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Prescott backs DLR airport extension

DOCKLANDS LIGHT Railways was given a vote of confidence this week by the surprise backing from Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott for its planned extension to the City Airport.

Prescott's support for the 1.5km scheme gives the railway clearance to apply for an order for the project under the Transport & Works Act. His decision was originally not expected until after publication of the Integrated Transport White Paper.

The new line will be a dedicated link to the City Airport in the heart of the Royal Docks. It is expected to boost the airport's business, particularly by providing the growing development around the dock - which already boasts an exhibition venue and will soon include a university campus and industrial development - with easy access to air travel.

After years of financial struggle, the airport now expects to increase its current 1.1M passengers a year to 3M by 2005 on the back of recent approval to double the number of daily flights. Getting passengers to the airport by public transport is its next goal.

Details of the scheme's design and financing are now being worked up. It is expected that the line will be built and maintained under a public private partnership. DLR already has experience of such privately financed deals on the extension now being built to Lewisham.

The line's route will be based on that worked up by DLR in its 'Horizon Study' which defined the railway business strategy for the next 10 years. This study came in response to DLR's need to identify new business routes to replace traffic lost when the Jubilee Line Extension opens next year.

Current plans will see the line leave the elevated DLR Beckton Line at Prince Regent Station and cross the dock on a new bridge before heading alongside the dock towards the airport. The need to keep this structure low - it sits across the airport flight path - but allow occasional boats to pass below to enter the dock, calls for an unusual lifting structure.

The earliest possible opening date for the new line, which has the support of the London Borough of Newham and English Partnerships, is put at 2002, although if there are objections to the scheme and a public inquiry, this could be pushed back to 2004.

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