Monthly Archives: January 2014

Woolwich Tunnel Works Restart with Gusto

Woolwich Tunnel Works Inspection
On the 10th of January Mary Mills, John Phillips and Ian Blore of fogwoft joined Mike Neill as well as Tim Jackson and Steve Pallett of the Royal Borough to inspect the refurbishment works at Woolwich Tunnel. Lifts are the key in this tunnel, it having been without either lift for several years. In the south shaft the lift motor installation is complete and lift construction, all of it in situ, well advanced. All the tunnel lifts are custom-built though the Woolwich lifts will have steel doors with glass panels. These should be more resilient and will certainly be much lighter than the eye-catching but problem-prone glass doors at Greenwich.
Work has well underway on the north lift but attention has now switched to the reroofing of both entrances since neither lift can be opened until those are complete. The Woolwich entrances, unlike those at Greenwich, are not glazed but are wooden, clad in copper, supported by steel frames. Works are on schedule and when finished will allow both lifts to be commissioned and opened. The target finish is still April.
The tunnel itself is longer and wider than its sister in Greenwich. Its appearance is better though it too will be cleaned and lighting improved. Again the lighting will be increased from 40 to 150 lux which we were assured is in line with other foot tunnels. The lux scale is logarithmic so the planned increase is more like a doubling of ambient light than a quadrupling. It was accepted that, if considered too bright, the lights could be turned down and all should be soft (as in Greenwich) rather than hard white (as in Woolwich).
It is always surprising that a steady trickle of people use the tunnel, when there is the ferry alternative, even on a cold wet January afternoon. Let’s hope for even greater use when those Victorian stairs can be by-passed.
Ian Blore, 11th January 2014

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Inspection of Greenwich Foot Tunnel refurbishment work

By Francis Sedgemore

Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels members Mary Mills, Ian Blore, John Phillips and I were yesterday given a hard-hatted tour of the Greenwich foot tunnel refurbishment works. Our host Mike Neill explained clearly and in considerable detail the process currently underway, and spoke about structural engineering issues, tunnel wall tiles and the electronic switching mechanism for the lifts. Interesting to note is that some of the work is ahead of schedule, namely the glazing infrastructure in the north cupola.


Greenwich Foot Tunnel – inside the south cupola (photo: Francis Sedgemore)

One point highlighted during the tour is the environmental sensitivity of power electronics in comparison with the electro-mechanical switches used in the original Victorian era tunnel lifts. Modern switching systems are wont to complain about the weather, and refuse to cooperate unless the conditions are just so. This would explain at least some of the frequent lift failures experienced in recent times. Air conditioning and ventilation are crucial, but this is an engineering challenge given that they have to be built around listed historic structures.

One complaint that is often made about the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels is the dim lighting. In the case of the Greenwich tunnel, the light intensity is currently 50 lux. With the planned two rows of lights along the length of the tunnel, and an increase in wattage, the illuminance is set to increase to 150 lux. This is in my view too much. It will be so dazzlingly bright that it could cause disorientation for tunnel users moving to and from nighttime outside environments. We should consider this in more detail.

The only thing that for me marred the tour experience was the large number of cyclists not only cycling through the tunnel contrary to by-law, often at high speeds past pedestrians, but also riding into and out of the lifts. During the time of our tour, around 80% of the cyclists observed failed to respect the rules. By many accounts the situation is getting progressively worse with respect to cycling in the foot tunnels.

Later this afternoon, Fogwoft will be given a similar tour of the Woolwich tunnel.