CGL (City, Greenwich & Lewisham) Rail

CGL (City, Greenwich & Lewisham) Rail

In London this year, well, just a couple of months ago, a major railway event passed with little notice. It involved a railway company closing (if that’s the right word) and being taken over by another, lock, stock, and barrel. That is, with the exception of the trains using the line! The trains were owned by TfL, but the track, route, and tunnels were owned by another company – rather an unusual situation in terms of the Docklands Light Railway. The company was known as CGL Rail, and it built and owned the Docklands Light Railway branches in Lewisham and Woolwich. It then maintained and upgraded these as part of a long-term agreement with TfL. CGL Rail’s involvement ended in May 2021, and TfL took over the line to Lewisham, lock, stock and barrel. In due course I’m sure there will be little trace left of CGL Rail’s presence.

Mudhcute – until April 2021 it was officially the first station on the CGL Lewisham Extension. Its now of course part of TfL.

How that came about is a peculiar quirk of financing new railway lines, something known as PFI or Private Finance Initiative. The Lewisham Extension (LEX) was announced by the government in 1993, with the private sector responsible for financing, building, and maintaining it, as authorised by the London Docklands railway (Lewisham) Act 1993. The 4.2km Lewisham extension would be the UK’s first PFI railway, costing £200 million. The same methodology was used for the Woolwich Arsenal extension, with the exception that the company formed for that purpose was known as Woolwich Arsenal Railway Enterprises (WARE.) TfL took over that concession in 2011. However WARE ceased business fully in 2018 and is still operating today in a very limited sense. Anyway the LEX concession agreement was for a period just over 24 years and it ended on 31st March 2021 – thus on 1st May 2021 TfL became the owner of the Lewisham Extension.

The company was founded in 1996 with the goal of building, owning, and maintaining the extensions to the south of the Thames. The LEX connects the Docklands Light Railway to Lewisham. Mudchute, Island Gardens, Greenwich, Deptford, Elverston Road, and Lewisham were the original planned stations. Cutty Sark was added later. Beyond the reversing siding south of Crossharbour, the entire DLR became part of CGL Rail, and the point at which this occurred was simply known as the Boundary. The new line was built to the same standards as the remainder of the DLR, except that Island Gardens and Cutty Sark were a new design in terms of being below the ground stations with island platforms, the former being built within a box (which explains its generous proportions) and the latter tunnelled with the upper area excavated into a box to provide a somewhat more generous space than would have been possible.

I created this map to show CGL Rail’s Lewisham Extension. Mudchute to Island Gardens is cut and cover. Under the river to Greenwich is tunnelled by shields. Greenwich to just south of Deptford is elevated. The final section through Elverson Road to Lewisham is mostly at ground level with the terminus itself sited in a box section.

The new railway company wasn’t known as CGL Rail to start with. It began life under a different name known as Trushelfco. (Yes its rather a strange name – and I have no explanation for how that came about!) One possible reason for the name change was there were over three thousand registered companies with the name of Trushelfco! But perhaps the other matter was the DLR didn’t want people thinking there was some sort of Tesco style company managing the new line! Clearly some sort of better ID was needed, and within a few months, on 5th June 1996, a mandate had been drawn up that the company become known as City, Greenwich and Lewisham Rail Link Limited.

CGL Rail consisted of a number of construction companies who then proceeded to build the new railway lines. These companies included John Laing & Co, John Mowlem & Co, Hyder Investments Ltd, London Electricity and and a Mitsui-Nishimatsu joint venture (eg Mitsui & Co and Nishimatsu Construction.) Mowlems sold their interest in CGL Rail in 2003 however and it is understood the others did too in due course. In terms of Laings the original shareholding was owned by John Laing Group plc. In 2017 this was transferred to John Laing Infrastructure Fund Limited (Financial Times.) The ownership of CGL Rail in 2020/21 was by then limited to just three companies – UK Power Networks Services, Duchesspark Limited and JLIF Holdings.

Plaque at Lewisham DLR station commemorating the line’s opening on 22nd November 1999. Note the CGL Rail logo!

