Trouble on – and under – the water at Woolwich

It’s not a story you’ll read much about in Greenwich Time – heavens, no – but the ongoing closure of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel seems to have gone pretty much unnoticed by everyone else over the past fortnight. Which is sad, because if it was Greenwich Foot Tunnel, merry hell would kick off.

But, alas, nobody cares about Woolwich so its residents will have to lump it. Apparently the issue is with the stairwells leading down to the tunnel – but there’s no word from Greenwich Council as to when it will open again, or what’s gone wrong to force the closure.

(Down at Greenwich, the stairs are closed but the lifts are still operating – but whereas once the lifts were manned by men in uniforms, now they’re manned by geezers in casual wear on the phone to their mates. I bet the tourists love that.)

Still, at least there is an alternative in the Woolwich Ferry, but that’s also hit problems since Transport for London took it away from Greenwich Council – which had been running it for over 20 years and had done a pretty good job – and handed to private firm Serco to run with a serious deterioration in the quality of the service. (UPDATE: See this comment about the circumstances of the handover to TfL.)

I took it on Sunday evening for the first time in a long while, and was surprised how slow the service had become, with at least a 10-minute wait at the North Woolwich terminal before we set off south.

Things didn’t improve when we got to Woolwich – upon disembarking, passengers left via the right-hand lane… and we found our way blocked by a barrier which hadn’t been raised. With no staff around to lift it (and a huge queue of cars waiting behind it as traffic left the ferry), we all had to duck under the barrier – heaven knows what would have happened if anyone disabled or pushing a buggy was there. It was bad enough trying to get my borrowed bike under the barrier.

Still, with the tunnel closed and ferry struggling, at least there’s the Docklands Light Railway if you’ve the cash to pay for the fare. But who runs the DLR? Only Serco, of course…


  1. Thanks for bringing this up – it is a royal PITA for those of us who live in Woolwich but work in Canary Wharf and around.

    As a cyclist, that there is no way at night of getting across the river east of Tower Bridge is shockingly rubbish.

    Temporary permission to take bikes on the DLR would have been a pragmatic, cheap solution, but no…

  2. You could use Rotherhithe tunnel. I see plenty of cyclists in there. If you don’t fancy the road there is even a footpath.

  3. Actually it was Greenwich Council which told TfL it didn’t want to run the Woolwich Ferry any more (see papers for Cabinet Committee meeting of 8th January 2008). The reason given was that the Ferry “is not part of the core activities of the Council and is not easily integrated into the Council’s service provision”

    Henry – I thought Thames Clippers took bikes on their services which run until after midnight.

  4. Thanks Paul – I’ll check that out. It’ll explain why Greenwich Council has been reluctant to pursue the poor operation of the Woolwich Ferry since it changed hands. By that standard, shouldn’t running foot tunnels be taken out of the council’s hands?

    Mark – I was waiting for someone to bring up Rotherhithe Tunnel. It’s not a popular option for cyclists and only 20 pedestrians use it a day, apparently.

  5. Yes, OK, there are some options for getting across… But, the Rotherhithe tunnel is pretty nasty, even for a seasoned cyclist, and the Thames Clippers service is irksome because one of the many pleasures of cycling is the money saved over taking the train.

  6. Funny thing, the Rotherhithe Tunnel. It’s about the only place where I *always* ride on the pavement – feels much safer and much more pleasant, despite the rubbish, than sticking to the road. I don’t use it much: I have once seen a pedestrian in it, and a grand total of about 8 other cyclists.

    But, unpleasantness aside, it’s not a sensible option for travel between Woolwich and Canary Wharf.

  7. I can understand that riding on the tight and winding road would not be great for most cyclists. However, with only 20 people walking through the tunnel and with no other viable option to get across the river east of Tower Bridge it would appear that if you’re desperate enough to cross the river (get home !!)then the footpath is your only choice.

  8. @John. No I think you’re going a touch out of your way to use Rotherhite to commute between Woolwich and Canary Wharf ! I’ve just thought there is a ferry service from Cherry Garden Pier (Bermondsey wall east) that will take you over the river. Not sure what time that stops running. It’s utterley useless to commute Woolwich to Canary Wharf but it’s another option.

  9. I am so pleased someone has raised this issue online. I am also a cyclist, and am absolutely frustrated that there is no way to cross the river late at night/early in the morning.

    I was able to talk my way onto the DLR at King George V without having to buy a ticket when I got stranded on the north side early in the morning on Sunday 19th Sept after returning from a cycling holiday, explaining the tunnel was closed and ferry was not running. I also had to talk my way out of the gates at Woolwich Arsenal since I appeared with a bike (not allowed on DLR) and without a ticket.

    The following day I used the ferry and asked the staff on board what the story was with the tunnel entrance. I was told that the north stairs had been vandalised resulting in lots of glass being on the stairs, hence the closure on health and safety grounds. If this is true, it absolutely blows my mind that almost 3 weeks later Greenwich Council has not managed to prioritise and execute a cleanup.

    I can only assume the problem is not perceived to be very urgent by Greenwich Council. This must be either because few pedestrians and cyclists actually use the tunnel outside the ferry service’s operating hours, or because the many that do haven’t raised the issue with the council.

    I would encourage anyone inconvenienced by this closure to contact the council expressing their dissatisfaction with the slow turnaround. Hopefully this will put the issue on their radar. I personally intend to call the number on and have them log my complaint, but the easiest way would probably be to email

    Perhaps if there are enough people sufficiently inconvenienced by this to complain something will be done, and the continuity of the service will be taken more seriously in the future.

  10. My partner cycles this route everyday ( or at least used to!)They told her that when the ferry was not running they would open the lifts -didn’t happen . The ferry Ok is a bit slow but the guys who staff it are a “good bunch”the problem is it just doesn’t run late enough three days later running doesn’t really work if you need to cross at weekends and everyday of the week ( closed last sunday again don’t know why?).Last week when the fog closed the ferry couldn’t they have opened the lifts up? I suppose the real issue is the length of time to fix the stairs 6-months!

  11. […] I’ve said before that if this was the Greenwich foot tunnel, people would go nuts – but nobody cares about dowdy old Woolwich so this will probably go unnoticed, like it has done for the past six weeks. That said, word reaches me that the Greenwich foot tunnel was closed during yesterday’s evening rush hour – leaving cyclists with hefty diversions to get home. […]

  12. Hi,
    I have just come across this site.
    Does anyone know Glass Yard, which I understand is near the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. I have just discovered my great grandmother lived there from about 1898 to 1902.
    Thank you.

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