The Woolwich Free Ferry is a boat service across the River Thames, London, UK, which is operated by the London Borough of Greenwich, and licensed and financed by London River Services, the maritime arm of Transport for London. The boat carries foot passengers and vehicles. From 1 October 2008 the ferry will be operated by Serco under licence from TfL.
The service links Woolwich in the London Borough of Greenwich with North Woolwich in the London Borough of Newham. It also links two ends of the inner London orbital road routes: the North Circular and the South Circular.
A ferry service had operated across the river at Woolwich since at least the 14th century
. The free ferry service was instigated by Sir Joseph Bazalgette
using powers granted in the Metropolitan Board of Works
(Various Powers) Act 1885, and was officially opened on 23 March 1889
The current three vessels (built in Dundee
by the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company
to replace the previous four paddle steamers used since 1923
) were each named after prominent local politicians: John Burns
, Ernest Bevin
and James Newman
(Newman was mayor of Woolwich, 1923-25). This continued a practice started in 1923 with The Squire
(named after William Squires, another former mayor of Woolwich), and in 1930 with the Will Crooks
MP for Woolwich, 1903-1921) and the John Benn
(Sir John was a member of London County Council
MP for Wapping
, and grandfather of Tony Benn
The ferries feature Voith-Schneider propulsion systems for manoeuvrability. They carry lorries and other road traffic across the river, plus large numbers of foot passengers (licensed capacity: 500 passengers and 200 tonnes of vehicles).
On weekdays, the ferry operates from 6.10am until 8pm with a two-boat service (10 minutes nominal interval between sailings); on Saturdays, from 6.10am to 8pm with a one-boat service (15 minutes nominal interval, and the last south-to-north sailing is 15 minutes earlier at 7.45pm); on Sundays, from 11.30am to 7.30pm with a one-boat service (last south-to-north sailing at 7.15pm).
Nearest alternate crossings
If the ferry service is not operating (it may occasionally be suspended due to fog during its normal hours), pedestrians can use the nearby Woolwich foot tunnel from Woolwich to North Woolwich.
The nearest vehicle alternatives are the Blackwall Tunnel about two miles (3 km) upstream to the west, or the Dartford Crossing some ten miles (16 km) downstream to the east.
Future of the service
In 2004 proposals for a new bridge, the Thames Gateway Bridge
, close to the location of the Woolwich Ferry, received funding. This is likely to lead to the existing ferries being replaced by a new, more efficient, ferry system which is more suitable for a lower traffic volume once the new bridge is opened.
On 12th September 2008 Transport for London (TfL) announced that Serco Ltd will operate the Woolwich Ferry service from 1 October 2008.
The contract runs until 31 March 2010.
Serco will take over running the ferry service from the London Borough of Greenwich, which announced in March that it would cease operating the service from 30 September 2008.