Construction of the line for CGLRail was undertaken by LRG contractors, a consortium of which Mowlem Civil Engineering, MBK Rail Link Construction and Nishimatsu Construction were partners. The Lewisham extension opened on 22 November 1999 by Deputy Prime Minster John Prescott. That was a rarity being that it opened ahead of schedule as original plans had been for it to open in 2000. There is a plaque at Lewisham DLR station commemorating the opening. Cutty Sark station was opened two weeks later on 3rd December 1999 – although the plaque that can be seen there to commemorate the LEX’s opening does rather sort of imply it opened that same November day too since there is no information to show Cutty Sark had in fact opened on a different date.

The biggest of all the CGL Rail logos is this one that can be seen on Lewisham’s DLR station’s frontage. The commemorative plaque itself can be found on the wall just inside the station.

CGL Rail’s logo can also be seen on the stairs leading down from the other DLR entrance at Lewisham!

The concession agreement between CGL Rail and TfL worked in two ways. For the first ten years it operated under what were called Availability Payments.’ This was related to operations, safety, station maintenance etc. After that it operated under what were termed ‘Usage Fees.’ This being a calculation on the number of passengers on the LEX and a fee per passenger. Originally the fares were to be higher on the LEX however the Government stepped in and this was changed so fares were pegged to the usual DLR rates consistent with the rest of the system.

CGL Rail invoiced TfL every four weeks for the use of the line by its trains under this latter arrangement of usage fees. Docklands Light Railway submitted passenger data every four weeks showing the line’s usage, and CGL Rail estimated the percentage of income they were due based on this. If I understand correctly, there was a cap on how much they could claim (subject to inflation and fare pricing levels.) For those who may have a more business like interest in the workings of this, such matters pertaining to the operation of these fee mechanisms are set out more fully in both the Concession Agreement and the Schedules under the London Docklands railway (Lewisham) Act 1993.

Not exactly CGL Rail but nevertheless one of many LEX numbered signs, like this one at Deptford Bridge, which both TfL and CGL Rail would have had to refer to in terms of locations or bridges or other structures on the Lewisham Extension.

Even though most of the information panels and line diagrams and station signage has been updated in recent years, there’s still a fair bit of CGL Rail signage to be seen. No doubt this will reduce in numbers as time progresses. The biggest evidence of all on the entire Lewisham extension happens to be the station premises at Lewisham itself. The huge station awning carries the area’s name, but it also features what is undoubtedly the largest CGL Rail logo that can be seen. Up to the 31st March 2021 that would have been the correct denotation, for as was intended it would have informed people the line was owned by some other company than TfL.

Greenwich still has several CGL Rail logos, the most surprising being these National Rail designations. Greenwich station is evidently complex in terms of its dual ownership, mainly due to how the platforms are arranged.

Because of its importance as a major London tourist location, Cutty Sark has some of the better CGL Rail paraphernalia to be seen besides Lewisham.

In terms of matters of dissatisfaction related to certain matters on the LEX, one could of course one could complain to TfL about something, but in a fair number of cases it would be CGL Rail whose responsibility it fell to. Indeed in terms of those times Cutty Sark’s escalators not being in use, people complained about this and were duly informed it wasn’t TfL’s responsibility. The CGL Rail logos were there for a reason and that was to show the line was really owned by another company. It was important that it be displayed on the station should there be any sort of query or matter related to the stations – and CGL Rail was the authority to be consulted as this FOI to TfL in regards to Cutty Sark station specifically shows. As this other FOI detail shows for another request TfL did sort of give that information out anyway as part of a general list of outages on the entire DLR network’s escalators!

This FOI shows certain matters were not part of TfL’s remit. As of May 2021 that is no longer the case.

The escalators at Cutty Sark with a ‘Welcome to Docklands Light Railway’ and an obligatory CGL Rail logo!

Cutty Sark too has a commemorative plaque besides Lewisham, again with a CGL Rail logo. This can be found on the tunnelling shield that’s exhibited at the station.

