Bridges & Tunnels

18 July 2011
Crossrail goes past City Airport without stopping
Brian Micklethwait

In recent weeks and months I have been exploring the area around the big old East London docks, beyond the Docklands Towers, the ones that feature in the opening credits of Eastenders, and the ones which have London City Airport in the middle of them.

Here is the relevant bit of google maps.  Zoom in a couple of times in the middle of that, and you will see the area I’m talking about.  You will see it even better if you click on “satellite”, which I have only recently learned to do.  Do that and you can see actual railway lines and actual airplanes.

My most recent wanderings around there saw me trying to find a path beside the river, starting at the north end of the Woolwich Ferry, going west.  I didn’t get very far.  I soon came upon industrial estates and jetties sticking out, places where actual work was being done, and actual transport, on the river.  (A surprising amount of freight still seems to move up and down the river these days, in among all the more eye catching and frequent pleasure boats.)  In the industrial estates pedestrians are not encouraged, although I did venture into one of them, until I got to a wall and had to turn around and go back.  As for the jetties, random pedestrians can’t get anywhere near the river near them.  Basically the Thames footpath stops.

On an earlier expedition, I had started at the same point, north end of Woolwich Ferry, and travelled East.  For a while, fine, there was a rather nice park right next to the river.  But then it again stopped.  There does seem to be an aspiration to have a continuous Thames Path in that part of London, on the north of the river as well as the south (which already has such a path), just as there is everywhere else.  But it is taking a very long to time to join up in that particular part of London.  At present the path there exists only in rather forlorn and run-down little fragments.

So, anyway, on this most recent trip going west along the river, frustrated by industry, I turned right, northwards, back towards the docks and the airplanes.  And I bumped into Crossrail.

It’s pretty hard working out where all the various railways in that part of London go, just as footpaths are also hard to identify.  Maps are not always helpful, often showing stations but not the lines between them, especially if they are in tunnels.  (Although, as I have only just now discovered, if you click on “Public transport” in Google Maps, then things like underground railways become a lot clearer.  (No, scrub that.  It doesn’t become clearer, because the blue line calling itself the Docklands Light Railway does not appear where the DLR physically is.  It merely connects the stations, like a crow flying between them.  There are separate graphics, sometimes but not always, for where the railway actually is.  Very confusing.))

Basically, there are two branches of the Docklands Light Railway, one going north of the docks, and one to the south of them and then under the river to the Woolwich Arsenal.  Plus, there is also a defunct regular railway line, that starts off on the north side of the docks, but then goes under them, and then goes along the middle of a long straight boulevard called variously (depending which side of the boulevard you are on), Connaught Road, Factory Road and Albert Road, between the docks and the river, just south of the southern branch of the DLR, and then it too disappears into a defunct tunnel that goes under the river to the south.

However this defunct railway and its defunct tunnel will soon both be funct again, because Crossrail will be making use of it.  At present, the line is a charming rural wilderness trail, fenced off, and dividing the Connaught Factory Albert boulevard down the middle.  So make up your mind good and early which side of the Connaught Factory Albert bourlevard you need to be on.

But although this means that although Crossrail will be going within a couple of hundred yards of the City Airport, which is right in among the docks to the north of where Crossrail will be, there are not now any plans for the trains to stop at this spot.  It will stop at the top left of the docks, as it were, at a station called Customs House, nearly half a mile’s walk to the airport, and it will stop on the other side of the river, but, so far as I can work out from the www, not near to City Airport.

There already is a Docklands Light Railway stop at City Airport, on the southern bit of it.  However, the DLR is, for users of City Airport, very slow and frustrating.  It takes an age to trundle its toy train way, stopping at every little stop on the way, from real London out to these docklands, which are beyond even the regular Docklands that people mean when they say that.  I imagine most users of City Airport arrive by car, typically driven by someone else.

The relationship between City Airport and Crossrail seems to have been quite acrimonious (sorry I read this on the www recently but I forget where).  The impression I get is that Crossrail is perceived by City Airport almost as a bug rather than a feature, which seems a bit strange.  It’s as if Crossrail is threatening to flood City Airport with Ryanair plebs, rather than the genteel taxi-delivered suits it now caters to.

Or, maybe all this Crossrail activity is driving up local land prices and threatening to complicate various expansion plans that City Airport has.  City Airport is certainly very busy.  Airplanes land or take off there pretty much continuously.  So I guess they figure that getting yet more people to their airport is not their problem.  Their problem is making their airport shift more people to and from the air.

I have lots of photos of this part of London that I have taken on my various trips.  I hope to post some of these at my personal blog in the nearish future, but promise nothing.  If any such snaps do materialise, I will put a link to them here.

