853 exclusive: Greenwich Foot Tunnel was closed without warning 16 times in a month earlier this year as council contractors worked on revamping the cross-river link, figures released by Greenwich Council reveal.
The multiple failures blocked access for walkers and cyclists for 39 hours during October, with individual closures lasting up to five-and-a-half hours. Pedestrians had to pay to use the Docklands Light Railway while cyclists were forced to take lengthy diversions to either Rotherhithe Tunnel, Tower Bridge or Woolwich Ferry.
Both Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels are currently undergoing major renovation works which are due to be completed by April 2011. The Woolwich tunnel has already had to close completely because of problems with its stairwells while the lifts are being replaced.
At Greenwich, walkers and cyclists are having to use the lifts while contractors are working on the stairwells. But a series of mechanical failures with the lifts – installed in 1992 – have played havoc with journeys between east and south-east London.
But the tunnel was closed 16 times during October, mostly because of mechanical failures but with one closure during the morning rush hour caused by a dust cloud.
A further five closures are listed as having taken place during November, although the list provided to 853 contradicts an answer given in a Greenwich Council meeting last week, when cabinet member for regeneration Cllr Denise Hyland said the tunnel had closed on six occasions.
While the list provided to 853 is should cover closures up to 24 November, Cllr Hyland’s list covered the entire month but did not include closures on 11 and 15 November.
Neither list featured the closure on 23 November which prompted the Freedom of Information request.
Greenwich Council said it had recently upgraded the way it publicised sudden tunnel closures, including using its Twitter feed and employing “local signage, which is publicised immediately the failure has occurred”. It also said recorded updates on the foot tunnel were available on 020 8853 2988, a number not publicised on the council’s website.
“The work to both stairwells is due to be completed in January 2011 and as soon as the stairwell is opened to the public work will begin on removing and replacing the lifts. The new lift motors and control machinery are ready for installation,” Jan Goldsmith, assistant policy officer at the council’s regeneration department, said.
London mayor Boris Johnson has asked Transport for London to raise the issue of foot tunnel closures with Greenwich Council, following questions from London Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon and Val Shawcross.
But it was revealed last week that Greenwich Foot Tunnel will be closed on Christmas Day, meaning there would be no river crossings at all for non-drivers east of the Rotherhithe Tunnel on 25 December.