Dear Boris… why the Blackwall Tunnel balls-up?

Dear Boris,

I hope you’ll forgive the colloquial tone of this e-mail. But I’m writing about something serious, which is why I’m copying this to Transport for London customer services, relevant London Assembly members and publishing it on, as well as addressing you personally. It’s about your handling of the Blackwall Tunnel closures – and how bus passengers are meant to get around them. I know you’re an intelligent man. So I hope you will be able to do something about a dumb state of affairs.

I hope you had a good weekend. I was lucky enough to spend late Saturday night at a friend’s in Walthamstow – sat in her courtyard and enjoying the Mediterranean temperatures until the early hours. When the time finally came to leave – in the early morning of Sunday 11 July – the night bus to Stratford didn’t let me down, a 69 coming bang on time.

But it was in Stratford that things went wrong. I know the southbound Blackwall Tunnel is closed some weekends to allow for urgent renovations, causing disruption to route 108. Passengers are expected to use the Tube between Canning Town and North Greenwich, and when the Tube is closed, the buses can be specially-escorted through the tunnel.

At 5.45am*, a 108 appeared bearing the destination Canning Town – even though the first southbound Tube from there is not until 7.11am. I asked the driver how passengers could cross south of the river. “I don’t know,” he answered. With no other option to get home, I jumped on board anyway.

At Canning Town, we were turfed off and given tickets for the Tube – tickets we couldn’t use for an hour and a quarter. There were no TfL staff to be seen. Instead, it was private bus staff looking after District Line replacement bus services who got an earful from angry 108 passengers. Many of these people were supposed to be going to work – one guy I spoke to was working as a casual stagehand at the O2, for example – yet were going to be stranded for well over an hour at Canning Town instead, losing them money and putting their jobs at risk. Do you think this is fair, Boris?

I’ve lived on or close to the 108 route all my life. When the Blackwall Tunnel has been closed in the past, and when there’s been no alternative way across the river, they’ve run via Tower Bridge. If it is too late to escort buses through the tunnel, why can’t they run that way before the Tube opens on Sundays, when the traffic is light? Yes, it would add half-an-hour to the journey – but it’d be quicker than the 75 minute wait at Canning Town my fellow passengers faced.

It was luck that saw me get home – soon after the doors of Canning Town station opened, an unadvertised, unannounced early DLR train to Woolwich Arsenal appeared, from where I jumped on a Southeastern train home. Without that, I would have been stuck in Canning Town for well over an hour.

I see that the Blackwall Tunnel is closed again this coming weekend – and presumably more people will get caught out like I, and the O2 stagehand did. You place great emphasis in your speeches on helping London’s economy. The people who were turned off my 108 this morning are those who keep it going. How about doing something to help them get to work, instead of leaving them stranded in a bus station?


Darryl Chamberlain

(* pedants’ note – according to my Oyster card record, I touched in at 5.36am, which means my timings in this letter are actually an under-estimate.)


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