04 February 2011
Brian has a nice picture of a railway bridge -  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Bridges & Tunnels
11 January 2008
18 Stunning Bridges from around the World - some of which have actually been built (hat-tip: Marginal Revolution)  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Bridges & Tunnels
15 November 2007
It’s all in the timing
Brian Micklethwait

Today, Eurostar cut its timings to and from London by twenty minutes, or whatever it is, and on the very same day, French railway workers go on strike.  Coincidence?  The usual next sentence is: “I don’t think so”, but the truth is that I have no idea.  However, if the striking railwaymen were trying to cause the maximum pain, today was surely the day to choose.  Suddenly those French railways don’t look so smooth and efficient, and the Brits are the ones sniggering and feeling superior.

By the way, the picture here, makes the St Pancras extension look rather better than my first impressions.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of transport related blogging at my place.  See also: this about another viaduct, and this about the A380.

10 November 2007
The age of railway flatness
Brian Micklethwait

At my personal blog, I have a clutch of British railway viaduct photos, many with trains that you can just about spot!


The usual commentary about such viaducts is all about how much better they were at doing viaducts then, not like it is now, blah blah.  But engineers now do good stuff too, I think.  Better, arguably.  Just not for railways.

I mean, you might just as well say that they were very bad at making vehicles go up steeper gradients in those days.  The only reason they had to build all these viaducts is because railways had to be so very flat.  And that’s now changed, hasn’t it?

23 April 2007
Gibraltar bridge?
Brian Micklethwait

Michael Jennings often emails me with links to things he doesn’t have time to blog about himself, or maybe isn’t sure anyone else cares about other than me.  I don’t always respond so these suggestions, but they are always welcome.  Others who do the same thing, but somewhat less often, are likewise much welcomed.

Anyway, rather longer ago than is strictly dignified for me now to blog about but never mind, knowing that I do love bridges, Michael sent me this link, to an article about a possible tunnel, linking Spain (i.e. Western Europe) to Africa, and had this to say about the idea:

There is no economic case for it so it would be a huge white elephant, so I can’t actually imagine it being built soon. (The observations about its usefulness for freight are grasping at straws of justification - ships are fine for freight).

However, the more interesting thought comes from this statement:

“The Strait of Gibraltar, formed millions of years ago when land masses split to form what are now Europe and Africa, is only 14 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. But the water is so deep there a rail tunnel would be like a roller coaster slope, so steep as to be out of the question.

“So engineers have chosen a longer but shallower path spanning about 40 kilometres. Even there, however, the water is about 300 metres deep, five to six times deeper than the water in the English Channel where the channel runs.

“Then there is the messy terrain at the bottom of the Strait. ‘It is chaotic. The word is chaotic,’ said Sebastian Sanchez, an engineer overseeing the tunnel test site in Tarifa.”

There is an obvious word that comes from this (both the fact that the narrowest point is too deep for a tunnel and that the terrain on the bottom of the Mediterranean is complex) and that word is “bridge”.  Imagine huge towers each a kilometre or two from the shore and a single suspension span of more than 10km. We don’t quite have the materials for this yet, but in twenty years we probably shall. Then this is potentially the most mindboggling structure on Earth.

And there’s also this:

The other reason why the Spanish at the moment aren’t talking about bridges is because the obvious place to land the bridge on the European side is actually British territory.

Indeed.  The thing about these emails from Michael is that he has no time to do a proper blog posting, so he just emails me instead, but ends up doing a proper blog posting.

12 April 2007
Foolish Virgin
Brian Micklethwait

Jackie D goes for Virgin Atlantic:

I just booked a flight on Virgin Atlantic, and every step of the booking process was full of overtures to book an upgrade to Premium Economy, because now you get your own dedicated cabin, better seat, etc. Except you don’t, not necessarily: They’re only just rolling out the new, improved Premium Economy service, and it is only available on a few flights. “Read the fine print,” you grumble. Actually, there is no fine print involved. Virgin Atlantic is flat-out lying to people . . .

It would all be a total scam were it not for the fact that Virgin’s basic non-Preimium service is pretty good.  Maybe they are losing money on that, which is why they want people to pay quite a lot more for very little more.

All of which makes no sense whatever to me.  RyanAir to France is my limit these days.  Sit in a flying armpit for three hours, pay RyanAir about ten quid, and various governments another thirty, for RyanAir Cattletruck Class.  That’s air travel for me.  Actually, I quite like RyanAir, provided I can sit by a window and take stupid photos of the engines, and slightly more sensible ones of Channel Islands, the Millau Viaduct etc.

Anyway, on this Virgin thing, Adriana is apparently the source on this, and she must blog about it Very Soon, according to Jackie.

06 March 2007
Very big bore
Brian Micklethwait

This looks likes a fairly boring story in more ways than one:

Two of the world’s largest tunnel slurry borers are starting to drive 9-kilometer-long tunnels under China’s Yangtze River, in Shanghai. They are a key element of the $1.6-billion, 25.5-km Shanghai-Chongming Expressway. The link between Shanghai, Changxing Island and Chongming Island is to be completed in time for the 2010 Shanghai Universal Exposition.

