Category: transport

Greenwich and Woolwich could get Luton Airport trains from 2018

Ryanair EI-DPC landing at Luton airport by David Precious, used under CC BY 2.0

Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich could get direct trains to Luton Airport under plans that are about to go out to consultation.

The plans would see trains seven days a week from Luton to Rainham, Kent, via Blackfriars, London Bridge, Greenwich and Dartford.

More services through London Bridge to north London and beyond will be possible when the Thameslink works are completed in 2018.

It would give passengers at Deptford,  Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park – who currently rely on trains to Cannon Street – a choice of London terminals after trains to Charing Cross permanently ended in January 2015.

The new lines through London Bridge to Blackfriars will run in between those to Charing Cross and Cannon Street, severing the old connection between Greenwich and the Charing Cross lines (although trains can still run in emergencies).

Trains would also stop at Charlton, Woolwich Arsenal, Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Dartford, but not at Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere or Erith.

It’s not clear whether existing Southeastern services to Cannon Street will be altered to make room for the trains (there are currently six per hour, not four as stated in the document above).

As well as connections to Luton Airport, passengers would also have direct links to Eurostar at St Pancras and Crossrail at Abbey Wood, as well as north-west London destinations at West Hampstead.

The trains would be operated by Thameslink rather than Southeastern, and the consultation is now on its website.

Elsewhere in south east London, Govia Thameslink Railway’s proposals also include increasing the miserly train service through Crofton Park and Catford from two to four trains per hour.

Meanwhile, local MPs have been pressing goverment ministers on the state of Southeastern with little success. Transport minister Paul Maynard couldn’t be bothered to answer a question from Lewisham East’s Heidi Alexander on whether Southeastern would be given new rolling stock in a debate on Thursday morning, although he was more forthcoming when asked for a meeting about Southeastern by the Conservative MP for Bromley, Bob Neill. Pressed by Eltham’s MP Clive Efford, he confirmed all local MPs would be able to attend.

But asked by Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook if he backed plans to devolve SE London’s rail services to TfL, transport secretary Chris Grayling was non-committal, saying he wanted to see proposals from mayor Sadiq Khan first.

1.15pm update: What gets given can also be taken away, and buried away in the full proposals are plans to cut little-advertised direct trains from New Cross Gate to Gatwick Airport and other destinations in Surrey and Sussex, with passengers expected to take slow Overground trains and change at Norwood Junction.

There’s a huge consultation survey, which covers a vast number of changes and makes some peculiar assumptions, available to fill in. The new Greenwich line trains are covered by questions 15, 16 and 31, Catford line in questions 17, 29 and 30 and New Cross Gate cuts in questions 45 and 56.

Ryanair EI-DPC landing at Luton airport by David Precious, used under CC BY 2.0. Thanks to @politic_animal for the spot, and to commenters below for filling in some of the gaps in this story.

Route 108 set for bigger buses and switch to Olympic Park

108 bus

Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham could soon have a direct bus link to the Olympic Park under plans revealed by Transport for London today.

The 108 service through the Blackwall Tunnel would have its route altered north of the river so it runs via Stratford City bus station, beside the Westfield shopping centre, to Stratford International station. The new route would see it run alongside the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with a stop at the London Aquatics Centre.

The route would gain bigger buses – though still single-deck, due to height restrictions in the Blackwall Tunnel.

It would also be rerouted away from the Blackwall Tunnel’s northern approach to serve Chrisp Street in Poplar, passing Langdon Park and Devons Road DLR stations rather than Bromley-by-Bow tube.

The change is part of a revamp of routes serving the borough of Tower Hamlets. Another change sees the 277 rerouted through the Isle of Dogs, bringing Greenwich town centre within walking distance of a 24-hour bus from Dalston and Hackney.

Bigger buses on the 108 would certainly provide some relief on what’s a chronically overcrowded route – although without an increase in frequency the route will continue to struggle with demand.

A switch to run via Stratford City would cause some problems for people changing buses in Stratford itself – in 2013, TfL said it would break 600 trips each day – although the two bus stations are only separated by a short walk via the Westfield centre. What’s not clear is if the diverted route would be affected by West Ham United moving to the Olympic Stadium this summer.

And while rerouting the 108 via Chrisp Street would mean the service avoids the A12 traffic jams, some passengers may miss the link to Bromley-by-Bow, although the new service passes close to Bow Road station.

Tower Hamlets2

What’s the view from north of the river? Bow’s Diamond Geezer thinks this is more about getting double-deckers on another bus…

There’s a consultation now open on the scheme – if you’re a 108 user, have your say by 20 March.

