TRANSPORT for London (TfL) has begun tendering the next franchise agreement for the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), the 40km entirely automated light metro network serving 45 stations in east and southeast London.

The DLR is currently operated by a joint venture of Keolis and Amey under a franchise agreement which began on December 7 2014 for an initial term of seven years, and which is now due to end on April 1 2025.

DLR ridership peaked at a record 122.3 million passenger-journeys in 2016-17, and in 2019-20 before the Covid-19 pandemic it recorded 116.8 million passenger-journeys.

The new contract to be awarded by TfL will be for an approximate initial period of eight years, with an option to extend this by up to two years and a separate seven-month extension option. The estimated total value of the contract is £2.3bn.

Under the contract, the franchisee will be responsible for train and passenger service operations on the DLR network and management of the automatic train control system, as well as maintenance of all rolling stock, infrastructure and assets. The DLR fleet currently comprises a total of 149 driverless trains.

The franchisee will be remunerated by a specified fee, with a package of incentives to improve performance and deductions for performance that is below target.

Key objectives under the new franchise include continuing to drive demand recovery and growth by offering a high-quality customer experience. The new operator will also support TfL in driving improvements in environmental performance to achieve its green targets.

TfL says that its new operating contractor will optimise the performance and financial efficiency of the DLR network through continuous improvement and innovation, while maintaining flexibility and high levels of collaboration with TfL.

The new franchisee will also be expected to realise the value from the investment that TfL and the British government are making in 54 trains new for the DLR. The new fleet is due to enter service next year and is expected to increase the total capacity of the DLR network by 50%.

TfL says that price will not be the only criterion for contract award and that a maximum of five candidates will be invited to tender.

Requests to participate must be submitted by 12.00 on October 2 and TfL expects to issue invitations to tender or participate to selected candidates on January 2 2024.