IMG 4384fi 800x425 - Angerstein crossing's new look

This is about the ‘upgrade’ at the Angerstein foot crossing and its a follow-up to my previous two posts. Not one blog nor Twitter has made any updates on the Angerstein branch since the controversy over Network Rail’s proposal to close the crossing in April. Its being kept open for the moment but surely something must have been happening there because there has been an upgrade? I decided to head out to Charlton in order to find out the latest on this historic railway crossing!

Last month as most will know, the crossing was closed temporarily. This was originally in order to close it as indicated by Network Rail. However they backed down and promised to keep it open until consultations had been completed with the council and other bodies.

The crossing has been back in use since 22nd April 2019 and the only substantial change has been some new gates. It seems the work is temporary (as are the paper notices warning people not to use the crossing when trains are about) in the hope it can still be closed completely.

Since the huge furore in April 2019 many have muscled in and said the crossing should be kept open. Local MPs, councillors, even Greenwich Council says its a historic crossing and should not be closed. Network Rail thinks differently as their letter dated 11 April 2019 indicates. They apologised for the upset they had caused, but nevertheless they still do express a desire that the crossing should be closed. Their letter explains their view of the situation (image and extract in quotes following):

IMG 4366 - Angerstein crossing's new look

Letter of the 11th April 2019 still extant on the crossing at the time of my visit.

Over the last 18 months we have engaged with the local authority, but it would appear not always with the right part. Clearly this process has not been good enough, and we are therefore committing to work closely with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and local residents to establish the best solution we can collectively achieve while meeting our statutory safety obligations.

I need to reiterate that we have embarked upon the process for the best of reasons. The risk to the public at the crossing will increase due to engineering changes that are being made following previous operational incidents and also with the anticipated increase in freight traffic. We take this matter very seriously.

I sincerely apologise once again for the poor engagement and will update you further when we have a clear plan confirmed with the local authorities and local residents.

The upgrades to the area’s signal control and the crossing itself:

The changes that have occurred at the crossing itslef are a sort of backing off by Network Rail, but these are not permanent obviously. Network Rail has instead undertook temporary measures to modify the crossing in light of the upgrade work they have done to the branch itself and the area’s signalling.

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General view of the new look crossing.

Essentially there hasn’t been much of an upgrade to the Angerstein branch itself, well at least not visibly. What has been important has been the work to dovetail the branch’s signalling and control into the recent upgrade work that took place over Easter 2019 involving an area stretching from Lewisham to Eltham and Deptford to Woolwich.

A large part of this work has involved moving the control of the trains and signals from London Bridge to Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre. The Angerstein Wharf branch, previously under the command of London Bridge, is now under the control of Three Bridges.

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The south side of the crossing looking basically as when I last saw it before the works undertaken in April.

What has been done besides the gates themselves and the changes involving the reworking to move the branch’s control to Three Bridges? New warning signs have been placed either side of the crossing warning trains to stop and await instructions. Its not really a new thing there were signs previously that performed a similar function. These new ones are more authoritative and also denote that its Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre who supervise this section.

IMG 4404 - Angerstein crossing's new look

New stop and wait boards. The TL186 denotes that the branch is now controlled by Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre.

This overall work Network Rail has described as the ‘Angerstein project’ (which again, besides laying new track and new points, and installing new equipment, has also involved moving control of the area from London Bridge to Three Bridges) has meant that actual upgrading of the branch itself has been fairly minimal. This involves a new lineside signalling cabinet and brand new stop and wait instruction boards, and possibly the signals leading off the branch have too been upgraded to work under Three Bridges.

The actual work to the crossing itself:

IMG 4385 - Angerstein crossing's new look

Old stop look and listen board still extant, with new gates visible.

Of the crossing itself, it was formerly an open crossing, but has now been upgraded to a protected crossing with gates operated by pedestrians – much as can be found elsewhere on the network. This involved the installation of kissing gates which give the both trains and crossing users some extra protection even though trains still move along here very slowly.

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Crossing users passing through the new gates.

The gates that I took photos of are very new, possibly of last weekend’s vintage. They are NOT the gates Network Rail installed in readiness for re-opening the crossing on 22nd April. Those were proper garden gates made of wood installed right at the bottom of the steps themselves either side of the crossing.

Let me restate:

  • On the weekend of Easter 2019, Network Rail installed wooden gates that were right at the bottom of the steps and secured by sliding bolts. These were obviously rather unsafe because of the awkward position they were installed in.

  • Within the last weekend or two, Network Rail took these wooden gates away probably due to complaints about their unsafe use – and installed instead these galvanised steel gates right by the crossing itself. These at least are far easier and safer to use than the earlier gates.
IMG 4382 - Angerstein crossing's new look

Clear view of the pair of brand new kissing gates.

The earlier gates were right at the bottom of the steps either side of the crossing. They had to be unbolted before they could be opened. The bolts were on the outside (the opening outwards side thus people coming down the steps had to awkwardly stand at the bottom step inside the gate whilst trying to put their arm over the top of the gate to unbolt it from the outside, before being able open the gate outwards and away from the steps!