PS. You read it here first, three years ago…

How did Sadiq Khan get caught by the cable car’s finances?

Happy new year. Sorry, back to the cable car again.

Greenwich cable car, 18 June 2012

If you use public transport in London, 2016 opened with a fare rise – and that included the Emirates Air Line, which slapped 10p on an adult single trip. The annual round of fare rises also kicked off campaigning for May’s mayoral election, with the Greens’ Sian Berry demanding London’s fare zones be axed (Woolwich residents fuming at being stuck in zone 4 take note) and Labour’s Sadiq Khan pushing his plan to freeze fares.

Khan told the Evening Standard he would fund the £450m freeze by scrapping Boris Johnson’s “vanity projects”, with our very own cable car in the firing line.

“I’ll start by ending any further public funding for the Emirates cable car as soon as the contract allows — if that means it closes, then so be it,” he said. “It has been a disastrous waste of money and costs more than £5 million a year to run.”

This is cobblers. The cable car’s operating costs are certainly about £5m – but its popularity as a tourist attraction means it’s making a sum quite near that back in fares. This is a bit like Khan demanding the 177 bus is scrapped because it costs £4.6m each year to run – he’s ignoring what it makes back in revenue.

Indeed, I’m indebted to Mayorwatch’s Martin Hoscik for chasing up the figures with TfL – the accounts show it makes a surplus.

An analysis of Transport for London’s audited accounts show that, instead of receiving a “subsidy”, the scheme’s fare revenue met or exceeded operating costs in each of the last three financial years.

In its first nine months of operation, the period covered by TfL’s 2012/13 accounts, just under two million passengers were carried, generating fares revenue of £6m.

During 2013/14 passengers numbers, which were boosted the previous year by the scheme’s novelty and London’s hosting of the Olympics, fell to 1.5 million passengers with fare revenue of £5m.

Passenger numbers remained flat in 2014/15 at 1.5 million but revenue increased from £5 million to £6 million.

We know that operating costs have fallen – which is why a story last summer that the cable car was losing money fell apart. Transport Commissioner Mike Brown’s most recent report to the TfL board said the Emirates Air Line has made a £1m surplus since it opened.

Boris Johnson launching the cable car in 2011

Boris Johnson launching the cable car in 2011

This doesn’t suddenly make the cable car a brilliant idea – user numbers have pretty much flatlined, and Boris Johnson’s stated aim of it paying its build costs (£16m (£60m minus £36m from Emirates and £8m from the EU)) looks like a tricky proposition.

It’s also certainly so far failed as both a commuter link and a generator of significant extra employment, both justifications used for building it.

But Khan was wrong to have highlighted the operating costs.

The big flaw in the cable car is that £16m that could have gone into, say, improving the botched bus infrastructure on the Greenwich Peninsula (where a pedestrian died yesterday morning) has instead gone into a tourist attraction that sits apart from the public transport system with incompatible fares.

Indeed, as Mayorwatch points out, the Emirates sponsorship contract ties TfL into operating it until 2021, by which time London could be on its fourth mayor. There is a break clause in 2017, but it’d be costly for TfL to break the contract and it would lose a big chunk of the Emirates sponsorship cash.

So the mayoral candidates are stuck with a tourist attraction that seems to just about tick over financially. It’s one to watch – maybe tinkering with fares could boost weekday usage – but with TfL losing all its government grant by 2019, there are bigger things to worry about, like protecting bus services.

Asked to comment on the scheme’s published finances, a spokesman for Mr Khan’s campaign said: “We’ll review it… and the likeliest option is it closing in 2021”.

But Sadiq Khan doesn’t know what the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula will be like in 2021, when the Emirates contract ends. Nor do any of us. I’m not sure whether there’ll be a significant commuter traffic (you’d need a lot of people living on the peninsula and working in the Royals, or vice versa) but there’s clear evidence of plenty of leisure traffic. Closing it would leave London one river crossing down – however flawed it may be, and may leave TfL recording an overall loss.

The mayor in 2021 could sell the cable car, which could guarantee an instant return); could cut opening hours (the current contract mandates opening up by 7am, when hardly anybody uses it); or could go the other way and integrate it into the public transport system (which could cost a bit but most public transport costs a bit).

Or the 2021 mayor could carry on as now, with a new sponsor contract, maybe wiping the build costs once and for all, and leave the issue for few years in the future.

The cable car is an intriguing problem for the next mayor – and how they react to it will tell you a lot about them. What we’ve learned about Sadiq Khan is that he needs some new advisors – fast.

What next for the cable car? It still has no Oyster card commuters…

Greenwich cable car, 18 December 2015

Last year, this website told you there were no Oyster card commuters. Guess what? There still aren’t any. There’s more in this story I’ve written for Londonist: Cable car still has no regular users.

It’s the fourth year I’ve surveyed cable car usage in a typical October week. In 2012 and 2013 I did it for Snipe, just for this website in 2014, and for Londonist in 2015, where the week was 11-17 October. If you want more, Diamond Geezer has drilled down into the full dataset to see just when you can guarantee a cabin all to yourself. (All this is thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, currently under threat from the Government.)

The easy figure to home in 2012 was the number of people using it to commute, since Boris Johnson had banged on about it being such a vital link. Back then, 16 people tapped in with their Oyster cards more than five times in a week, enabling them to obtain a rebate on their fares. The following year this dropped to four. Last year, there were none at all. And it’s the same this year.

The handful of people who do commute on it use paper multi-trip tickets, which are valid for a year, and are less fiddly to use. About 30 are sold each week, although because the tickets are valid for a year, it’s hard to tell who’s using it to work and who is using it for fun. This year, I’ve seen figures for these paper tickets going back to opening day in June 2012, and sales don’t seem to tally with big events at the O2 or ExCeL, either. That said, a load were sold on 23 December last year, so maybe someone was giving out a load for Christmas presents (and they’ll have to be used up by today).

It does seem rather strange that TfL runs a public transport service that it discourages regular travellers from using its main public transport ticketing system on, but there you go.

Here’s a table of the week’s journeys:

Sun 11th 115 291 550 681 771 807 903 968 791 543 397 154
Mon 12th 18 19 44 230 191 206 210 218 200 238 189 214 122 72
Tue 13th 26 27 61 98 193 262 226 225 245 174 189 158 129 95
Wed 14th 22 46 74 249 294 231 307 244 213 263 197 183 111 115
Thu 15th 22 123 148 175 291 195 298 219 282 300 157 200 161 105
Fri 16th 21 33 40 149 225 217 230 232 241 213 211 250 181 137 96 85
Sat 17th 42 167 393 563 670 809 793 854 894 727 591 463 348 180 134

Individual Emirates Air Line journeys, hour by hour, between 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL.

And here’s a graph:

Cable car hourly usage, October 2015

It’s bad news all round. Usage is pretty much the same as it was last year, the only rises coming from the opening hours being extended to 9pm on weeknights and 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Tourist-friendly tickets were also well down in our sample week. Combined “experience” tickets, which allow admission to the Emirates Aviation Experience at the Greenwich Peninsula terminal, were down from 5,292 sales to 4,099. Sales of tickets allowing travel on the cable car and Thames Clippers river buses were also down, from 539 in 2014 to 291 this year.

Sun 11th Mon 12th Tue 13th Wed 14th Thu 15th Fri 16th Sat 17th
North 3,154 960 890 1,029 1,150 1,095 3,479
South 3,817 1,211 1,218 1,520 1,526 1,466 4,149
TOTAL 6,971 2,171 2,108 2,549 2,676 2,561 7,628

Total Emirates Air Line journeys, starting at north and south terminals, 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL

Here’s how it compares with previous years:

Cable car usage 2012-15

So the cable car opened with a bang on 2012, slumped in 2013, rose slightly on the back of some touristy promotions in 2014, and has been lifted by night flights in 2015. What happens for 2016?

Not a lot, I imagine. We’ll have a new mayor who’ll be less beholden to mayor Johnson’s little projects. But the next mayor’s hands will be tied by the Emirates sponsorship contract signed by TfL in 2012 which, among other things, bans the next mayor from criticising that contract, and mandates a minimum level of service (which is why it opens up at 7am for a handful of punters – albeit a bigger handful than in the very early days.

TfL wanted the cable car because it wanted a river crossing that would bring in an income. Furthermore, it needs that income to pay off the £16m in taxpayers’ money that has gone into building it (plus £8m from the EU and £36m from Emirates). But it’s only made £1m in three years. The last TfL commissioner’s report states that usage will go up as the area around the cable car develops, and the cash will start rolling in.

But will it? At present, most development is going up on the Greenwich Peninsula – if you’ve moved there, would you want to pay a premium fare to go to the Royal Docks? (Would you go to the Royal Docks at all?) On the north side, development is around Canning Town station (notably the hideous London City Island) or at Royal Wharf to the east – too far from the cable car to be convenient.

