Angerstein Wharf crossing: Greenwich Council knew of closure plan but did not tell residents

Angerstein Wharf crossing
The crossing is a local landmark and one of only a handful in London

Greenwich Council knew about controversial plans to close a railway crossing a year before Network Rail made it public – but did not tell local residents, councillors or the local MP, The Charlton Champion can reveal.

Network Rail first told Greenwich Council about its plans for the Angerstein Wharf branch crossing, across a freight line on the east Greenwich/Charlton border, in April 2018, emails released by the track company under the Freedom of Information Act show. Several council officers were involved in discussions and three site visits were held.

Councillors for Peninsula ward – who would have known of the importance of the crossing – were not told about the issue and neither was Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, The Charlton Champion has established. The council maintains “there was nothing to tell residents” at the time.

A council officer dealing with conservation was also involved in a discussion about the planned closure in December and January 2019.

Network Rail sent the council a formal notice warning of the crossing closure on 14 February 2019, but the Valentine’s Day missive went unanswered until after a neighbour of the crossing used Twitter seven weeks later to say that residents had received letters about the closure.

Greenwich then threatened Network Rail with a injunction to prevent the closure of the crossing, which is used by hundreds of people each day heading to and from Westcombe Park station. It is one of a handful of foot crossings on London railway lines, and has grown in importance since new housing was built on the Charlton side of the crossing at Fairthorn Road.

The plans, which are to accommodate a resignalling of the line to and from the Angerstein aggregates wharf by the Thames, have now been put on hold.

Angerstein Wharf crossing
A sign warning of the closure was stuck to a fence at the crossing

‘A full diversion is the way to go’

Network Rail first told Greenwich Council about the plans on 11 April 2018 – 12 months before neighbours found out. An unnamed member of Network Rail’s track renewals team warning that works were planned in May 2019 that “may affect the nearby foot crossing at Farmdale Road”, asking to set up a site visit. No response was received for a week until after the Network Rail officer sent a follow-up mail, after which a site visit was arranged by Greenwich’s street works area co-ordinator. An email sent from Network Rail after this visit states “I think we both formed the opinion that a full diversion is the way to go”.

After this, a further email from Network Rail which appears to have been sent to the planning team says “we need some assistance from yourselves to help us evaluate what we can do with the crossing to ensure public safety and rail transport safety”.

Responses include an email from one Greenwich Council officer to another stating “I don’t know what the Farmdale Road foot crossing is (level/bridge) as it’s not clear on the plan”.

On 9 May 2018, a planner responds to say: “The council would be likely to object to any closure since the route is well used by local people and by virtue that the passageway continues access over the A102 to Westcombe Park railway station, a route previously under threat when the A102 was built and with that the footbridge now seen over that road. NR could, of course, provide an alternative route in the form of a subway beneath its line.” A further site visit was held on 22 May 2018.

After that site visit, a council structures and street lighting manager emails with a summary of what was discussed, including plans for Network Rail to install CCTV as part of a risk assessment. But no further response was sent by Network Rail.

Network Rail has told The Charlton Champion: “After that meeting Network Rail undertook the process to understand the status of the crossing.”

‘Our closure of the foot crossing’

Separately, in November 2018, a Network Rail officer emails to comment on Greenwich Council’s plans to locally list the crossing – a mild form of protection against development – and states: “We would be happy to discuss with you further regarding the potential listing of these items and whether that is compatible with our closure of the Angerstein Wharf foot crossing.”

In mid-January 2019, a Greenwich officer emails to set up a meeting with their Network Rail counterpart. Network Rail has said this was followed by a third site visit to the crossing on 13 February.

Then on 14 February, a formal letter was sent by email warning of the closure of the crossing.

It promises: “We will erect clear signage either side of the crossing to make it clear when the closure will commence… As we have been in close liaison with you about these works, we wanted to inform you of this.” Greenwich Council says it did not receive this letter.

No response was received until 8 April – two days after a neighbour of the crossing tweeted about a letter he had received about the plans.

The tweet was included in the email. Meanwhile, the councillors and MP were finding out about the scheme for the first time through complaints from residents.

