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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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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Charlton Lane level crossing: What’s happened to the footbridge?

Charlton Lane level crossing
Where’s it gone?

A few weeks back, Network Rail workers moved in on the level crossing in Charlton Lane. And took away the footbridge.

Arthur asked The Charlton Champion what was going on. So we asked Network Rail.

A very nice spokesperson told us: “The footbridge at Charlton Lane has been taken away for major refurbishment and re-painting. We aim to get it back in position before Spring 2018 and in the meantime if people could use the level crossing we would appreciate their patience and understanding.”

A bit inconvenient if you come at a time when there are multiple trains coming, but hopefully a brighter and less creaky bridge will be back in place soon.