It’s likely that it won’t be the next mayor’s call what to do with the cable car, but the one after – whoever is in charge in 2022, when the Emirates contract ends. By then, there might be some critical mass on both sides of the Thames, but will a premium-fare link be a help or a hindrance?

Another sponsorship deal could wipe out the loss, then the fares could be cut and it could just become part of the transport network. Or it could just be sold off as a tourist attraction.

That’s all a long way off, though. The more I find out about the cable car, the more questions seem to come up. Whoever wins in May, the Dangleway’s going to be an object of curiosity for some time yet.

More at Londonist. Thanks to Excel ninja Clare Griffiths for the graphs.

Bakerloo brush-off for Catford: Tube to Lewisham ‘set for 2030’

Waterloo Tube station
This has been kicking around for a few days, but as this website’s gong through a bit of an infrastructure phase, it’d be daft to ignore it – Transport for London’s commissioner has said the Bakerloo Line could be extended to Lewisham by 2030, running via the Old Kent Road and New Cross Gate. (See original London SE1 story and page 38 of the TfL commissioner’s report.)

But Mike Brown’s preferred plan is to build only a first phase to Lewisham – instead of extending the route over National Rail lines through Catford to Hayes.

Bakerloo Line proposals/ TfLIt’s mixed news for Lewisham Council’s campaign to bring the Tube to the borough, as while Lewisham itself – undergoing rapid redevelopment – would get a much-needed Underground link, its southern neighbour faces being stuck with inferior overground services, despite also being home to big regeneration schemes.

On first sight, it appears a remarkably short-sighted proposal. If you consider how congested North Greenwich is now, a Bakerloo terminal at Lewisham – attracting passengers from all points south and east – could make that look calm and peaceful.

Furthermore, the really big costs would be in tunnelling to Lewisham – converting the old Mid-Kent rail route through Ladywell, Catford Bridge, Lower Sydenham and out to Hayes would be relatively cheap.

(Readers with very long memories will remember we’ve been here before – the original 1965 Jubilee Line (then Fleet Line) proposals would have seen the line extended in phases to run to Hayes by 1980.)

But as mentioned last year, Bromley Council has long been unhappy about losing direct trains to the City from Hayes – even though the Bakerloo can shift far more people, and is likely to be at least as quick for suburban travellers than existing services.

If Bromley’s rather inexplicable opposition continues, it’ll also remove one of the key benefits of the scheme – freeing up extra National Rail routes through Lewisham after the Hayes line is transferred to the Underground.

Of course, this does open up the opportunity for others to belatedly come in – last year the Eltham Labour Party agreed a motion backing a Bakerloo extension along the Bexleyheath line, a slightly more sensible proposal than the DLR on stilts on top of the A2.

Lewisham Council studied a variety of different options in a report five years ago, but its findings were largely ignored this side of the border. More recently, Greenwich Council has lent its backing to a Lewisham extension. Local Tories are also supporting the idea.

Bakerloo campaigners will now look at persuading London’s next mayor to look afresh at the scheme so he/she opts to implement the whole extension, rather than just a link to Lewisham. But with TfL losing all its government grant from 2019, the future of the whole scheme isn’t fully guaranteed yet.

17 December update: TfL has now published its full report into the Bakerloo line extension, confirming the above – and indicating that a route through Catford has not so much been kicked into the long grass, but booted into the pond, but also opens up the possibility of a route through Eltham and Bexleyheath to Slade Green. “Planning and engineering work for options to Lewisham will be undertaken on the basis of avoiding preclusion of a future onwards extension including to Hayes and potential other locations such as towards Bexleyheath. This will include working with stakeholders to safeguard necessary delivery of the infrastructure that may be required.”

Greenwich Council set to plug Thames Path’s ‘missing link’


It’s been a very long time in coming, but walkers and cyclists could soon be able to use the Thames Path uninterrupted between Charlton and Woolwich – with plans to build a new path over the riverfront.

Currently, the Thames Path from central London stops dead at the Thames Barrier, with anyone wanting to continue eastwards having to continue via the busy Woolwich Road before walking through the King Henry’s Wharf housing development.

Westminster Industrial Estate

During the week, walkers in the know can sneak through an unsigned shortcut through the Westminster Industrial Estate – but these barriers prevent cyclists from using it.

Plans to plug the gap were first revealed in September, at Greenwich Council’s first “cycling forum”, after negotiations with landowners. Now they’re slowly starting to become reality, with one phase having already received planning permission, and another currently in the planning process.

