staff were consulted about the new trains though, there was one thing they almost all asked for — to move the position of the key. If you watch the PSA at the doors, you’ll know they have a key they insert to open the passenger doors — and they have to reach up a bit to use it as the keyhole is at the top of the control panel. The keyhole has been moved to the bottom of the control panel instead of being at the top, so it’s a lot easier to reach.

The trains will come with USB chargers at selected seats, mainly at the ends of seating rows, and although fitted with the regulatory-approved USB sockets, they could be upgraded to newer USB sockets later as they’ve been designed with that in mind.

Something else that’ll become apparent when the passengers start to use them is that above the doors is a long narrow light strip which will flash red just before the doors close, but also will light up green just before the train pulls into a platform to make it obvious which side to get out of.

The exceptions will be Canary Wharf, where both sides light up at once, and Tower Gateway, where although people can leave both sides of the train, they are “encouraged” to use the right-hand side, and the door lights will assist that encouragement.

Something else that’s not easy to spot unless its pointed out is that the grab poles have been designed to be close enough that an average person can walk down the carriage and always be within reach of a pole. There’s also a proper grab pole in train carriage junctions.

Technically, the carriage junctions aren’t articulated in that there’s not a rotating central space but use a new type of gangway manufactured by Hübner that allows the train to curve around the DLR’s tight corners without the floor rotating inside as well.

Above the seats, the line diagrams will be based on the design used on the Elizabeth line, and there’s air cooling in the trains.

A major visible change is that rather than being three sets of two carriages coupled together, the new train is one single 5-car carriage that you can walk all the way through from end to end.

Apart from passenger convenience, having fully walk-through trains helps with safety as the PSA can get to any part of the train if needed. However, an innovation is that if someone were to pull the passenger alarm, the CCTV in that carriage will take a photo and sends it automatically to a tablet device that all PSAs will carry so they can see instantly what the issue is. The photo will also be sent to the DLR control centre so they can take action as well if they think it’s needed.

Apart from the front and rear seats, the rest of the seating is longitudinal. There are three multi-use areas, where the seats flip up so the space can be used for cycles or luggage, and there are spaces prioritised for wheelchairs and buggies.

Although the trains have more space for wheelchairs and look as if they have fewer seats to sit on, in fact, they have more seats. Including the flip-ups, the new trains will have 156 seats, compared to the 152 sets on a current 3-car train. That’s because they’ve been able to create more space inside the train by building them as single 5-car units instead of having space wasted by joining two or three separate units together.

A current 3-car DLR train can carry around 680 passengers, whereas the new trains can carry around 790 passengers.

Currently, around 20% of the length of an existing DLR train is doors, while the average for most metro-grade services is 30% for doors. The design change to fully walk-through carriages also releases more space for doors so that people can get on and off faster.

To deliver the additional capacity, it’s not just a case of building in more space inside the trains, but also how the trains are used in service. The changes to the service pattern will become clearer next year when the trains enter passenger service.

The extra trains and the service changes should take the total capacity increase to 30 percent for the DLR network.

That’s needed, as the DLR recovered from the pandemic fairly quickly and is pretty much back to full capacity at weekends and is in the upper 80-90% range during the week. Even opening the Elizabeth line didn’t dent DLR traffic that much across the line as a whole.

At the launch of the new trains, TfL’s interim Commissioner, Andy Lord confirmed that TfL is in talks with the government about long-term capital investments, such as new rolling stock on the Bakerloo and Central lines, but have also flagged that they want to proceed with the DLR extension to Thamemead, as that’ll unlock the ability to build thousands of new homes.

They are going to relook at the business case and the economics of the Thamesmead extension saying that he thinks there’s a “good case there” to proceed. He added that the conversions with the Department for Transport are “positive”, although naturally, no timeline as yet.

Ahead of the new train arriving in London, a team of DLR depot staff were sent to Spain last year where the new trains are being built to learn how to use them, and six of the on-board staff were sent to Spain earlier this year to learn to use the new trains, and they will then pass that knowledge onto the rest of the staff.

