London viaduct with high/low lines #2

London viaduct with high/low lines #2

The 1,19 km (3,911 ft) long Silvertown Viaduct which connects West Silvertown to Canning Town was the first instance of a viaduct of its kind constructed for an expanding road network. It opened as the nation’s first contemporary vehicle by-pass and is recognised as the UK’s first-ever road fly-over. A ‘high line’ and a ‘low line’ were available when the Silvertown viaduct was opened in 1934, though not primarily for the leisure activities meant by these terms.

The low line (or mainly private road as it was largely at one time) would have been more for people going about their daily lives, deliveries being undertaken and components being taken away from the area, was in fact a route mainly to serve the various factories and industries. Although the docks adjacent to this historic viaduct are no longer extant, the decline of shipping, has resulted in its docks, old warehouses, and quaysides opening up new pedestrian routes thus making this historic viaduct even more of a viable walking option these days. And what that means is there’s now both high and low level walking routes!

Near the stairs in question this other quirk can be found! Pipelines cross through the arches.

The viaduct ends with a modern steel section over this derelict road and the adjacent Docklands railway tracks.

The land to the south of the viaduct and the DLR is earmarked for the new Silvertown tunnel under the Thames. More development on the go hereabouts soon. Some locals don’t want the new tunnel, whilst campaign groups say it’ll bring a lot more traffic to the area. Whether it will affect the Silvertown viaduct is not known at this stage, however its probably quite fortuitous it was modified in the 1990s as its extra width and the roundabout built will become part of the new roads system leading to this latest Thames crossing. The viaduct itself will pass almost right by the entrances to the new Thames tunnel. See this report from the BBC.

The next picture show the exterior of the next set of interconnecting walkways/stairs between the upper and lower levels. This is located approximately opposite where the entrances to the new Silvertown tunnel under the Thames should eventually be built. The stairs are somewhat quirky in how its arranged but nevertheless shows how the designers of the time thought these things up! There’s a bus stop handy at the top of these stairs!

General view of the connecting stairs upper to lower level – or if one prefers, from high line to low line!

Area south of the viaduct, currently industrial use, for the new Silvertown Thames tunnel. Viaduct in distance.

Original approach ramp still in use. At the end of this ramp stood the popular Tidal Basin tavern, demolished c2010.

View of the viaduct, Royal Docks & Emirates Air Line from a DLR train. The building seen behind the bus in the background is the Greater London Authority’s new headquarters.

View from Silvertown viaduct at the same spot towards the DLR itself (with Emirates air line visible.)

Note: These pictures were taken in 2018. Work on the controversial Silvertown tunnel had not yet begun. The area has now changed beyond recognition with construction underway. Clearly there will be future alterations including new access roads that could change the character of the Silvertown viaduct somewhat. Its not just that, once the work is completed there will be new developments too. What it means is at the current time (eg 2022) its still possible to get some sort of feel for how the Silvertown viaduct once stood high above the surrounding dock area – but that possibility is fading as time progresses and it gets overshadowed by new developments.

As one progresses along the viaduct eastwards, it will be found there have been alterations including new side ramps and its been widened too. These were done in the 1990s, long before the SIlvertown tunnel scheme was even thought of!

The spaces beneath the viaduct at this end have been taken over by numerous small businesses – thus its no longer possible to see easily how the viaduct originally looked. That is, excepting a section where the former shipping route to the Royal Docks once stood and the piers of the original structure (plus the new additions) can be easily seen.

The original 1930s viaduct can be seen with its distinctive arched styling – with the later modifications also visible.

Where the western entrance to the Royal Docks once stood its possible to see how the viaduct has been modified. Underneath the viaduct itself once stood the lock that connected the Royal Docks to the Thames. Its here that one can see the 1930’s structure and the 1990s additions to the viaduct. Much of this work was done to enable a new connecting series of ramps from the nearby roundabout to be built. That was quite fortuitous work because it means there’ll be at least one ready made access road from the new Silvertown tunnel onto the viaduct itself.

The section of viaduct which accommodated the former lock from the river to the docks – with the different styles (1930s/1990s) showing. The DLR’s own viaduct can be seen in the background.

The top part of the viaduct was in fact bounded by quite thick concrete walls, balustrades if one prefers, rather than the much lighter styling seen today. The older blocky concrete styling wall was familiar throughout the area’s roads network and retention of the original would have made the Silvertown viaduct even more of a historic example of a early 20th Century roadway. Alas as we have already seen, it was considerably widened to accommodate ever increasing traffic demands. The work lessened its historical impact considerably and its quite possibly why few care to any extent whether this structure is of historic importance or not.

Another set of steps leading down from the viaduct. Not sure if these are original or a later addition. One can continue via the ‘high line’ to the viaduct’s end or walk along its ‘low line’ instead.

View from a Docklands train clearly showing how the viaduct is important to local small businesses.

Plans for the area include a somewhat further revitalised viaduct. Currently service industries accommodate the spaces under the viaduct – under the new proposals these would instead become shops, or keep fit centres, or other facilities devoted to the local community. Another example of this mistaken idea that’s called gentrification. I think it would be more prodigious to retain these local businesses and develop the shops and other sundry elsewhere where there are flats that will actually be built. As some say, let’s not build more gyms for the few….

The Docklands railway own viaduct and the Silvertown Viaduct run parallel for a considerable distance.

The Docklands railway follows the course of the old Silvertown tramway for a good distance towards the Connaught tunnels. This ‘tramway’ (posh name for this former busy local goods line) was one of the original reasons for the construction of the Silvertown viaduct and its other section the Silvertown (Connaught) by-pass further east. This once very busy freight line was often a cause of major traffic hold ups in the area. Ironically both railways and shipping have vanished and the Silvertown viaduct stands with very little to show why it was originally built.

Part of Silvertown’s tramway still visible alongside both viaducts on what can be considered the low line section.

The eastern end of the viaduct viewed from the Docklands railway at West Silvertown.

Currently the entire Silvertown viaduct can be seen in its entirely from the Docklands Light Railway between Canning Town and West Silvertown stations. This wont be the situation for long with new development already underway at several locations between Canning Town and the point where the cable car crosses the viaduct, thus the viaduct will be hidden from the view of train travellers. In future just the easternmost section of the viaduct (that’s 450 metres or quarter of a mile) will be visible from the Dockland’s trains running right alongside.

Updated June 2022.