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.
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tracks chosen for this demonstration was the disused Fallowfield Loop, a line opened in 1892, and passenger services withdrawn in 1958.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.