Over the next year, the trains need to be put through testing on the network to ensure they work as planned.

In the next few weeks, they will start testing Type testing, which is basically to make sure they fit properly with the existing infrastructure, and signalling testing should start in April. These will all take place overnight, plus the occasional daytime trips when a line is closed for engineering works.

Towards the end of this year, they will enter ghost running, which is to say that they will slot in between passenger trains on the network — so you may be waiting for a train to arrive, and see one of the new trains pass through the station as well.

They need to build up at least 20,000km of running before the regulator will authorise the trains for passenger use.

Most of the trains will be held at Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) in Spain to be delivered later this year, as there’s expansion work going on in Beckton depot to create space for the extra trains.

The first trains are due to enter passenger service early next year, and the full fleet will be in service in early 2026.

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37 comments
  1. Andy says:

    So the 5-car trains (capacity 790 passengers) are to replace 2 coupled 3-car trains (each carrying 680 passengers), meaning overall capacity per unit (5-car or 2×3-car) drops from 1360 to 790? Or have I read this incorrectly?

    • ianVisits says:

      You’ve read it incorrectly.

    • BYL says:

      A current 3-car DLR train can carry around 680 passengers, whereas the new trains can carry around 790 passengers.

    • Jeremy says:

      If you read ‘a current 3-car train’ in Ian’s copy by its intended meaning of a ‘a current 3-unit train’, or ‘the current longest formation’ then you’ll be on the right track. 680 old, 790 new.

      I don’t want to see what 1360 passengers attempting to simultaneously occupy a current DLR train would look like.

  2. Tom Page says:

    The 11 extra trains have been funded by the DLUHC. We are receiving therefore 54, not 43. They’ll help transform the service we can provide.

    • ianVisits says:

      The extra 11 trains are still an option, I was told today that they have not been ordered yet.

    • Tom Page says:

      Thanks Ian, but I wasn’t asking referring to the question of how the contractual option is is exercised. The article says “if funding can be found”. It has been. The press release includes this. The DLUHC have committed and we’ve worked well together to achieve this.

  3. David Pye says:

    Gone are the days when Railway stock was built in UK by a British company.
    Where was this lot built…in China?

    • ianVisits says:

      If you read the article, you’ll know where they were built.

      (and the UK is a leading manufacturer of trains, as the people building trains in Derby, Newpoert and Goole will confirm)

    • David partington says:

      They are built by CAF a Spanish company I believe. Why they have to be built abroad and by a foreign owned company I don’t know. At one time most trains were built by British companies why not now. British industry has been decimated. CAF have built some appalling new train for northern rail full of design flaws, they should never have been accepted by the company. Same goes for the hitachi designs.

    • Bob McIntyre says:

      CAF have a facility in Newport, South Wales where they could build new stock for the DLR/Underground.

      [I do hope they don’t make the trains too big to fit in tunnels though as two officials from RENFE (Spanish Railways) have just been sacked for not checking first and spending €250million before the problem was discovered.]

  4. Claire Cheskin says:

    The flip up seats springs go on them and one fell down and knocked the mudguard off my powerchair and damaged it

  5. Craig Ritchie says:

    Another well written article Ian 🤝

  6. John Leeming says:

    “A wide narrow light-strip” gave be something to think about!

  7. Fez says:

    I knew from a previous Ian article that this was to be a single carriage train as opposed to 3 care so a bit disappointed there’s only 4 extra seats. Seems to be the way that more space equals more standing room not seats

  8. James Miller says:

    I don’t know whether this throws any light on DLR ridership.

    I regularly use the 21 and 141 bus between Moorgate and the Balls Pond Road.

    As more features have been added to Bank station, the traffic on these bus routes has increased. It was particularly noticeable, when the escalators between the Northern Line and the DLR opened.

    So what did the Mayor and TfL do? Reroute the 21 route away from Southgate Road. Yesterday, I met a lady, who had waited 90 minutes for a 141 bus, as they were all full and not picking up.