The scheme is particularly good news for the enormous creative arts hub Second Floor Arts, as the new route will run right past its entrance. Greenwich hopes it will be complete by April 2017.

Heading from east to west… (apologies for the duff photos, which are of a display board at the cycle forum event).

Warspite Road

Phase 1 is currently going through the planning process (see application 15/3519/F), and consists of a ramp from Warspite Road which will then sit on top of the riverfront, taking the route round to the existing Thames Path at King Henry’s Wharf. Or, strictly speaking: “Construction of combined footway / cycleway bridge, a 1.4m high pedestrian parapet with lighting incorporated into the parapet posts, erection of a wooden fender structure in the foreshore area.” Comments on this need to be with the council by 29 December.


Phase 2 already has planning permission (see application 15/2972/F). It consists of a ramp between Unity Way, the street that leads to the Thames Barrier visitor centre, and Bowater Road, inside the Westminster Industrial Estate. This means there’ll still be a diversion away from the river (and the deteriorating Mersey ferry Royal Iris, moored here) but nowhere near as long and inconvenient as the current scheme. Greenwich hopes to start work on this before April.

While the scheme would make life easier for walkers, it also opens up the Thames Path as a viable cycle commuter route for people in King Henry’s Wharf, Woolwich Dockyard Estate and beyond – a twenty-minute pootle on a bike to North Greenwich being much quicker and more pleasant for those who are up for it than squeezing onto an overcrowded bus.

The money for this is coming from Transport for London – as mentioned last week in the post about hire bikes and Greenwich town centre, many of Greenwich’s cycle-friendly schemes are either coming either from TfL money, or through adapting renewal schemes when roads need resurfacing or reworking.

Separately, there is also a scheme to introduce a stretch of segregrated cycle lane on Plumstead Road, in an attempt to fix a botched road scheme from a decade back. “Light segregation” is also due to be installed on a cycle lane in Rochester Way, Kidbrooke, shortly.

Greenwich has a newsletter for people interested in cycling infrastructure in the borough – email cycling-strategy[at] and ask to be put on its list.

Unlucky 13: TfL’s smokescreen obscures river crossings debate

TfL Connecting the Capital image

Some crossings are more likely than others – the 13 locations in TfL’s report, from Wandsworth to Dartford.

You might have noticed TfL started a new consultation into its planned road river crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere a few days ago. You didn’t? Well, what you may have seen is a story about TfL planning 13 new crossings across the Thames. The trouble is – it’s nonsense.

Evening Standard and BBC London websites

Swallowing the TfL line again – you expect it from the Standard, but the BBC?

Most of the crossings have very little to do with TfL, only a couple have planning permission and few have any funding. Only one is guaranteed to happen, because it already exists – the Crossrail tunnel at Woolwich, which opens three years from now. The ones TfL are involved with are the most controversial – including the Garden Bridge and the Silvertown Tunnel. It has very little to do with the less contentious ones, such as a cycling/walking bridge at Nine Elms. One at Charlton appears to have been plucked out of thin air, while a deeply controversial scheme – putting the Inner Ring Road in a tunnel – doesn’t appear.

At best it’s a list of options for a new mayor to ponder. At worst, it’s a smokescreen (look! a cycle bridge!) to avoid having an awkward debate on new roads (boo! jams! pollution! tolls!) that would have been sparked by talking about the two Thamesmead crossings.

A similar thing happened in summer 2014, when the London Chamber of Commerce plugged a “cycle friendly” bridge at Thamesmead that was actually the same old bridge that’s been proposed there for years.

Isle of Dogs to Greenwich Peninsula: No crossing is planned here, just some ferry piers

Isle of Dogs to Greenwich Peninsula: No crossing is planned here, just some ferry piers

Even more bizarrely, the 13 picked for this document includes two TfL doesn’t want to do – including one from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich, which appears to be just an opportunity to expand Thames Clippers services rather than an actual fixed crossing.

The rights and wrongs of each proposal aside, presenting this random collection of optimism over funding struck me as an interesting PR strategy – when the Garden Bridge was starting to hog headlines a year ago, I remember talking a year ago to a figure in London broadcasting about the Silvertown Tunnel, who bemoaned “bridge fatigue” because so many stories were about crossing plans which were annoying people.

So I’ve written a piece for the New Statesman’s CityMetric site about this and how TfL is trying to avoid having some difficult discussions: No, London is not getting 13 new river crossings.

What about the Gallions Reach and Belvedere crossings? Well, what makes this consultation interesting is that TfL has lobbed some public transport ideas in them – I’ll look at those in a post soon.