Angerstein Wharf crossing: Network Rail sorry after wrongly claiming footpath was most dangerous

Angerstein crossing family
The crossing has existed since the line was built in the 1850s

Charlton Champion exclusive: Network Rail has apologised after wrongly claiming that the Angerstein Wharf railway crossing, which it wants to close, was the most dangerous in its Kent region.

The Charlton Champion revealed in May that the state-owned track company has revived plans to close the footpath over the freight branch line, which links streets in Charlton with a footbridge to Westcombe Park station.

At the time, it claimed that the crossing over the single-track line was “currently registered as the most dangerous of nearly 350 level crossings which we operate in Kent”.

However, after The Charlton Champion asked for the data that its statement was based on, Network Rail has withdrawn the claim – admitting that it is actually the 34th most dangerous crossing in the region.

There are also seven more dangerous foot crossings in the Kent region, it admitted.

Network Rail said that it was, in fact, “the highest risk footpath in south-east London” – however, there are no other foot crossings like it in south-east London. The track company did not respond to a request for clarification.

“Angerstein Footpath Crossing is ranked 8th out of the 162 footpath crossings in Kent and 34th out of 341 crossings in Kent. It is the highest risk footpath in South East London, not in Kent – the statement was a miscommunication on our press release and we apologise for any confusion caused,” Network Rail said in response to a request made under freedom of information laws.

A Network Rail press release – which was not sent to us at the time – calls the path “the most dangerous level crossing in south east London”. However, there is only one other level crossing on a Network Rail line in south east London, a mile away at Charlton Lane.

“Charlton Lane is ranked 43rd out of 341 for level crossing risk in Kent; however Charlton Lane is a fully protected, full barrier manned crossing which is one of the highest levels of protection for a level crossing,” it said.

The Charlton Champion has also obtained a spreadsheet of incidents at the crossing since January 2018.

While Network Rail claimed there had been “many incidents where drivers of trains had to apply their emergency brakes to avoid people on the track”, only one such incident had been recorded – on 28 November 2019, when a driver reported someone crossing as the train approached. Almost a year earlier, a driver told control room staff that someone had crossed after being told not to, but there was no report of brakes being applied.

Angerstein Wharf crossing gate
A broken gate was one of the 13 incidents recorded at the crossing

In total, thirteen incidents were recorded, including seven trespass incidents with people seen on the line; one woman apparently carrying a baby in her arms and trying to access Westcombe Park station, another where youths were seen throwing rocks at cars on Bugbsy’s Way.

Others had little to do with its use as a crossing: a track worker was cut by a syringe inserted into a handrail in March 2019, the following month vandalism to a fence was reported, while in February 2020 it was reported that a recently-installed safety gate had come off its hinge.

The final incident was a “concern for welfare” when a driver saw “two teenage boys hanging around the foot crossing” – one which may raise eyebrows for any residents who grew up in the area and may have done the same themselves.

Network Rail did not respond to a request for further comment.

The crossing, originally built for farm workers in the 1850s, has grown in importance in recent years with the development of new housing on the old Thorn Lighting site between Victoria Way and Fairthorn Road. The newer Bowen Drive development off Victoria Way, which welcomed its first residents last year, offers a direct link to Gurdon Road and the crossing.

Two weeks ago Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook asked Network Rail for detailed evidence to back up its assertions that the footpath, which is one of just a handful of crossings, is unsafe.

The letter came after the track company held a consultation meeting with local residents, which Pennycook said had been followed by “uniformly negative feedback”.

In February 2018, Network Rail closed a footpath across the railway at Stone Crossing, east of Dartford and replaced it with a new footbridge. However, at the Angerstein crossing, it is expecting the 675 daily passengers to reroute via Woolwich Road to reach Westcombe Park.


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Angerstein Wharf crossing closure: Show me your evidence, MP tells Network Rail

Angerstein crossing
The crossing is used by people travelling to and from Westcombe Park station

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”.

The nine-point letter asks:

  • 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”.


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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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