IMG 8961fi 800x425 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]

Double bonus! This is a update on Crossrail Woolwich – plus the Woolwich ferry! As some readers will know, the two brand new Woolwich ferries arrived in the UK, they first went to Tilbury before continuing to Woolwich. There’s a further look at the Crossrail station – and yes London’s new railway is so terribly behind schedule!

Crossrail:

IMG 8894 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
The hoardings have been moved back a bit, revealing some of the boulevard leading to the new station.

Just as can be found at the railway’s other sites, the rate of progress at Woolwich is very slow. Local sources were very recently applauding Crossrail for seemingly getting a move on, but that does not seem to be the case as I see it. Having been to Woolwich this week there’s clearly an a enormous drag in terms of progress. I do not see it as having critically changed or improved much since the summer. The huge mural on the north side of the station buildings was supposed to have been put up by July. Its now mid November and looking at the site compared to four months earlier it seems Crossrail are certainly taking their time!

IMG 8891 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
Just inside the station entrance showing the rifle pattern panels. These are the same as those on the outside.

The detailed frontage at the entrance to the station opposite Dial Arch Square is up, but again, its been up for a long time! What interests me however is this has also been placed on the inside of the station entrance and this is very clearly quite recent work. Its not a critical difference however as we are still not seeing the sort of final shape the station should be taking on now if Crossrail were to open in just two and half weeks time as had originally been envisaged. Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and elsewhere are also showing the same sort of retrograde progress and at this point I am really beginning to think, is this all going to be opened much later than the new target of Autumn 2019? Certainly some do advocate it’ll actually be 2020 before Crossrail (or if you prefer, the Elizabeth Line) opens!

IMG 8911 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
The huge mural intended for installation in the summer of 2018 is still nowhere to be seen. Bad, bad Crossrail!

Crossrail’s woes are by no means over. In spite of a recent extra £650million made available today’s news in the Financial Times is the line will need even more cash and there are discussions as to how best to achieve these new funds.

IMG 8906 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
Classic view of the Woolwich Crossrail site. Had it opened in 2018 this would have by now been a different view…

Woolwich Ferry:

The new ferry is due to come into use at the end of the year, in fact the launch date is New Years’ Eve (31st December.) However an industrial dispute is brewing. I’m not entirely 100% of the details however it seems Briggs Marine want new rosters put into use. The unions claim these will result in a reduction in pay. This is the unions’ statement:

“Management’s high handed attitude and cost cutting agenda could ultimately result in a poorer service and provoke strike action that would disrupt the launch of new hybrid boats when the service reopens on new year’s eve. We would urge ferry bosses to recognise the depth of anger among our members and start to address their concerns.”

IMG 8941 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
Tugs Bostonian and Speedwell passing Ben Woollacott.

It does seem the grievances have been rumbling for sometime as threats of strike action throughout Augsut 2018 were planned in lieu of the new ferries. Details of this can very briefly been seen here and the latest on this – published today – can be read at the News Shopper.

Staff numbers totalled 36 for the old three boat service yet far fewer workers will be needed to operate the new high tec ferries. Briggs have a £50 million contract. However this contract is not with TfL but London River Services Limited (LRS) and it is LRS who apparently specify the levels of service required at Woolwich.

IMG 8929 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
The south (or Woolwich) terminal with the new pontoons and magnetic mooring equipment.

Talk about complicated! To most people (including myself) TfL has always been the authority behind the contracts for the Woolwich Ferries. Whilst investigating company records I found TfL owns the ferries, river piers, and most of London’s transport infrastructure (the tube – track, tube tunnels, depots, stations, bus routes, bus stations etc), however its Transport Trading Limited (TTL), a major subsidiary of TfL’s, who are responsible for managing the system. TfL’s website does in fact list the various companies that are subsidiaries..

The whole scenario is made even more complex by the fact TTL leases all these (the tube, tracks, Overground, infrastructure etc) from TfL itself! In terms of the different elements of the system, tube, buses, trams, river services etc that are leased from TfL, TTL then contracts these out to further subsidiaries such as LRS.

Thus there are several layers of companies down from TfL that are leasing, contracting and maintaining services. I am aware of the buses and how they are contracted out to different companies however this part of the infrastructure is far more public than the rest, and also London Underground Limited. Ultimately its the accountants who are more interested in the ins and outs of how all this works and not us mere mortals who should be deliriously happy a transport service is at least being provided!