“I am not aware that Network Rail has notified the council directly of the proposed work,” the email states, while a further mail from the head of highways cites “a number of strong high level representations today objecting to the proposed crossing closure”.

Network Rail letter
A letter from Network Rail was placed in Fairthorn Road

The council then threatens an injunction, at which point Network Rail removes its plan to close the crossing. Asked what happened to the “clear signage”, a Network Rail spokesperson said: “The closure notice and information relating to the alternative route was displayed on the over bridge on the approach to the crossing and along Farmdale/ Fairthorn Road for the recent works and the Angerstein resignalling commissioning at Easter.”

A third site meeting was held on 12 April 2019 – a year and a day after the council was first told about the plan, and a few days before The Charlton Champion sent its Freedom of Information request – with an email from Greenwich Council confirming “that self-closing gates are to be installed to ensure that the public will be reminded that in opening these that they are at a level crossing”.

“I look forward to a copy of the letter bound for stakeholders and residents and further details of the works programme during the course of next week.”

Angerstein crossing
The path is a popular route to Westcombe Park station

Councillors the last to know

Many current and former Greenwich councillors have long remarked privately that they are often the last to know about issues in their areas. Furthermore, the correspondence shows that officers were unaware of the crossing or its impact on the local area – which could also explain the council’s attitude to the consequences of the nearby Ikea store, where long-promised measures to assist pedestrians and cyclists have yet to be completed.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “The council did not support Network Rail’s closing of the Angerstein Wharf crossing at short notice and with no consultation with residents in April 2019. When Network Rail made their initial enquiry to us in spring 2018 we were clear that they had not provided enough information of their plans.

“When we heard nothing further we assumed that their plans had changed and therefore there was nothing to inform residents of.

“The council has no record of receiving a formal closure notice from Network Rail in February 2019. If we had, we would have challenged their proposals and briefed our elected members then.

“In April we were as surprised as residents to find out what they had done. We swiftly instructed our legal team who persuaded Network Rail to postpone their plans. We will be meeting Network Rail next month and we will go prepared with legal advice regarding the status of the path and Network’s Rail statutory obligations to keep it open.”

This story has also been published on The Charlton Champion‘s sister site 853.


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Network Rail: ‘We want to put things right on Angerstein crossing’

Angerstein Wharf crossing
The crossing will be closed over the weekend of 20/21 April

A senior Network Rail executive has written to The Charlton Champion apologising for its attempt to close the Angerstein Wharf foot crossing without consultation, and pledging to “rectify the situation”.

John Halsall, the senior managing director for Network Rail’s South East Route, said that the process it had followed “was not good enough” and it was committing to work with Greenwich Council and residents to work out the “best solution” for a line which is likely to see a rise in freight traffic.

News of the planned closure emerged last weekend after neighbours received letters from Network Rail telling them the crossing would be closed. Yesterday, it confirmed that the closure had been postponed pending a review.

Mr Halsall said Network Rail “had been engaging” with Greenwich Council, “but it would appear not always with the right part”. It is worth pointing out here that when a Network Rail representative met a Greenwich Council scrutiny panel earlier this year, the future of the crossing was not mentioned. (See video.)

The crossing, between Fairthorn Road in Charlton and Farmdale Road in east Greenwich, will be closed on 20/21 April for engineering works, but will remain open after that.

John Halsall’s letter reads as follows:

Can I start by apologising for the situation that we have generated with respect to the Angerstein footpath (Farmdale Road) crossing. We have approached what was a well-meant intervention, in terms of the safety of the public, in the wrong way, and for that I am sorry.

We are working out how we can rectify the situation, within the bounds of our statutory obligations to protect the safety of the public. I can confirm that as a first step we will not be permanently closing the footpath crossing immediately after the bank holiday weekend of 20/21 April 2019. We will need to block the crossing over that weekend as we undertake engineering works, to protect the public from engineering activity, but the crossing will not be permanently closed at that point.

Over the last 18 months we have engaged with the local authority, but it would appear not always with the right part. Clearly this process has not been good enough, and we are therefore committing to work closely with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and local residents to establish the best solution we can collectively achieve while meeting our statutory safety obligations.

