Revive old Greenwich tram plan for Silvertown Tunnel, mayor urged

Croydon tram
Croydon-style trams were envisaged for Greenwich, Woolwich and Thamesmead (photo: Train Photos via Creative Commons)

Long-dead plans for a tram service between Greenwich Peninsula and Abbey Wood should be revived as part of a plan to rework the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, a Green assembly member has suggested.

The Greenwich Waterfront Transit was conceived in the 1990s as a way of linking riverside areas that were about to undergo huge redevelopment as a result of the Millennium Dome and the Jubilee Line extension, and the closure of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.

Early plans suggested that trams could be used – following Croydon, whose network was being built at the time – but the project was watered down in 2001 to become a bus service on segregated lanes. The scheme was scrapped by Boris Johnson in 2009.

The London Assembly member Sian Berry has included the idea in a report, Better Ways to Use the Silvertown Road Tunnel, which follows workshops with campaigners at City Hall held during the summer.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has insisted the £2 billion project, which will include a dedicated lane for HGVs and buses, is needed to fix persistent jams at the northbound Blackwall Tunnel. Campaigners say it will fail to do this and will make congestion worse across the area. While tunnelling work is well under way – with the first bore nearly finished – they want it used for sustainable methods of transport rather than private cars and lorries.

Greenwich Waterfront Transit 2001 map
A 2001 TfL report shows the Greenwich Waterfront Transit running through the back streets of east Greenwich and across then-industrial land to the Dome. It would have also involved demolition of industrial sites north of Woolwich Road. Some locations on the map – such as Blakeley Cottages – had disappeared even then

Berry suggests the tram could run from Canning Town and through a repurposed tunnel to Greenwich Peninsula before running along existing bus lanes through Greenwich Millennium Village, Charlton, Woolwich and Thamesmead.

Another proposal suggests reviving proposals to run the DLR to Eltham along the route of the A102, which were championed by Greenwich Council in the early 2010s but dismissed by City Hall. Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe suggested reviving it in 2019, while Greenwich Conservatives put it in their manifesto for this year’s council election.

The 1.1m tunnel could also be repurposed as a walking and cycling link, Berry says, taking inspiration from the 1.8km Tunnel de la Croix-Rousse in Lyon, France, which is open to pedestrians and cyclists as well as buses.

Berry also suggests building just one bore of the tunnel and using the tunnelling machine, Jill, to build new links connecting each side of the Isle of Dogs to south-east London, although the report does also outline ideas for what could be done with a two-bore tunnel.

“With tunnel boring having now begun, it is time to think about how the single-bore tunnel that has already been started (or the two-bore tunnel that is planned) could be finished in a way that doesn’t cause so much harm,” Berry says in the introduction to the report.

“Any new plans will need to be worked on in much more detail to make the case to the mayor and for him to change his mind,” Berry says. “I would like to hear more from Londoners about what they think the Silvertown Road Tunnel could be better used for, and from people who want to help develop these ideas to find truly viable options and investment to make something greener and less harmful happen.”

While an Eltham extension to the DLR has never been taken seriously by City Hall, the Greenwich Waterfront Transit was one of a raft of schemes promoted by Ken Livingstone when he was mayor between 2000 and 2008, along with a complementary proposal across the river, East London Transit.

Livingstone wanted to see both routes linked using his Thames Gateway road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton, which was also scrapped by Johnson. However, the East London Transit did open, as a small network of bus services linking development areas at Barking Riverside and Dagenham Dock.

Greenwich Waterfront Transit map 2001
Further east, the route could have run through what is now King Henry’s Wharf, before running along Powis Street and via the Royal Arsenal towards West Thamesmead. The lower-cost option is shown in yellow

The original 1990s concept for Greenwich Waterfront Transit would be difficult to build now, thanks to rising land values and developments built on its path since then, including the Greenwich Peninsula’s Design District and a retail park extension in Charlton. The current 472 bus service covers much of the same ground as the planned route.

In Woolwich, the early plans included running along Powis Street, then through Beresford Market and the centre of the then-unbuilt Royal Arsenal development before heading through residential areas of West Thamesmead.

Greenwich Council has kept the Waterfront Transit flame burning, floating the idea of a rerouted transit scheme that would run through the Charlton Riverside development zone to North Greenwich.

Last month Transport for London revealed plans for the initial bus network that would use the Silvertown Tunnel. The only new route, however, would run south to Grove Park, with TfL saying there was less demand for services from Woolwich or Eltham.

Earlier today Khan confirmed that he intends to run for a third term as mayor in May 2024, meaning he could be in office to cut the ribbon when the tunnel opens a year later.

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