IMG 8960 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
Close up of the rear of the intelligent Dock Locking System.

Some of the TTL subsidiaries were not created by TfL but London Regional Transport. LRS happens to be one of those. Just to add to the confusion for example, I’ve seen references to Leon Daniels and the river services/ferry. Now I understand the reasons for that – until 2017 Daniels was a director of several of these subsidiaries under the banner of surface transport. He’s a man who has come a long way since the days I knew him as a manager at Ensignbus. I never imagined he would rise to such metoric heights but then my usual assessment of people happens to be poor! Its clear from company records TfL’s other current TTL directors have their fingers in several of TfL’s pies too. Definitely complicated!

This stuff is considerably new to me (apart from the PFI’s – Metronet, Tube Lines, LUL, buses etc) and it undoubtedly shows the sheer complexity of the ferry’s employees/unions who may be wanting to air grievances. It means any issues need to be directed at Briggs rather than TfL. And thats a very simple reason why one never finds TfL itself mentioned in the hustings when problems arise. Anyway, strike action is no stranger to the ferry as its arisen a number of times in the past. See for example the News Shopper, Standard and GMB websites.

IMG 8958 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
New ferry and new pontoons with magic mooring stuff! Yet these old boats are still a necessary part of ferry life!

Readers may wonder why the Woolwich ferry needs to keep some old boats especially when the three ferries (Bevin, Burns, Newman) have been sent to France to be scrapped. Are they not getting rid of all the old stuff?

No, these old motor boats still do a job of conveying ferry staff to and from the ferries themselves. These boats are not part of the public side of the ferries so they inevitably soldier on whilst everything else is modernised. When the ferries are started up in the morning or berthed at night in mid-river these motor boats are used to transport the crew out to, or returned from the ferries themselves. One might wonder, well why dont they moor the new ferries at the terminals? There’s only two now not three. Exactly. The problem however is when there is a one ferry service (or one of them has broken down, whatever) the other ferry has to be moored somewhere else. This other mooring spot happens to be in mid river.

There is another role for these motor boats too. They are also used in emergencies. Maybe there is an issue in mid-river? Maybe a crew member or an engineer needs to be transported urgently to the ferry waiting at the north terminal? All sorts of situations can arise where the small motor boats may be needed.

IMG 8968 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
Polla Rose passing the new Woolwich Ferry.

A fair bit of river traffic was observed during my visit. It was also a bonus to see a huge freighter ship moored up at the Tate & Lyle wharf on the opposite bank in Silvertown. I didnt think Tate’s used their wharf anymore. I was wrong! There has been much concern at the wholesale reduction of wharfage facilities along the Thames, and some of London’s Councillors and AM’s have tried to protect the remaining ones. However it was good to see Tate’s wharf still had a working role and could accommodate considerably large ships. I don’t think it was a delivery for the factory, simply that the wharf can accommodate somewhat large ships that need to deliver elsewhere. The vessel in question was ‘Antwerp’ which belongs to the Belgian freighter company, Conti-Lines of Antwerp.

IMG 8969 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
All quiet on the Woolwich ferry! If all goes well in another six weeks or so services will resume.

In terms of the new boats themselves, Dame Vera Lynn was not present at the time of my visit. It is known both ferries had fuel taken on board earlier today so its quite possible Dame Vera Lynn had gone out for a test run. Ben Woollacott was berthed at the north pier with its engines working to hold the boat against the pontoons. There may have been some tests going on as normally the new ferries will not need their engines to keep them berthed in place.

IMG 8975 - Crossrail: Woolwich #3 [+ Ferry]
That strange pontoon! Its clearly where the ferries usually moor – must be a floating pier offering services/maintenance/staff facilities whatever.

This strange new structure (pictured above) arrived on the Thames at the same time as the new ferries and people have queried the role of this. I must admit I do not know exactly what it is, however it seems it could be the pontoon to which the new ferries will moor when they are not in use and also act as a service/repair facility for either ferry should they need these.

Ben Woollacott arrived on 16th November and Dame Vera Lynn on the 19th. Both vessels had sailed under their own power from Gdansk in Poland, the route taking in the Baltic Sea, the Kiel Canal, along the Dutch and Belgian coasts and then across the Channel to Tilbury where both vessels had a couple of days stay before continuing up the Thames.

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