At the Yangtze’s estuary in Shanghai, one record-breaking, 15.43-meter-dia tunnel-boring machine set off from a shaft at Pudong late last year. The second, close on its heels, is also expected to drive 400 m a month through clay, silt and sand.

Yeah, yeah, record-breaking, I thought.  But then I took a closer look at the picture there and saw the little tiny blokes at the bottom.  This really is a big borer.

04 March 2007
Train cakes and vapour trails
Brian Micklethwait

Here at Transport Blog we have a tradition of featuring food that looks like transport.  We have, that is to say, had postings about food that looks like transport.  One anyway.

So, news of a cake mold that cranks out cakes in the shapes of a railway train:

This is one little locomotive no one will want to miss! Our ingeniously designed cake pan bakes a complete nine-car train that’s ready to decorate and eat. From engine to caboose, there’s no limit to the colors and decorative details imaginative young bakers can add to each train car. Made of durable cast aluminum by NordicWare, the pan bakes each little cake to perfection every time. The premium nonstick interior turns out cakes with beautiful detail and is easy to clean. Hand-wash. 6-cup cap.; 15 1/2” x 9 3/4” x 1 3/4” high. A Williams-Sonoma exclusive.

Cake tin

I stumbled upon this by a route so random that it does not signify, but once I found it, how could I not pass it on to TB readers?

On a more serious note, I now have a special category at my person blog for Bridges,and have dug up and thus categorised as many earlier bridge postings that I could find.

I’ve had a Transport category for some while now.  In my opinion, this quite recent transport related posting, about a dirty-looking vapour trail, is actually quite profound.

08 January 2007
London’s bridges – who maintains them and a book about them
Brian Micklethwait

Did you know that the five Thames bridges of the City of London are maintained without the taxpayer being bothered?  I didn’t.

The Trust built and continues to maintain all of the City of London’s bridges - including Tower bridge - at no expense to the taxpayer.

That’s the what used to be the Bridge House Trust and which will now be the City Bridge Trust.

It’s one of the biggest and oldest but least well-known grant-giving charities in the country, with £700m in its coffers. It traces its roots back to 1097.

It began collecting tolls to cross London bridge and then rent from the houses and shops built on it.

The bridge became so important to Londoners that they would leave legacies to “God and the bridge”.

Tolls and rents reinvested in property results in an annual income that vastly exceeds the £4m to £5m it costs for the upkeep of London, Tower, Millennium, Southwark and Blackfriars bridges.

Bridgemasters maximised income including “receiving tolls on carts passing over the bridge, tolls from ships passing under the bridge and fines for unlawful fishing from the bridge”.

Londonist‘s Mike found this somewhere in the Guardian, if I understand him right.  And he links to an interview with the author of a book on London’s bridges, a book which gets that rather rare thing for a quite obscure book, a slamming on Amazon.  Usually, everything gets either four stars or five.

The book promises much and delivers very little. Technical information is severely limited and hardly offers an understanding of any of the bridges the author seeks to describe. The author demonstrates a poor understanding of the way in which bridges are built and who builds them, describing Ove Arup’s as the builder of the Millenium Bridge and apparently oblivious of the fact that they undertook the engineering design. As to others involved in major works they get no mention at all, including Rendel Palmer and Tritton who were the consulting engineers for Chelsea, Waterloo and the Thames Barrier. Engineers are described as architects. The author appears unaware of the events on the river and makes no mention of the occasions on which bridges have been struck by ships. There is no mention of the collier hitting Battersea and virtually demolishing the main span in 1955. If you are looking for a history of the bridges and competent photographs then this is not the book for you. If you are looking for amusing anecdotes then this book has some merits.

The only other Amazon reviewer liked it:

This really is a gem of a book for anyone who loves London. Riverside walks are also all the more enjoyable for it! Far from being a dry history, it’s packed with interesting tales and is immensely readable. Recommended.

So there.  And the books publishers like it too.

23 December 2006
Bridges and tunnels
David Farrer

At a Christmas drink on Thursday an Edinburgh Labour councillor told me that the City Council had at last given final approval for our new tram system. The vote was 56 to 1, the odd man out being Edinburgh’s sole SNP councillor.

The Nationalists also oppose the planned rail extension into Edinburgh airport, which would be in addition to the new tramline. I imagine that this has something to do with the low level of SNP support in the city. What the SNP does support is the construction of a new crossing over the Firth of Forth. The original Victorian rail bridge is still working fine but the 1960’s road bridge is in big trouble and now almost all politicians think that we need another crossing. But does it need to be a bridge?

Not necessarily. Increasingly, the case is being made for a tunnel. My fellow blogger Neil Craig has written a fascinating piece on other possible tunnels in Scotland.