I need to reiterate that we have embarked upon the process for the best of reasons. The risk to the public at the crossing will increase due to engineering changes that are being made following previous operational incidents and also with the anticipated increase in freight traffic. We take this matter very seriously.

I sincerely apologise once again for the poor engagement and will update you further when we have a clear plan confirmed with the local authorities and local residents.


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No new bus from Charlton to North Greenwich – but Westcombe Hill could gain new service

Charlton Church Lane
The 335 won’t be joining the 380 running up Charlton Church Lane

Transport for London has dropped plans to send a new bus from Kidbrooke to North Greenwich via Charlton after deciding the new route would be “circuitous”.

TfL and Greenwich Council had proposed routing the new service from Blackheath Royal Standard via Charlton Road, Charlton Church Lane and Anchor & Hope Lane to give residents in Blackheath and Kidbrooke easy access to the Charlton supermarkets. The service would have also taken pressure off the 486 through Charlton, and TfL had called it its preferred option at a council scrutiny meeting earlier this year.

The Charlton Champion understands some residents had voiced unhappiness at the prospect of losing car parking spaces to make way for the new service.

But this proposal has now been dropped, with a consultation released today for new route 335, which could run via Westcombe Hill, providing relief to passengers who currently struggle to get on route 108. A second proposal would see it run direct via the A102. The service would run every 12 minutes during the day, and every 15 minutes in evenings and Sundays.

The announcement came as cuts to route 53 were confirmed.

Route 335 map

TfL says: “Sending the route via Charlton was considered, either via Woolwich Road, Anchor and Hope Lane and Bugsby’s Way, or via Charlton Road, Charlton Church Lane and Bugsby’s Way.

“These routeings, while serving a wider area, would be circuitous.

“An end-to-end journey via Charlton from Kidbrooke during the morning peak would take an estimated 37 minutes. This would be a slower alternative to routes 108, 132 and 422 and therefore less attractive compared to Option 1 and Option 2.”

There have long been demands for a new service between the Kidbrooke Village development and North Greenwich. With commuting via Zone 2 North Greenwich offering cheaper fare caps than Zone 3 Kidbrooke, the new service could find itself overwhelmed very quickly – and will add to pressure at North Greenwich bus station.

A consultation into the new service is open until 17 May.


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Network Rail apologises and will look again at Angerstein Wharf crossing closure

Angerstein crossing family
Many longstanding locals have fond memories of the crossing

UPDATED STORY: Network Rail has apologised for not consulting with local residents over its plans to close the Angerstein Wharf foot crossing following a huge outcry from neighbours, Greenwich Council and the local MP.

The crossing had been due to close permanently from Saturday as part of plans to upgrade the signalling on the freight branch line. But Network Rail announced on Thursday afternoon that while the crossing would close for a week from Saturday for work to be carried out on the track, it would review its plans for the future of the crossing.

A spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “We would like to apologise for the lack of meaningful engagement with local people around the proposed closure of Angerstein footpath crossing and have decided to stop the closure process until a review has taken place.

“We planned to close the crossing, near Westcombe Park station, as part of a £55m project to upgrade signalling and track on the lines from Deptford to Woolwich Arsenal and Lewisham to Falconwood, and increase the freight capacity at Angerstein Wharf. The increase in freight traffic and the fact trains will now straddle the crossing when stopped at red signals, presents a very real risk to the public, which we take very seriously.

“The crossing will be blocked while our engineers are working on the line over the Easter weekend, however, it will not close permanently at this point.

“We will provide a further update on long term plans, as soon as a review has taken place.”

A petition was launched on Wednesday protesting against the closure of the crossing, which runs between Fairthorn Road in Charlton and Farmdale Road in east Greenwich, and provides an important link to Westcombe Park station for hundreds of commuters. It crosses the Angerstein Wharf branch line, used for taking aggregates to and from the River Thames.

The crossing, originally built for farm workers in the 1850s, has grown in importance in the past decade with new housing being built at the end of Farmdale Road. It is one of the last of its type in London, the only other one being at the evocatively-named Trumpers Crossing in Hanwell, on another freight route to the Thames.

Residents only found out a few days ago when letters were pushed through their letter boxes. Local MP Matt Pennycook has criticised the lack of consultation, saying a closure would cause “significant inconvenience” to residents who would have to walk via Woolwich Road.

Greenwich Council has also formally protested, and this website understands the matter is with the council’s legal team.

Even Network Rail’s chairman, Sir Peter Hendy, was drawn into the row, responding on Twitter to one user who had flagged up the issue.

The signalling upgrade project will also mean no trains on the Greenwich and Bexleyheath lines between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.


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Council and MP angry at Network Rail plans to close Angerstein foot crossing

Angerstein crossing
A neighbour has placed a sign warning of the crossing’s closure

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe have hit out at Network Rail’s plans to close the Angerstein Wharf foot crossing, used by hundreds of Charlton residents each day.

The historic crossing, one of the last left in London, enables people who live near Fairthorn Road – which has seen new homes built in recent years – to reach Westcombe Park station.

It crosses a small railway branch, opened in 1851, used by aggregates trains heading to and from Angerstein Wharf. The crossing, which marks the modern-day point where Charlton becomes east Greenwich, was originally built for workers on the nearby Combe Farm, which occupied land at the foot of Westcombe Hill.

Residents only found out a few days ago that Network Rail planned to close the crossing permanently in letters sent to neighbours, which said that major upgrade work on the line would be carried out next week and the crossing fenced off.

One neighbour has attached a hand-written sign to the crossing, warning of the closure, adding in ballpoint pen: “Network Rail weren’t going to tell you.”

Angerstein crossing family
Many longstanding locals have fond memories of the crossing

Network Rail’s regional press office has not responded to an enquiry The Charlton Champion sent on Monday asking it to clarify its plans.

Council leader Thorpe told a resident on Twitter this morning that Network Rail had “not followed any proper process or engaged people and this is clearly not acceptable. We have contacted them to advise of such and expect them to stop pending a proper consultation”.

Angerstein crossing
The crossing sees a steady stream of commuters and and from Westcombe Park station each rush hour

A council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “The pedestrian crossing serves as an essential link between both sides of the railway line and has been in place, and in good use, for over 100 years.

“Whilst we recognise the attempt to improve safety and reduce pedestrian access to railway lines, we object to the closure unless full details are provided and a suitable alternative is provided.

“The crossing cannot be closed without consultation and a formal legal process. We were not made aware of the proposed works, which we should have been.

“We have written to Network Rail to request postponing the crossing closure until alternative options explored and until much better publicity has been issued locally. We will also be taking advice about enforcement options.”

Pennycook has also written to Network Rail criticising the plans and the lack of consultation.

Network Rail letter
Network Rail’s letter was misdated March 2017

One neighbour shared a response he had from Network Rail, saying the crossing was being closed because a reconfiguration of the signalling would mean it was more likely to be blocked by freight trains waiting to access the main line. Trains typically wait for half an hour before leaving and entering the branch line. In June 2015, a derailment on the branch line damaged track and signalling on the main Blackheath-Charlton line.

In recent years Network Rail has closed many foot crossings on railway lines for safety concerns. The only other crossing left like it in London is in Hanwell, west London, on another freight line which serves the river.

But the sleepy crossing has seen a new lease of life in recent years with the construction of over 200 homes on the Thorn Lighting site at the south end of Fairthorn Road, with a further 330 homes now being built on the rest of the site.

Fairthorn Road development
So near, yet so far: Westcombe Park station can be seen behind the substation on the Fairthorn Road development

Many of these homes overlook the Greenwich railway line and are within sight of Westcombe Park station, but no provision was made to improve access to the station with residents left to depend on the foot crossing.

Footpaths have less legal protection in inner London than in the rest of England. In the 2000s, a developer built housing – now called Bellfield Close – between Charlton Road and Old Dover Road, permanently blocking a path which had only been designated a cycle route a few years before.

11.30pm update: A petition against the closure has been launched.


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Bramshot Avenue subway in line for upgrade from Silvertown Tunnel money

Siebert Road subway
The upgrade is designed to make the subway more pleasant and cycle-friendly

The subway linking Bramshot Avenue with Siebert Road is to get a £50,000 upgrade as part of measures to mitigate the impact of the forthcoming Silvertown Tunnel on the area, Greenwich Council documents reveal.

The revamp of the 50-year-old subway is among an expanded package of measures to go with the controversial river crossing between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, which is due to open in late 2024 or early 2025. Work on the tunnel is due to begin by the end of this year.

A scrutiny panel of councillors rejected an earlier £349,000 package of “neighbourhood enhancements” which focused on expanding the current, limited, low emissions neighbourhood in east Greenwich in May. This has now been increased to £700,000.

There is very little for Charlton in the new package, but it does target some areas just outside – commuters who use Westcombe Park station will notice some difference by the time the work is finally done, which may not be until the tunnel is completed.

The new package includes £50,000 for improvements to Siebert Road subway, which links Westcombe Hill in Blackheath with Eastcombe Avenue in Charlton – a busy route for local schoolchildren and commuters using Westcombe Park station or buses to North Greenwich. It is partly aimed at making it safer for cyclists to use. Similar subways at the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout already permit cycling.

Improvements promised include “lighting improvements to the entrances and within the underpass itself, “planting on ramp approach to tunnel to enhance public realm and slow cycles”, “planting and environmental improvements on Siebert Road side to make link more appealing to users”.

Footbridge improvements

Another £50,000 will go on improvements to the footbridge over the A102 between Farmdale Road, east Greenwich, and Westcombe Park station. This will comprise of “lighting along the entirety of the bridge”, “resurfacing with buff anti-skid surfacing”, “repainting railings” and “planting where appropriate and minor bridge repairs”. 200m long 4m wide bridge.

Soap fans will recall the bridge from a 2005 episode of EastEnders…

The bulk of the extra cash, however, is going at the footbridge’s eastern end, with a £275,000 scheme to improve the approach to the bridge at Farmdale Road. Before the A102 was constructed in the late 1960s, this was the end of Westcombe Hill – and the road has barely been touched since it was severed decades ago.

Plans here appear to be encouraging a pedestrian and cycle route towards the Thames – arguably, this is something that perhaps should have been included in the Ikea planning agreements, which merely include signage along this particular route. They include “footway improvements, decluttering and planting on Farmdale Road”, “resurfacing of Farmdale Road”, “continuous footways on both Farmdale Rd and Aldeburgh Street”, “toucan/parallel [pedestrian/cycle] crossing shifted to ped/cyclist desire line into Aldeburgh Street”, “greening on both sides of the railway bridge”.

A further £75,000 is set aside for the decades-overdue screening of the western side of Farmdale Road from the A102 slip road.

Separately, a planned noise barrier for the Blackheath side of the A102 will be doubled in length so it runs from near Invicta School to the railway line at Westcombe Park, protecting neighbours of the dual carriageway in SE3 from road noise, following heavy lobbying from residents. No such protection is planned for the Charlton side, where there has been no lobbying.

The council paper discussing the improvements can be read here, full details of the improvements can be seen here. (See also From The Murky Depths’ take on this.)

Siebert Road subway graffiti
Occasional graffiti has livened up the bleak subway under the A102

Council still backs the tunnel – despite what councillors said

The tunnel, which is backed by Greenwich, Bexley and Tower Hamlets councils, but opposed by Newham, Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney, was given planning consent by transport secretary Chris Grayling in May 2018.

An attempt to change Greenwich’s stance on the tunnel was defeated in an internal meeting of the council’s ruling Labour group last week, in part thanks to two Peninsula ward councillors – Stephen Brain and Denise Scott-McDonald – going back on their previous opposition to the tunnel. Neither would comment on their change of heart on the tunnel, but The Charlton Champion has been told that Brain changed his mind because of the increase to the mitigation package.

The elephant in the room – the A102 roundabout

Nothing in this agreement deals with the dangerous junction between Woolwich Road and the Blackwall Tunnel approach. It was originally due to be dealt with as part of plans for Cycle Superhighway 4 to Woolwich, which was then cut back to Deptford Creek Bridge.

City Hall has pledged to deal with the junction by “late 2023”, according to papers released by the mayor’s office last year.

Woolwich Road roundabout
Two cyclists have died at the Woolwich Road roundabout in the past decade

Now the A206 will be covered a by a new, separate plan for a cycle route between Greenwich and Woolwich. A consultation earlier this year on removing Greenwich town centre’s one-way system was the first step in that process. (Locals will get a preview of how this could work on Sunday, when The Big Half half-marathon closes part of the town centre.)

City Hall’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman said on Tuesday: “I’m excited about that, because unlocking that town centre unlocks the cycle route down to Woolwich. We now have the funding for that cycle route and we are working with the borough to deliver that.

“The plans are working well, it is unlocking the next phase and the money is in place to do that. The designs are being worked up for that new route all the way down to Woolwich.

“The Angerstein roundabout will be part of that. Greenwich is working up an interim scheme to make it a bit safer.

“But, as part of the longer route from the town centre to Woolwich, that is a core focus. That and the Woolwich Ferry roundabout are two hotspots for road danger.

“I’m seeing initial plans to make that [the Angerstein roundabout] safer for cyclists and pedestrians, at the moment it is a horrible area. That work is ongoing, the new [council] leadership are really behind it, it’s very exciting.”

While the flyover dates from the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach in 1969, the original layout of the junction featured a more complex arrangement with traffic lights and longer slip roads from the A102 to the south. The current roundabout dates from a reworking of the junction about 10 years later, which itself had traffic lights installed in the late 1990s.

Will Norman material from Tom Bull, the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. See how The Charlton Champion uses material from the Local Democracy Reporter Service.


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Charlton stores among sticking points for Sainsbury’s and Asda merger

Asda Charlton
Asda has been trading on the Bugsby’s Way site since 1984

Sainsbury’s and Asda are likely to have to sell one of their Charlton stores if the two supermarket giants are allowed to go through with their plans to merge, according a report from the competition watchdog.

The two superstores are among 629 locations where a tie-up between the two companies could result in a “substantial lessening of competition”, the Competition and Markets Authority said in a provisional report on the merger plan, released on Wednesday.

The two supermarket giants announced plans for a tie-up last April, and it has been widely reported that the combined company would take one pound out of every three spent by UK grocery shoppers. But the CMA says a combination of the two firms could mean shoppers would “face higher prices, reduced quality and choice, and a poorer overall shopping experience across the UK”.

While the strength of the CMA’s concerns about the merger could force the two companies to abandon their plans, Sainsbury’s and Asda have said they want to go ahead with the tie-up.

The full report was made public on Thursday afternoon. As well as the two Charlton stores, the CMA has raised issues about stores in Lewisham, New Cross, Abbey Wood, Kidbrooke, Peckham, Deptford, Old Kent Road, Isle of Dogs, Bexleyheath and Belvedere.

Both retailers also have petrol outlets within close proximity of each other, as Sainsbury’s retailed the filling station from its former Greenwich store, now replaced by an Ikea. These outlets are also highlighted by the CMA.

As well as their two Bugsby’s Way superstores, Sainsbury’s also has a Local supermarket on Charlton Church Lane. This is not included in the CMA’s list of concerns.

The Charlton Riverside Sainsbury’s store opened in 2015

Of the two Charlton superstores, the Asda branch is arguably the most vulnerable to a sale. The store has been trading for 35 years, making it the second oldest in the Charlton retail area (Makro is 10 years older) and its facilities are dated. It could be seen as a target for Lidl, which is currently applying for planning permission to convert two units in an adjacent shopping park into a supermarket, or the new Tesco low-cost brand Jack’s.

The Charlton store only opened in 2015, and there have been anecdotal reports that trading has been slower than expected – one consequence of its move from east Greenwich was that the store was cut off from shoppers who would take a bus down the hill from Blackheath. But a new store could be attractive to a rival such as Morrisons, which lacks a store between Peckham, Welling and Thamesmead.

The full Competition and Markets Authority report will be released in April.


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