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Woolwich Ferry

Woolwich Ferry

Overview
The Woolwich Free Ferry is a boat service across the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, which is licensed and financed by London River Services
London River Services
London River Services is a division of Transport for London , which manages passenger transport on the River Thames in London, UK. They do not own or operate any boats but license the services of other operators...

, the maritime arm of Transport for London
Transport for London
Transport for London is the local government body responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London in England. Its role is to implement the transport strategy and to manage transport services across London...

. The service is operated by Serco Group
Serco Group
Serco Group plc is a government services company based in Hook, North Hampshire in the United Kingdom. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.-History:...

 under licence from TfL and carries both foot passengers and vehicles.

The service links Woolwich
Woolwich
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...

 in the London Borough of Greenwich with North Woolwich
North Woolwich
North Woolwich is a place in the London Borough of Newham. It is located north of Woolwich proper which is on the south bank of the River Thames. The two places are linked by the Woolwich Ferry and the Woolwich foot tunnel.-History:...

 in the London Borough of Newham
London Borough of Newham
The London Borough of Newham is a London borough formed from the towns of West Ham and East Ham, within East London.It is situated east of the City of London, and is north of the River Thames. According to 2006 estimates, Newham has one of the highest ethnic minority populations of all the...

. It also links two ends of the inner London orbital road routes: the North Circular
A406 road
The A406 or the North Circular Road is a road which crosses North London, UK, linking West and East London. It, together with the South Circular Road, forms a ring road through the inner part of Outer London...

 and the South Circular
A205 road
The A205 or South Circular Road is a direct route which crosses South London, UK, running from Woolwich in the east to the junction of the A406 , the M4 and the A4 at Gunnersbury in the west....

.


On weekdays, the ferry operates from 6.10am until 8pm with a two-boat service (10 minutes nominal interval between sailings); on Saturdays, from 6.10am to 8pm with a one-boat service (15 minutes nominal interval, and the last south-to-north sailing is 15 minutes earlier at 7.45pm); on Sundays, from 11.30am to 7.30pm with a one-boat service (last south-to-north sailing at 7.15pm).

The ferries can carry lorries and other road traffic across the river, plus large numbers of foot passengers (licensed capacity: 500 passengers and 200 tonnes of vehicles).

A ferry service had operated across the river at Woolwich since at least the fourteenth century.
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Encyclopedia
The Woolwich Free Ferry is a boat service across the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, which is licensed and financed by London River Services
London River Services
London River Services is a division of Transport for London , which manages passenger transport on the River Thames in London, UK. They do not own or operate any boats but license the services of other operators...

, the maritime arm of Transport for London
Transport for London
Transport for London is the local government body responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London in England. Its role is to implement the transport strategy and to manage transport services across London...

. The service is operated by Serco Group
Serco Group
Serco Group plc is a government services company based in Hook, North Hampshire in the United Kingdom. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.-History:...

 under licence from TfL and carries both foot passengers and vehicles.

The service links Woolwich
Woolwich
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...

 in the London Borough of Greenwich with North Woolwich
North Woolwich
North Woolwich is a place in the London Borough of Newham. It is located north of Woolwich proper which is on the south bank of the River Thames. The two places are linked by the Woolwich Ferry and the Woolwich foot tunnel.-History:...

 in the London Borough of Newham
London Borough of Newham
The London Borough of Newham is a London borough formed from the towns of West Ham and East Ham, within East London.It is situated east of the City of London, and is north of the River Thames. According to 2006 estimates, Newham has one of the highest ethnic minority populations of all the...

. It also links two ends of the inner London orbital road routes: the North Circular
A406 road
The A406 or the North Circular Road is a road which crosses North London, UK, linking West and East London. It, together with the South Circular Road, forms a ring road through the inner part of Outer London...

 and the South Circular
A205 road
The A205 or South Circular Road is a direct route which crosses South London, UK, running from Woolwich in the east to the junction of the A406 , the M4 and the A4 at Gunnersbury in the west....

.

Services



On weekdays, the ferry operates from 6.10am until 8pm with a two-boat service (10 minutes nominal interval between sailings); on Saturdays, from 6.10am to 8pm with a one-boat service (15 minutes nominal interval, and the last south-to-north sailing is 15 minutes earlier at 7.45pm); on Sundays, from 11.30am to 7.30pm with a one-boat service (last south-to-north sailing at 7.15pm).

The ferries can carry lorries and other road traffic across the river, plus large numbers of foot passengers (licensed capacity: 500 passengers and 200 tonnes of vehicles).

