Route 129 bus in Greenwich
Route 129 will be extended through the tunnel under TfL’s plans (photo: Aubrey used under Creative Commons licence)

Transport for London has revealed plans for the cross-river bus network that will use the Silvertown Tunnel – but just two services are planned and a promised route to Kidbrooke Village and Eltham does not appear.

At present just one route uses the Blackwall Tunnel, the single-deck 108 service which links Stratford International station and Lewisham, with TfL reluctant to add more because of traffic congestion.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has consistently promised that the adjacent Silvertown Tunnel will be “public transport-focused” when it opens in 2025.

When TfL applied for permission to build the tunnel, it suggested a network of five buses would use it, but plans for an Eltham to Beckton service as well as extensions of two east London routes to North Greenwich appear to have been dropped from the plans.

Just two bus routes are planned for the tunnel, Greenwich councillors heard last night at a meeting of the transport scrutiny panel. One will be an extension of route 129 from North Greenwich to London City Airport and Great Eastern Quays, a new riverside housing development in Beckton.

Silvertown Tunnel bus network maps
TfL will consult on the routes next month

The other will be a new express service from Grove Park to Canary Wharf, which will follow route 261 to the South Circular Road, route 202 to Blackheath Village, then Prince of Wales Road and Shooters Hill Road to the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout. The X239 will then run fast via the A102 and Silvertown Tunnel to Leamouth roundabout, north of the Thames, before continuing to Canary Wharf.

At Blackwall, the 108, a cross-river service which dates back to before the First World War, will continue as now.

The five-bus network appeared in official documents until earlier this year. TfL representative Rob Varney, who attended the transport scrutiny panel to give a broad update on the organisation’s work in Greenwich, was not able to answer what had happened to the other services.

Blackheath, Lee and Grove Park may have been chosen for the Canary Wharf service to reduce pressure on the Docklands Light Railway interchange at Lewisham.

Bridge The Gap campaign launch
Greenwich councillors campaigned for the tunnel a decade ago

But the lack of an Eltham service from the Silvertown Tunnel’s opening – or any meaningful network of routes serving the borough – will embarrass the Greenwich Labour figures who campaigned for the tunnel to be built a decade ago. Current leader Anthony Okereke, who was not on the council then, is opposed to the project.

Traffic modelling submitted to public hearings for the tunnel in 2016 was based around 37 buses per hour using both the Blackwall and Silvertown crossings – including the existing six on the 108. At a later stage of the hearings, this commitment was watered down to 20 buses during peak hours.

TfL's original plans for Silvertown Tunnel buses
TfL’s “indicative network” from 2016

TfL has suggested that more services will follow. In 2019 Khan pledged that there would be “20 buses an hour going to 37 an hour – you will have public transport going from one side to the other side, encouraging more people to use public transport”.

While doubt has since been cast on whether the number of buses will ever reach 37 per hour a TfL spokesperson told the industry website Transport Network in May: “TfL is committed to running at least 20 zero emission buses per hour when the new tunnel opens, and will increase the number of buses over time in response to demand.”

Tunnelling began last month on the new crossing. Councillors were told last night that the machine, called Jill, has already travelled 50 metres, but still has nearly 2.2km to go.

Jill will arrive in Greenwich towards the end of the year and be turned around to tunnel back towards Silvertown. The rotation chamber on the Greenwich side, where the machine will be turned 180 degrees has been excavated ahead of schedule, Varney said.

A consultation on the Silvertown Tunnel bus routes will begin on November 16.

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