Shortly before arriving in London, a Docklands Light Railway train paid a visit to Manchester and carried excited passengers on short test trips.

For just a few weeks in March 1987, Mancunians could take a trip in a specially modified DLR train that was being used to showcase the city’s own planned light rail service, running around a short length of track and a temporary station at Debdale Park.

The demonstration was to show how a light rail service could be quickly and cheaply deployed along former railway tracks, as was the case with London’s docklands.

The trial was the consequence of a 1984 study which looked at cost-effective ways to improve Manchester’s public transport network. A Rail Study Group, composed of officials from British Rail, Greater Manchester County Council and the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) had concluded in 1982 that a street level light railway was the optimum solution for the city.

Following a number of revisions in 1984 and 1987, it was decided to hold a demonstration trial of a light railway to see what people thought of it. Fortunately, at that very time, London was building the DLR, and GEC, which was supplying equipment for the trains was keen to secure additional sales, so supported a proposal to modify a DLR train for use in the trial.

Senior & Ogden, Metrolink Commemorative Volume

The tracks chosen for this demonstration was the disused Fallowfield Loop, a line opened in 1892, and passenger services withdrawn in 1958. This was provided by British Rail, who also provided the necessary traction power via a temporary transformer that they provided.

The trial, advertised with posters locally took place between 9th February and 22nd March 1987. The poster was illustrated with an orange DLR train with the M for Metrolink on the side to show what the trains would look like. The actual train used was destined for London, so arrived in DLR colours instead.

It may have been a demonstration line, but they still charged for tickets – 50p per ride.

Despite that, over 10,000 people travelled on the line while it was open.

The trial over, the DLR train headed back to the factory to have its overhead power supply pantograph removed and then it headed to London. That very same P86 stock train, number 11 was then to carry the Queen during the opening ceremony, to be the first to carry paying customers in London, and later headed to Germany when the DLR had to upgrade its trains for use in the Bank tunnel.

It’s still in service, being the only DLR train to run in Manchester, London and Essen.

As it happened, Manchester went with its tram service instead, but for a few weeks, a DLR train carried passengers on trips around Manchester.


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  1. Small note, but the M on the side was actually the GMPTE logo. I expect the name Metrolink had not yet been coined.

  2. Olly says:

    What is the difference between a light rail and a tram service?

    • Simon says:


      I believe the difference lies in the tracks – trams run (at times) alongside/in normal road traffic, whilst LR tracks are completely segregated.

  3. Andrew Gwilt says:

    So Manchester could of had a light rail with the DLR light rail vehicles. But instead it’s got its own trams and the trams are running on the former national rail tracks including serving Oldham and Bury that once had national rail trains operated but now it’s got trams. Plus the Manchester Metrolink trams are still expanding.

  4. Bob McIntyre says:

    As someone who grew up in the area and has fond memories of Debdale Park, can I make a few points?

    Firstly, the line was not actually “disused” at that stage; diesel-hauled Freightliners and other traffic still used the Fallowfield loop at night.

    Secondly, the original plan had been to base the demo at Reddish depot a short distance to the west of Debdale. This had been the home of the dc electric units that served the Manchester Piccadilly-Glossop-Hadfield line until its re-electrification to ac in 1984.

    For various reasons this was dropped in favour of Debdale Park which was next to a busy main road (the A57), had space (the old goods yard) to accommodate turning buses and wonderful ice cream just in the entrance to the park (perhaps through the rose-tinted spectacles of childhood!).

    Thirdly the “Metrolink” concept didn’t come until much later. I think the confusion arises because the details are included in several books about the history of Metrolink.

    It is a shame that GMPTE didn’t have the foresight to convert the rest of the loop into a light rail system whilst the overhead structures and cabling still existed east of the Reddish depot. On the other hand you have to agree that it was also a brave venture to run a public trial: something I doubt would happen these days when the accountants are firmly in charge!

    As a final point – and I could be wrong on this – but I vaguely remember the connecting bus service used some of the small electric buses that used to shuttle between Victoria and Piccadilly stations from the 1970s onwards.

    What Manchester does today, London does tomorrow/much, much later (delete as appropriate…)

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Simon says:

    Alas, this was also the first DLR train in Essen to be withdrawn from service,

    It is a great shame, as of all P86 DLR trains, this is the one that should have been preserved – because of its history.

    Alas, no longer possible

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