Ironically Network Rail have been prevaricating that the crossing needs to be closed because of safety concerns, yet they installed gates that were considerably unsafe and removed after probably just two weeks of use and very likely in order to avoid possible injuries occurring due to people stumbling or falling due to the gates’ awkward position.

In place of these wooden gates, new galvanised steel gates have been installed at the top of the steps either side of the actual crossing itself. These are much more safer because they are not awkwardly placed right next to the steps and there is no bolt that keeps them firmly shut. They are simply sprung loaded and that does the trick.

Its these newer galvanised steel gates that feature in my photographs and video…

My latest video on the foot crossing. The marks are fungus which hasn’t grown in the two years I’ve had the lens. It was a wide angle lens at a giveaway price!

These chains shown in the picture below were intended for locking the earlier wooden gates out of use when a train was on the branch. Even though Network Rail has removed the rather unsafe wooden gates they have left the chains in place!

IMG 4413 - Angerstein crossing's new look

Chains left behind from the earlier (and thus temporary) wooden gates that were placed in readiness for the crossing’s re-opening on 22nd April

The notices on the fences warning people not to use the crossing when trains are about were originally placed directly on the wooden gates in question. These notices have since been moved on to the fencing surrounding the crossing and at the time of writing there was only one of these present.

IMG 4389 - Angerstein crossing's new look

Warning not to use crossing area when trains are about.

IMG 4378 - Angerstein crossing's new look

The new trackside cabinet – either track circuiting or a plunger/key switch to the signallers – or both!

A box has been installed just north of the crossing itself for either wharf staff or rail operators to use and I think this contains a plunger or keyed switch which has to be operated when authorisation for trains to pass from the branch to the main line is sought from Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre. I think previously authorisation was simply requested by radioing London Bridge box. Correct me if I am wrong on this.

Issues around the use of the crossing and the need for its closure:

It seems one of the concerns Network Rail has is that trains entering or coming off the branch regularly cause considerable delay to passenger services. This, I think, is why they want to close the crossing, being that they want the freight trains to move more speedily rather than crawl past the crossing.

An example of the considerable delays caused by the Angerstein Wharf freight trains can be seen in this South Eastern Railway tweet. There are a number of other tweets detailing the delays caused by Angerstein Wharf freight trains.

Whilst they may not be able to run trains that much faster coming onto the branch as this involves crossing over from the up to the down main lines and then onto the branch itself, at least they can do it faster in the opposite direction because its a direct run onto the main line.

IMG 4391 - Angerstein crossing's new look

Is the crossing holding up Network Rail’s modernisation plans?

The potential for facilitating considerably quicker departures off the branch and thus reducing the delays to passenger trains is there and its my theory that Network Rail wants to be able to do this – however its the crossing itself that slows down the trains.

On top of that I am not sure whether arriving trains do foul the main line whilst waiting for authorisation to move over the crossing and whether that too is a cause of the delays. Either way it seems its not just ‘safety’ that is a concern at the crossing but how that impacts on the overall operation of the main line railway itself.

It seems what should happen under Network Rail’s projected new regime is once the plunger/special key switch, mentioned earlier, has been operated and confirmation is received the junction is clear, trains can begin to open up immediately in order to proceed quickly up the line’s severe gradient and come straight off the branch, thus reducing any possible delays to the quite busy lines in the locality. Remember the Angerstein branch trains foul the paths of trains on both the busy Blackheath and Greenwich lines and the quicker these can be cleared the better.

In the other direction it also seems that Network Rail would prefer trains to clear the junction area completely and more quickly – that means trains both moving off the main line as quickly as is possible and clearing the short but signalled and track circuited section beyond the junction itself. Unfortunately with the crossing in place this isn’t easily done.

(Conversely, crossings such as that on the Brentford branch, are a long way from the main line at Southall, so its not impacting on passenger trains in any way at all.)

What is happening at the moment is despite the huge upgrades to improve train reliability throughout the area, the ‘old arrangement’ is still essentially in use despite the new system because trains still have to draw slowly pass the crossing and/or foul the main lines thus delays/and or compromises to the operation of the passenger trains are still to be expected.

IMG 4365 - Angerstein crossing's new look

Notices still extant detailing the Easter 2019 closure of the crossing.

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The notice highlighting the Easter closure in detail.

Will Network Rail get to close the crossing? It probably depends on whether the projected increase in trains using the branch does happen. Its been said up to twenty trains a day will in future use the branch which adds to a lot of potential delays where both branch and main lines meet.

It also depends on how bad the conflicts become between freight trains and passenger trains and whether it become even more urgent to ensure the Angerstein freight trains can be shifted quicker.

And if the freight trains do need to be shifted more rapidly to avoid conflicts with passenger trains, it will mean the crossing must close. However a lot of people are skeptical of Network Rail’s claims the Angerstein branch would see anything like twenty trains a day.

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