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.

  1. Michael Jennings, who knows everything, and with whom I and Patrick dined just after I had posted the above, has now explained to me why the antipathy between Crossrail and City Airport.  The antipathy is real, but my guesses about why it exists are not.

    It is not a case of City Airport plans being interrupted by Crossrail.  No.  It is vice versa.  City Airport interrupts Crossrail plans.  Crossrail and local developers in the area have in mind that Crossrail will make lots of lucrative new developments possible.

    But, City Airport interrupts such plans by slapping an automatic height limit on all buildings in its vicinity.  So, Crossrail want City Airport to shut.  The last thing they want is to help City Airport by getting people to it quicker, with fast and convenient new trains.

    Hence, no Crossrail station near City Airport.

    Michael: I hope I got that about right.  Please add whatever needs adding.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on  19 July 2011 at 02:10 am

  2. There is also a passive provision for a station at Silvertown just to the East of the old Silvertown station, and but a few minutes from City Airport.

    It might not be “at” City Airport”, but it will be within walking distance of it.

    Posted by IanVisits on  19 July 2011 at 11:04 am

  3. I’d just like to add that flying from City Airport is great – if you tired of slogging through airports, try to get your next departure from here and it will remind you why air travel is magical.  Passing though check-in, passport control and security in seconds, not hours is a wonderful contrast to the major London hubs, and the steep eastward decent on your return gives a fantastic view of London.  For the extra few pounds on BA or KLM for European fights, it’s always the first place I try to fly from.

    I suppose I should point out I don’t work there.  I landed there a few years ago getting from the aircraft door to my front door in 25 minutes and I have been in love ever since!  This is Crossrail’s loss.

    Posted by Bleak Flat on  20 July 2011 at 05:45 pm

  4. I too try to fly to & from City Airport whenever possible. It’s often cheap outside business hours. The DLR toy train amy nota acutally be any faster than the Heathrow Express as a way of getting from the airport to Real London, but the hwole experience is so much more relaxed.

    Posted by Alan Little on  08 August 2011 at 05:10 pm

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