As my photographs show a good number of the LEX stations had indications in the forms of signs that informed passengers the station they were using was owned and operated by the City Greenwich Lewisham Rail Link PLC. (CGL rail being legally described on these notices as the Infrastructure Concessionaire.) These too would have been another mechanism to assert the ownership of the stations (as well as the line itself.) Technically these signs no longer have any bearing or impact upon the operation of the line between Mudchute and Lewisham, so they’re not needed anymore although its nice to see there’s at least one such sign still intact for now. By the way those stations that no longer appear to have any CGL Rail logos whatsoever are Island Gardens, Deptford Bridge and Elverston Road.

Mudchute still sports one CGL Rail information board. This is on the southbound platform.

The electricity substation just south of Mudchute station too has a CGL rail logo!

CGL Rail made around £25 million or so a year from its concession agreement with TfL for the management of the Lewisham Extension. Like everyone else, the company was hit by the problems of COVID too, namely the huge reduction in passenger numbers which as CGL Rail’s auditors report, was ‘approximately 49% lower than in 2019.’ Since this was a major source of revenue for the company, the fact few used DLR’s services during 2020 meant the company’s income slumped massively and was just £2.1 million for the whole of 2020. That along with the costs of maintaining the LEX, staffing costs etc, meant CGL Rail lost approximately £8 million for the last full financial year it operated.

In terms of directors earnings, the highest was approx £296,000. For such a short length of line this is considerably substantial especially when one considers TfL’s commissioner Andy Byford is responsible for a system in the order of many times larger, he gets £355,000 approx per annum. I’m not condoning these amounts in any way or form, they’re vast and I simply dont agree with these sort of mega wages – just a few weeks ago it was being reported TfL paid a number of its top positions extremely large wages, and of course its unpleasant that staff like TfL’s Mike Brown for example got almost £520,000 in a year when most of the country was struggling due to the pandemic. As Caroline Pidgeon said ‘These generous payments for TfL’s senior staff continue to be out of step with the harsh economic reality facing its passengers.’ Exactly!

Anyway in terms of the company’s twenty four and half year agreement, which was initially with London Regional Transport and subsequently with its successor, TfL, the Lewisham Extension was to be handed over on 31st March 2021 in a ‘specified condition.’ I assume as long as it was maintained to the same standards right up to the day of handover, that would be the specified condition the route would be found in. The actual work to ensure the line was properly handed over was begun in 2017 when the CGLR/DLR Handover Committee, as specified under the terms of the concession agreement, and consisting of CGL Rail and TfL representatives, was established. Ongoing site work and assessments began in 2019, so clearly a fair amount of work was needed to ensure the line’s handover would be satisfactory to TfL’s requirements.

In terms of the concession ending on 31st May 2021, CGL Rail said it expected it would take twelve months or so to finalise its accounts. If for example TfL found something that wasn’t to their satisfaction CGL Rail would be legally bound to sort the matter. At the beginning of this post I said CGL Rail was a railway company that had closed. Well that is true, they no longer own or maintain the Lewisham Extension, they’re no longer a company with a tangible business, but they’ll be in a period of transition where the business is wound down and the final accounts are made. As to when that would be, that’s a good question because as I detailed at the start of this post, the Woolwich Extension’s equivalent, WARE, continued to trade until 2018, and even in 2021 are still operating in a very limited sense. Wrapping up any operational railway business isn’t exactly straightforward!

The concession agreement between CGL Rail and TfL for the Lewisham Extension. (Released as a result of a FOI.)

PDF illustrating maintenance, points/crossings, rails etc (and the various other tasks the company was responsible for) also denotes the CGL Rail staffing structure.

CGLR at Companies House

DLR History Map (Web Archive)

Maintenance/technical staff on CGL Rail (about 23 or so in all) received differing rates of pay compared to those on TfL and had to be negotiated separately. See this RMT page

PS – This is the first detailed write-up ever on CGL Rail. No other blog nor vlogger has done one. I expect Geoff or Jago or some others will want to do a video stint (or blog) highlighting any remaining CGL Rail stuff! Its all thanks to the hard working unemployed disabled such as myself who do oodles of research no others have done, but alas fail to make any sort of headway!