History


A ferry service had operated across the river at Woolwich since at least the fourteenth century. The free ferry service was instigated by Sir Joseph Bazalgette
Joseph Bazalgette
Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, CB was an English civil engineer of the 19th century. As chief engineer of London's Metropolitan Board of Works his major achievement was the creation of a sewer network for central London which was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics, while...

 using powers granted in the Metropolitan Board of Works
Metropolitan Board of Works
The Metropolitan Board of Works was the principal instrument of London-wide government from 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council in 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London's rapid growth, which it successfully accomplished. The MBW...

 (Various Powers) Act 1885.

The service was officially opened on 23 March 1889. Two days before this happened the Metropolitan Board of Works was replaced by the London County Council
London County Council
London County Council was the principal local government body for the County of London, throughout its 1889–1965 existence, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council...

 (LCC). The LCC continued to operate the ferry until it was replaced by the Greater London Council
Greater London Council
The Greater London Council was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council which had covered a much smaller area...

 (GLC) on 31 March 1965. After the abolition of the GLC in 1986 the responsibility for operating the service was transferred to the Secretary of State for Transport, who contracted the London Borough of Greenwich
London Borough of Greenwich
The London Borough of Greenwich is an Inner London borough in south-east London, England. Taking its name from the historic town of Greenwich, the present borough was formed in 1965 by the amalgamation of the former area of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich with part of the Metropolitan...

 to run the service. Asset ownership and operating rights were subsequently transferred to Transport for London
Transport for London
Transport for London is the local government body responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London in England. Its role is to implement the transport strategy and to manage transport services across London...

 (TfL) on the establishment of the Greater London Authority
Greater London Authority
The Greater London Authority is the top-tier administrative body for Greater London, England. It consists of a directly elected executive Mayor of London, currently Boris Johnson, and an elected 25-member London Assembly with scrutiny powers...

, but the London Borough of Greenwich continued to operate the ferry on behalf of TfL.

In March 2008, the London Borough of Greenwich gave TfL notice that it would cease operating the service from 30 September 2008. On 12 September 2008 TfL announced that Serco Group
Serco Group
Serco Group plc is a government services company based in Hook, North Hampshire in the United Kingdom. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.-History:...

 would take over the operation of the service from 1 October 2008. The contract ran initially until 31 March 2010.

Nearest alternative crossings


If the ferry service is not operating due to vessel maintenance issues or by being suspended due to fog, pedestrians can use the nearby Woolwich foot tunnel
Woolwich foot tunnel
The Woolwich foot tunnel is a tunnel crossing under the River Thames in East London from Woolwich in the London Borough of Greenwich to North Woolwich in the London Borough of Newham. The tunnel offers pedestrians an alternative way to cross the river when the Woolwich Ferry service is not operating...

 which is now temporarily closed from Woolwich
Woolwich
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...

 to North Woolwich
North Woolwich
North Woolwich is a place in the London Borough of Newham. It is located north of Woolwich proper which is on the south bank of the River Thames. The two places are linked by the Woolwich Ferry and the Woolwich foot tunnel.-History:...

.

A Docklands Light Railway
Docklands Light Railway
The Docklands Light Railway is an automated light metro or light rail system opened on 31 August 1987 to serve the redeveloped Docklands area of London...

 (DLR) station, Woolwich Arsenal on the south side of the Thames, was opened in January 2009 as the new terminus of the London City Airport branch. A DLR station near to the north ferry dock is King George V DLR station
King George V DLR station
King George V DLR station is a station on the Docklands Light Railway which opened on 2 December 2005 and named after King George V Dock, nearby. The station is in the London Borough of Newham and is located in Travelcard Zone 3. Station and on-train announcements refer to the station as 'King...

.

The nearest vehicle alternatives are the Blackwall Tunnel
Blackwall Tunnel
The Blackwall Tunnel is a pair of road tunnels underneath the River Thames in east London, linking the London Borough of Tower Hamlets with the London Borough of Greenwich, and part of the A102 road. The northern portal lies just south of the East India Dock Road in Blackwall; the southern...

 about two miles (3 km) upstream to the west, or the Dartford Crossing
Dartford Crossing
The Dartford - Thurrock River Crossing, Dartford River Crossing is a major road crossing of the River Thames in England, connecting Dartford in the south to Thurrock in the north, via two road tunnels and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. It opened in stages, the west tunnel in 1963, the east tunnel...

 some ten miles (16 km) downstream to the east but both of these tunnels have height restrictions for lorries, and users of the Dartford Crossing incur toll charges.

Fleet


The current three vessels (built in Dundee in 1963 by the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company
Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company
The Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Limited was a British shipbuilding company based in Dundee on the east coast of Scotland.-History:...

 to replace the previous four paddle steamers used since 1923) were each named after prominent local politicians: John Burns
John Burns
John Elliot Burns was an English trade unionist and politician of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly associated with London politics. He was a socialist and then a Liberal Member of Parliament and Minister. He was anti-alcohol and a keen sportsman...

, Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin was a British trade union leader and Labour politician. He served as general secretary of the powerful Transport and General Workers' Union from 1922 to 1945, as Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition government, and as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government.-Early...

and James Newman (Newman was mayor of Woolwich, 1923-25). This continued a practice started in 1923 with The Squire (named after William Squires, another former mayor of Woolwich), and in 1930 with the Will Crooks
Will Crooks
William Crooks was a noted trade unionist and politician from Poplar, London, and a member of the Fabian Society...

(Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 MP for Woolwich, 1903-1921) and the John Benn (Sir John was a member of London County Council
London County Council
London County Council was the principal local government body for the County of London, throughout its 1889–1965 existence, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council...

, Liberal
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 MP for Wapping
Wapping
Wapping is a place in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets which forms part of the Docklands to the east of the City of London. It is situated between the north bank of the River Thames and the ancient thoroughfare simply called The Highway...

, and grandfather of Tony Benn
Tony Benn
Anthony Neil Wedgwood "Tony" Benn, PC is a British Labour Party politician and a former MP and Cabinet Minister.His successful campaign to renounce his hereditary peerage was instrumental in the creation of the Peerage Act 1963...

).

The ferries feature Voith-Schneider
Voith-Schneider
The Voith Schneider propeller , also known as a cycloidal drive is a specialized marine propulsion system . It is highly maneuverable, being able to change the direction of its thrust almost instantaneously...

 propulsion systems for manoeuvrability.

Running cost


For the 18 months of their contract, Serco are being paid £10.7 million to provide the free ferry service. This equates to £7.1 million per year.

In 2003, when the annual running cost of the ferry was around £5 million a year, the effective public subsidy per vehicle crossing was £4.

Passenger numbers


The ferry carries more than one million vehicles and 2.5 million passengers each year. Occupants of vehicles (including drivers) are counted as passengers.

Ferry patronage is still high for vehicles, but has fallen away to minimal numbers for foot passengers. At all times of day, but particularly at peak hours, it is common for vehicles to have to queue beyond the next ferry departure; regular users know the lengths of the vehicle queues, and when it becomes worthwhile to turn away to the Blackwall tunnel. Several rearrangements and improvements have been made to the vehicle queueing arrangements over the years, especially to avoid impact on other local traffic.

The passenger deck is beneath the vehicle deck, and on crossings nowadays the very substantial accommodation provided, both seated and standing, is normally virtually empty.

For foot passengers, bus services converge on both terminals, on the north side there is a small bus station, but many cross-river foot passengers take the foot tunnel beneath the river, alongside the ferry route. Further competition arrived in 2009 with the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Woolwich, which crosses under the river to the east of the ferry route.

Future of the service


The ferry service currently exists because it provides an alternative river crossing for vehicles (especially lorries). As long as there is a demand for a vehicle ferry it is unlikely to be discontinued and in any case would require an Act of Parliament to do so.

In 2004 planning applications were submitted for a new bridge, the Thames Gateway Bridge
Thames Gateway Bridge
The Thames Gateway Bridge was a proposed crossing over the River Thames in east London, England. It was first mooted in the 1970s but never came to fruition...

, close to the location of the Woolwich Ferry. However the project was cancelled in November 2008. If the bridge were to be built then it is likely that the ferry service would be withdrawn as it would no longer be required.

Accidents


On 3 August 2011, a 19 year old ferry worker died after falling off the boat into the river Thames.

In popular culture


Hunter/Hunted, a 1978 episode of the TV series The Professionals
The Professionals (TV series)
The Professionals was a British crime-action television drama series produced by Avengers Mk1 Productions and London Weekend Television that aired on the ITV network from 1977 to 1983. In all, 57 episodes were produced, filmed between 1977 and 1981. It starred Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins and Gordon...

, features a sequence shot on board one of the ferries, as well as external shots of the James Newman and John Burns crossing the river.

In Strained Relations, a 1985 episode of the TV series Only Fools and Horses
Only Fools and Horses
Only Fools and Horses is a British sitcom, created and written by John Sullivan. Seven series were originally broadcast on BBC One in the United Kingdom between 1981 and 1991, with sporadic Christmas specials until 2003...

, the character Uncle Albert asks Rodney, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst
Nicholas Lyndhurst
Nicholas Simon Lyndhurst is an English actor. He is best known for his roles as Rodney Trotter in Only Fools and Horses, Gary Sparrow in Goodnight Sweetheart, and as Adam Parkinson in Carla Lane's series Butterflies...

, if he had ever been on board a ship to which he replied "Yes" but then added it was "only the Woolwich Ferry."

External links