Sadiq speaks: Is London really getting five new river crossings?

At last, a rainbow. Image: Getty.

God.  East London river crossings. You wait decades for one, and then five come along at once. They're like buses, aren't they?

The Thames has a very different character in the two halves of London. To the west of Tower Bridge, where the river is relatively narrow, you're never more than a mile or two from the nearest bridge: west and south west London are relatively tightly connected.

East of Tower Bridge, though, getting across the Thames is, if not impossible, then certainly not easy, and east of Blackwall it becomes certainly not easier still. It's around 16 miles from the Blackwall Tunnel to the Dartford Crossing, just outside Greater London. Between those two points, there are precisely four river crossings. Three of them (a ferry, a foot tunnel and a branch of the DLR) are all at pretty much the same place. To be precise: Woolwich.

Consequently, there's almost no intercourse between east and south east London. Which, any urban theorist will tell you, is probably a bit rubbish for both of them.

So ways of making it easier to get across the Thames have been discussed for decades, and today London's mayor Sadiq Khan made his contribution to the lip-service. (Reports say he's "given the go-ahead" to the projects, but... we'll see.)

Image: Transport for London.

The big one first. Khan has approved the Silvertown Tunnel, a new four-lane road crossing, very slightly to the east of Blackwall, intended largely to relieve the existing tunnels. This one's a bit controversial: its opponents include anti-air pollution campaigners, south east Londoners worried about an increase in traffic, and the boroughs of Lewisham and Hackney.

So in a transparent attempt to fob them off, Khan's “improved” version of the tunnel will include, in the words of the Evening Standard:

These included new green bus routes through the tunnel, a bespoke “bike bus” to carry cyclists on demand, and improvements for pedestrians and bikes on both sides.

I'm guessing Khan had similar motivations for approving a new pedestrian bridge linking Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf.

Then there are plans for two new cross-river rail links: a DLR extension from Gallions Reach to Thamesmead, and a London Overground one from Barking, to Abbey Wood via Barking Riverside and, yes, Thamesmead again.

These ones are basically housing policy in disguise: there are big opportunity areas on both sides of the river at that point, but not a lot has happened because they're a right pain to get to. New transport links would make those new homes much more likely to happen.

The selection of new crossings is rounded out by a new ferry link between Canary Wharf and North Greenwich. This one feels a bit of a cheat – there are already plenty of boats on that part of the river, and it's not that difficult to do that journey by tube. In fact, I’m pretty sure what's being proposed here is actually just a new pier at Wood Wharf, something that’s been on the table for ages. But hey, if you're trying to get to a round number, I guess it counts.

Two notable absences from today's announcement are the other two road crossings Transport for London were proposing under Khan's predecessor, Boris Johnson (one at Gallions Reach, the other between Rainham and Belvedere). Whether this means they're off, or just being de-emphasised for a bit, remains to be seen.

I'm not entirely convinced all these crossings will ever come off. It's easy to announce things; much harder to actually get them built. There are still umpteen planning meetings to get through, and a lot of people really don’t want the Silvertown Tunnel.

But ambition is good, and knitting the two halves of east London together better is a good thing for a mayor to be ambitious about. So, huzzah.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.


This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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