Welcome Ben Woollacott: First new Woolwich ferry for 55 years arrives

Ben Woollacott
Ben Woollacott is named after a deckhand who died in an accident in 2011

The first of two new Woolwich ferries arrived at its new home this morning, ahead of beginning service on the Thames in the new year.

Ben Woollacott – named after a deckhand on the old ferries who died in an accident in 2011 – arrived in Woolwich at 10.15am, after sailing from Tilbury. It span around in the Thames before beginning tests at North Woolwich pier.

The vessel has already travelled halfway across Europe, from its shipyard at Gdansk in Poland via the Kiel Canal in northern Germany before crossing the North Sea.

But the boat will now spend most of its time shuttling between Woolwich and North Woolwich on the historic free crossing.

A second ferry, Dame Vera Lynn, will follow. It is named after the wartime entertainer who was born in East Ham 101 years ago.

The two new vessels replace their three predecessors Ernest Bevin, John Burns and James Newman, which had plied the route since 1963. They were taken out of service last month and are now at a recycling facility in Le Havre, northern France.

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Woolwich’s new ferries will provide 14 per cent more space than the old vessels and will be able to carry 150 passengers, with a total of 210 metres of space for vehicles and dedicated cyclist spaces across four lanes.

They are powered by a hybrid-propulsion engine, providing greater fuel efficiency and less noise. Transport for London, which oversees the service, says the new ferries are fitted with state-of-the-art equipment to reduce emissions to 90 per cent less particulate patter and 70 per cent less nitrogen oxide than legal standards.

Ben Woollacott and Dame Vera Lynn will be the fourth set of ferries on the crossing since it became a free service in 1888.

North Woolwich
TfL is currently revamping both piers and the northern approach to the ferry

The full ferry service is due to resume in the new year after works are carried out on the two piers so they are compatible with the new vessels. The ships will also be tested at different times of day and at different tide levels – today’s arrival was timed to coincide with low tide.

On the North Woolwich side, TfL is also carrying out major works Pier Road, the street that leads to the ferry.

Woolwich Crossrail
Woolwich’s Crossrail station began to emerge today

In another sign of the future for transport in Woolwich, as the new ferry arrived workers were dismantling hoardings around the new Crossrail station, giving many locals their first glimpse of the new entrance.

The opening of the Elizabeth Line – originally scheduled for three weeks’ time – has been delayed until autumn 2019 because of construction issues, with Woolwich station one of those reportedly behind schedule. However, it is already possible to buy a ticket to the station because TfL’s ticket machines were updated before the delay was confirmed.

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