    But then this is North London and the Mayor is from the South. Next time, I’ll make sure, I vote for a North Londoner for Mayor.

    • ChrisC says:

      I really don’t think the Mayor gets down into that sort of detail on bus routes.

      BTW the planning of all the ‘more features’ you complain about and the commencement of the reconstruction of Bank station started under the previous Mayor who I believe lived in South London at the time.

  9. Bryn Davies says:

    South Londoners have the inalienable right to winge about North Londoners. I don’t think it works in reverse.

  10. Andrew Barlow says:

    Will the existing fleet that is not being retired be changed to have the same livery as the new trains?

  11. Dan Coleman says:

    Having so many tip up seats is an interesting choice. Even though the units offer slightly more seats, the tip ups make the whole thing look quite sparse and utilitarian.

    New livery will take a while to get used to. Shame that TfL didn’t go for brand consistency with the LU and LO liveries.

    Looking forward to seeing them out and about though!

  12. Keith says:

    Does anyone know if these new units will have air conditioning? If I recall the existing stock doesn’t have any, though isn’t as bad in the hot weather as some underground lines.

  13. B23 says:

    A very well written article Ian. Shame none of the project team who have worked very hard to get the train here, were not present at the event.

    • ianVisits says:

      They most certainly were there – that’s how I got so much information about the new train.

  14. JAY KALSI says:

    The decision to paint the front ends of these new DLR trains black is a utterly wrong decision. Secondly the so-called DLR turquoise shade applied to the new trains is the wrong shade/colour. Lastly the windows on either side of the door on the front those windows are too narrow..

    • ChrisC says:

      I’m not sure how they could make those windows wider without (a) makling the door narrower or (b) making the whole train wider.

  15. Lionel Ward says:

    Thank you for the article. I personally have gone from being vaguely aware new trains were coming, to being quite in the know.

    Seems like the network capacity is being increased a lot. Just as well, considering everything being build in Isle of Dogs and Royal Docks

  16. Aleks says:

    How does air cooling differ from air conditioning?

    TfL/CAF are mixing up car/carriage/set/unit

    “three sets of two carriages coupled together, the new train is one single 5-car carriage”

    • ianVisits says:

      There’s a lot of differences, but the main one is that air cooling just cools the air, air conditioning also dehumidifies it as well.

  17. ben says:

    Christ – you’d think that CAF would construct something decent looking but this exterior looks so dated and ugly. Did they cheap out and get a Chinese company to do it for them or something?

  18. Nicholas Bennett says:

    I understand why the new trains on the DLR, Elizabeth Line, Overground and sub surface stock now have inward facing bench seats to increase capacity but is sad that passengers wishing to look out of the window now get a crick in the neck doing so.

    • BAW30s says:

      Quite so, and there are a lot of interesting things to see from a DLR train for tourists and the small minority not glued to smartphones. Being eyeballed by the passengers opposite can also be an uncomfortable experience.

  19. Leo says:

    Thank you very much Ian. The info is appreciated very much. It’s af pity that TfL and the Mayor don’t ask or pay heed from those who suffer on the DLR currently. Many pay their fares, but so many dodge. Crowded trains/trams mean less ticket inspection. If rigourous ticket inspection and fines were imposed, we could have better trains, air con and side facing seats.

  20. David Winter says:

    I’m surprised at the extent to which equipment compartments impede seating capacity.

    These are 5-car trains, walk-through. The term “single carriage” is rather misleading.

    It seems to me CAF is the Euro version of “made in China.” Competing on price – lacking in resilence or quality. I hope, for London’s sake, these are cracking good trains – not cracking trains.

  21. Colin Newman says:

    Is there a working timetable for the DLR online somewhere, along the lines of the LU ones? I’m trying to deduce whether certain trains will call at the high level platforms at Canning Town, which I can currently only do by determining if they come off or go onto the Poplar branch. Online facilities are clunky.

    I see now there’s a Canning Town to Beckton shuttle, but I can’t find which platforms it uses at Canning Town.

  22. Phoenix says:

    Very informative as usual, thank you!

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