A Christmas present from Greenwich Council – and no, not the three copies of Greenwich Time that appeared on my doormat on Wednesday. Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened at 6am yesterday after being completely closed for at least 15 months. The news came out of nowhere – particularly as Greenwich had claimed the tunnel wouldn’t be open until spring 2012, and that its cabinet member in charge of the project didn’t appear to have a clue what was going on.
In fact, the sign on the Woolwich entrance still says the tunnel is closed until spring 2012.
As with Greenwich, there’s still no lifts in place, but serious problems with the stairs forced Woolwich’s complete closure in the autumn of 2011. Finally, they’ve been fixed.
If you’d missed the cut-and-pasted press-releases churned up by news websites yesterday, you’d have no clue it was back in business. It’s still covered in scaffolding, while he south entrance is tucked away next to the back door of the Waterfront Leisure Centre. The north entrance leads straight out onto the North Circular Road instead of to the adjacent bus stop. When I went to have a look, it was eerily deserted. (Although at least one other walker went down there yesterday…)
But what improvements would I find within? Would it be sparkling clean, with a new lighting scheme? Would I, as press reports indicated, I find shiny new stairs? I thought back to when Tube stations had been revamped, and stepped downstairs…
It’s pretty much the same as it was when it closed in September 2010. Maybe filthier. The treads on the stairs are the same – and broken in parts – and the tiles are as dirty as they always were. At the foot of the stairs, you’ll find the same obsolete signage that’s been there for years, and it feels a bit like you’re walking through – well, a tunnel that’s been closed for 15 months.
There is no initial sign of the “substantial refurbishment” promised when the council first talked about the works here and at Greenwich in 2009. There’s still those always-slightly unsettling patches where water has got in. It feels a little like being locked in a disused Tube station – rather than an underground tunnel that’s had half of £11.5m spent on it.
So where has the money gone?
Well, you can see where new cabling’s in for lighting, as well as a CCTV system, speakers and help points – although the latter haven’t yet been commissioned. No sign of the new lifts as yet, though.
Granted, the shabbiness, along with its amazing acoustics, is part of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel’s charm (although I don’t remember it actually being that dirty) along with that of its Greenwich neighbour.
But when the new, passenger-operated, lifts come in, the tunnel isn’t going to feel particularly welcoming without staff in there if it’s still as grimy as it is at the moment. The lack of obvious signs to improve the ambience of the tunnel only raises more questions about what’s been a farcical refurbishment operation.
If Greenwich had been more open about the issues facing the tunnels from the start – hey, how about some before/after pictures of these broken stairs? – perhaps people wouldn’t be annoyed about this long, drawn-out process that should have been finished nine months ago.
It’s good to have the Woolwich tunnel back, though, and at least this saga has taken a happy turn. Despite the lack of lifts, it’s now open 24-hours a day, including throughout Christmas.
There’s some more happy news on the tunnel front, with the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – usually closed weekday evenings – open from now right through to January 3. (Thanks to Greenwich’s communications team for confirming that.) So unlike last year, both tunnels will be open on Christmas Day, when no other transport runs.
Now, will both tunnels both be fully up and running by the Olympics? We have seven months to find out…