DLR trains passing each other on different levels of a flyover

London’s DLR hit by collapse of construction firm

DLR trains passing each other on different levels of a flyover Transport for London

The collapse of the construction firm Buckingham Group may well cast a shadow over the planned upgrade of the DLR Docklands Light Railway system in London. The construction company was involved in a multi-million pound contract to extensively upgrade the system’s Becton Depot, in preparation for a fleet of new trains already being delivered. However, the collapse of Buckingham Group, with debts in excess of one hundred million pounds (116 million euros), has left many creditors, DLR among them, with a headache to go with their financial haircut.

Originally conceived as a cut-price solution to pubic transport provision in London’s Docklands financial district, the DLR has grown beyond expectations to serve much of the east of London. However, the collapse of a construction firm has placed a question mark over a further expansion. When Buckingham Group Contracting (BGCL) fell into administration earlier this year, it also threw a spanner into the ambitious 100 million pounds (116 million euro) project to extend and refurbish the Becton Maintenance Depot, a crucial element in the Docklands Light Railway’s (DLR) preparations for its new fleet of trains. BGCL went into administration, leaving the completion of the Northern Siding package, worth 35 million pounds (41 million euro), in jeopardy.

New train sets on order

The Becton Maintenance Depot upgrade, primarily managed by Morgan Sindall Infrastructure, aims to expand and modernise facilities to accommodate the incoming new fleet of DLR trains. The autonomous trains, already under delivery and testing from Spanish manufacturer CAF, will be the third generation of rolling stock for the network. Expansion of the Becton depot is planned to provide facilities to stable and maintain the 54 new train sets. However, BGCL’s collapse has stalled the railway sidings project, which involves building a new carriage wash, extending and modifying existing tracks, and creating and modifying new stabling sidings.

Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf in London
The Docklands Light Railway was conceived to serve areas like the new financial district at Canary Wharf in the east London (image: Transport for London)

BGCL, a company with a diverse portfolio including sports stadium developments, had been a significant player in the UK’s construction industry. The collapse not only affects the DLR project but also sends shockwaves through other ventures, including sports stadium developments across the country. A report from administrator accountants Grant Thornton, says it’s unlikely that the 1,200 unsecured creditors will see any type of return. The level of exposure faced by Transport for London, the operators of the DLR network, is not revealed.

Investment report remains hopeful

Transport for London (TfL) confirmed that BGCL’s financial struggles forced the suspension of works on the DLR site, prompting the TfL team to enact a safe stop to secure the location. Despite some of BGCL’s assets finding buyers, the segment responsible for the DLR depot upgrade failed to attract interest, resulting in its closure and the unfortunate redundancy of its staff.

TfL acknowledged the challenge in their recent investments programme report.”Work is ongoing to develop and consider options for how we complete these works”, say TfL. “Work is ongoing to develop and consider options for how we complete these works. Following the award of the contract for the maintenance-facility building and southern sidings, our contractor has now fully mobilised and key sub-contracts have begun for significant enabling works. The new site-office accommodation has also now been delivered and lifted into place.”

Parts of the Buckingham Group were sold to other businesses, but no buyer was found for the Becton contract. The uncertainty surrounding the completion of the depot upgrade raises concerns about the readiness of the facility to handle the new DLR train fleet, set to commence service next year. There is still time to remedy the situation. While the initial deployment of new trains is scheduled for 2024, the full fleet is not expected to be operational until 2026. This provides a window of time for TfL to explore alternative options and mitigate the impact of Buckingham Group’s collapse on the overall project.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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