diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Woolwich Ferry closed for a once-in-a-generation upgrade in October. It failed to reopen in December, then tried to reopen in January but failed again. Docking the boats using a newfangled magnetic docking system was proving tricky. But on February 1st a low-key 'limited service' began, with minimum publicity, and I went down to take a ride. Alas I turned up just as the service was being suspended due to technical difficulties with mooring, which was fine for me because I could walk away, but less fun for the vehicles and foot passengers stuck aboard.

Yesterday I tried again. Success, mostly, sort-of.

The approach roads to the ferry terminals look a little brighter because the opportunity was taken while the service was closed to spruce them up. If you're in a vehicle, all the better. But pedestrians aren't particularly well catered for, on either approach, especially when it comes to crossing lanes of traffic. On the Woolwich side it's easy to find yourself in the cycle lane, or stuck on an island waiting for hordes of traffic to stream past, while on the North Woolwich side no direct route to the start of the jetty is provided and roads must be crossed unaided. A few white stripes across the road would have been nice, or better signage, or at least something to make those on foot feel welcome. I wouldn't recommend it in a wheelchair yet.

Because of the way the new ferries are designed, pedestrians now approach via the right-hand pavement in North Woolwich but still the left-hand pavement in Woolwich. Remember to board on the side nearest the river (or look for the repurposed bus shelter to show you which side to go). Cyclists should head in the opposite direction. The shelters are larger than those here previously but also more open, so less able to fend off persistent mid-river drizzle. The ferry remains free, because it would take an Act of Parliament to change that. I got to ride Ben Woollacott, rather than Dame Vera Lynn, these being the two craft replacing the three recently scrapped.

Once the ferry has docked (a phase I'll return to later) low-key electronic bleeps herald the raising of the barriers. Disembarking vehicles must be dealt with before embarking vehicles, obviously, but foot passengers get to cross in both directions at the same time. An automated system ensures everything raises and lowers in correct sequence. Crew stand guard to wave everyone through as required. Do not underestimate the repetitive all-weathers nature of the job that Woolwich Ferry workers endure.

The new ferries maximise deck space for parking, increasing capacity. They're also asymmetric, with the crew's cabin elevated to one side and the passenger compartment directly underneath. Previously foot passengers were directed down into twisty passageways in the bowels of the ship, a bit like entering the Crystal Maze, but today they remain at deck level. The passenger cabin is very long and very thin, with a string of 67 seats along its length. Most of the seats face out, with a river view, while others face in. Some flip up. There is a wheelchair space should anyone get this far.

The cabin is austere, more like an underdecorated waiting room than anything maritime. Normally when TfL have a wall spare they plaster it with posters or Dangleway adverts, but here there's nothing bar a couple of tiny lists of safety advice. At least you can always look out of the window towards the river, which is a big improvement on the old ferries, and if you're lucky there might be several passing boats to divert your eye. But the best part is that, even though there are sealable doors at each end of the cabin, you're not forced to remain inside during your voyage. Nobody locks you in, so you're free to wander out (at either end) (as often as you like) and stand on deck to take the air. There's even a decent amount of space.

You might be waiting aboard for a good five minutes before the boat sets off, given how long the vehicle changeover takes. The on-board safety announcement is made by the same flat synthetic voice that haunts King's Cross tube station, rather than employ a human to make a one-off recording. And then you're off across the river, manoeuvring and spinning as required to make sure the ferry approaches from a downstream direction. This is the briefest stage of the river-crossing process, perhaps enlivened by a passing refuse barge, perhaps with a glimpse of Docklands rising through the mist. Essentially TfL are offering a Thames voyage for free, admittedly not in the most scenic part of town, nor lengthy, but far cheaper than the Thames Clipper alternative.

And then you wait.

The new Woolwich Ferry operates with spanking new 21st century technology, not 1960s docking procedures. That's brilliant, and why the refurb took months to complete, but my word how it's slowed things down. Magnetic pads have been placed at the foot of each docking tower to ensure that the ferry always aligns correctly with the vehicle ramp. It's supposed to speed things up, but instead the boat has to nudge forwards to precisely the right place to become attached. We took a couple of goes to get it right, and then a couple more, edging in sort-of diagonally to try to hit the sweet spot. Whatever they've been practising since the new ferries arrived, they've not got it off-pat yet.

I wish I'd been timing the approach, but I reckon we must have been bobbing off Woolwich pier for a good ten minutes before connection was eventually made. By this stage passengers were massing morosely at the front of the ferry, and one was cursing audibly to anyone who'd listen, as well as ringing up a friend to unload her disgust. This was not an impressive service.

I hung around a bit and watched other crossings, and crossed back across the river myself, so I know this mooring delay is not uniform. It seemed shorter on the North Woolwich side, more like two or three minutes, but every ferry I saw trying to attach itself to Woolwich pier took noticeably longer. It's perfectly possible that specific river conditions were in play during my visit - tidal flow can reach 4 knots at times - which'd make manoeuvring particularly tricky. I don't want to draw over-simplistic conclusions from a single afternoon, but yesterday it would've been a lot quicker walking through the foot tunnel than enduring all the faffing on the ferry.

According to the TfL website, the Woolwich Ferry runs "every 5-10 minutes throughout the day, from Monday to Friday". There is no way the two new ferries could ever hit the '5' end of that spectrum, even if everything were working perfectly, because loading and unloading take too long. 10 might be doable, but only if magnetic mooring worked first time, and I fear 15 may be closer to the eventual reality. The preview service is currently managing more like 20.

It's brilliant that the Woolwich Ferry is up and running again, freely linking two sides of the Thames for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. It's excellent that investment has ensured this age-old ferry crossing has the infrastructure to continue for decades to come. But the technological advances at the heart of the new docking system have created issues which don't look like being sorted soon, and we may just have sacrificed reliability for sustainability.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards