Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has asked Network Rail to provide the evidence for its plans to close the Angerstein Wharf rail crossing – including why the track company claims it is one of the most dangerous crossings in SE London and Kent.
The state-owned company confirmed last month that it was to close the link between Fairthorn Road in Charlton and Farmdale Road in east Greenwich, which connects local commuters to Westcombe Park station. It had originally planned to close the foot crossing in 2019, but paused its plans for a review.
Network Rail has said that the crossing must close on safety grounds, but Pennycook has written to the body asking for the evidence as to why the crossing is deemed unsafe, and why an alternative tunnel or footbridge under the single-track freight line cannot be provided.
The letter comes after the track company held a consultation meeting with local residents last week, which Pennycook said had been followed by “uniformly negative feedback”.
I have this afternoon written to Network Rail regarding their latest proposals to close the Angerstein pedestrian level crossing, putting to them a series of questions that have not yet been satisfactorily answered⬇️ pic.twitter.com/HPfpdT8Fsa
if Network Rail will publish the review it undertook after its earlier decision to close the crossing;
for the evidence that passengers are climbing under or over stationary trains at the crossing;
what other safety measures have been considered;
the evidence behind claiming it was the most dangerous crossing in its Kent region;
why safety ratings for the crossing had changed over the years;
why Network Rail believes there is not a right of way at that location;
what assessment Network tail has made of the alternative route via Woolwich Road; and
what it is doing to address safety concerns for passengers who face having to use Woolwich Road if the crossing closes.
The crossing is one of just a handful of foot crossings of railway lines in the London area, and has been in existence since the Angerstein Wharf freight line was built across a route used by farm workers in 1852.
Network Rail, which has recently installed gates at the crossing, said last month that the number of incidents on the line – which regularly sees freight trains to heading to Angerstein Wharf on the Thames – meant it had to act and that it would be “in close communication with the local community about the alternative route which is chosen”.
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.
‘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.
Got a letter from @networkrail which seems to say the Angerstein foot crossing will be permanently closed. Anyone know if this is true? No consultation that I’ve been aware of. Will mean more people walk along polluted main road. @TheMurkyDepths@mtpennycook
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”.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.