Woolwich Ferry
The 1960s Woolwich Ferry vessels are about to be replaced

Updated story: The three 1960s vessels that run on the Woolwich Ferry have less than two weeks left in service and will take their last trip on the Thames on Friday 5 October, Transport for London has revealed.

Two new vessels will replace the Ernest Bevin, John Burns and James Newman, which have plied the route between Woolwich and North Woolwich since 1963, from the beginning of 2019.

The first ship to go, the John Burns – named after a radical Liberal MP who coined the phrase “the Thames is liquid history” – will leave for a recycling facility in Le Havre, northern France, on Tuesday 2 October, TfL has told 853.

But the news comes with a sting in the tail – the ferry will be closed for three months, rather than two as first thought, to accommodate the new vessels.

The new ferries will provide 14 per cent more space than the current 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 will be powered by a hybrid-propulsion engine, providing greater fuel efficiency and less noise than the current vessels. TfL 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.

The three-month closure is to complete the installation of new berths, which will incorporate auto-mooring systems, securing the vessels in the berth using magnetic technology. TfL says this will remove the need for engine power while mooring is taking place, helping further reduce emissions, as well as making them more stable.

New ferry Ben Woollacott undergoing trials in Poland (photo: TfL)

The other two ferries are also named after politicians – Ernest Bevin was Woolwich East MP between 1950 and 1951 as well as Clement Atlee’s foreign secretary; James Newman was a mayor of Woolwich in the 1920s. They are likely to be towed to the Gardet et de Bezenac yard at Le Harve, near the mouth of the River Seine, in the week after the service closes.

TfL’s new vessels, which have been built at the Rementowa shipyard in Gdasnk, Poland, are named after notable figures from each side of the Thames: wartime entertainer Dame Vera Lynn, 101, was born in East Ham; while Ben Wollacott was a 19-year-old deckhand from Swanley who drowned in 2011 while preparing one of the ferries for service.

They will be the fourth set of ferries to ply the route since it became a free service in 1888.

TfL’s head of London River Services, David Fisher, said: “We are really excited about the benefits that these new ferries will bring to Londoners and we will do our best to limit disruption during the essential work.

“We recognise how important this service is, particularly to local users, and thank everyone for their patience. The much needed new ferries will replace the current boats, which have given London excellent service for the last 55 years.

“We are also installing brand new berths that will include an enhanced auto-mooring system. The ferries will improve accessibility, provide separate waiting areas for pedestrians and cyclists and carry more vehicles. The boats will also be powered by a hybrid engine, which will greatly reduce emissions and noise.”

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