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.

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