Cutting it fine at Cutty Sark

Cutting it fine at Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark DLR station has been responsible for a large number of visits to London Rail blog – especially the post on City Greenwich and Lewisham Rail Limited (CGL). There’s been numerous complaints about the station’s condition and the dearth of escalators available for service. Its been said the issues are down to CGL who were responsible for the line from Mudchute to Lewisham until March 2021. There is evidence the station’s escalators suffered an inordinate number of breakdowns. However its likely the fact COVID was rampant and the DLR like all other transport systems barely got any use and when all that had abated and the station got more use again, this is when things took a turn for the worse. And that was on TfL’s watch.

When CGL turned the franchise to TfL and a new maintenance regime was begun that’s when the issues at Cutty Sark DLR apparently became majorly problematic. Its not to say there have not been issues at Cutty Sark DLR because there have been issues in the past with the station’s escalators – for example this discussion by City Hall in 2014. However anything related to CGL and its work on the line proved to be almost an impossibility to find and it takes a lot of research to dig up stuff.

Nevertheless in terms of the escalators it was OTIS UK who actually did the escalator maintenance at Cutty Sark DLR under contract to CGL thus its difficult to even know what sort of maintenance regime was undertaken until March 2021. CGL were however obliged to keep the escalators working for 98% of the time.

The suggestion the station’s escalators were found to be in a poor state when TfL took over from CGL could well be right however My London reveals in 2022 that TfL had asserted that “All of the escalators and lifts were operational when TfL took over their operation from City Greenwich Lewisham (CGL) Rail, the public-private partnership responsible for this section of the DLR from its opening in 1999.” So we know things were working fully at the time of the changeover.

Certainly the crux of the problem seems to be that Cutty Sark DLR isn’t a station that’s fit for the role expected of it. Its a mega busy station because of the area’s world wide fame (the Maritime Museum, the International Greenwich Median Line, the University of Greenwich, the area’s markets, the River Thames and of course the famed Cutty Sark itself after which the station is named. To cap it all its a UNESCO World Heritage site!

This letter from TfL shown below shows matters could have been down to a new maintenance regime that had been implemented post CGL.

Nov 2021 letter from TfL to MP Mathew Pennycook indicates an increased regime when TfL took over from CGL. Twitter/X.

The thread above includes a three page letter from TfL’s Seb Dance that lists an alarming number of irregularities with the Cutty Sark DLR escalators.

There was flooding at the station in December 2022 and that no doubt damaged some of the escalators.

Cutty Sark DLR station wasn’t even in the original plans for a DLR extension to Lewisham. Hence as a late addition its sort of had to be fitted around what was going to be a deep level railway through the depths of Central Greenwich before rising to the surface at Greenwich station itself. It was intervention from Greenwich councillors which prompted the plans to be altered in order to accommodate a station right in the heart of Greenwich. The council said it would help with funding towards the new station.

Cutty Sark DLR therefore was built in a very constrained format so there’s a historical factor to start with. Not just that, there were fears of duplication in terms of transport provision. On either side of the proposed Cutty Sark DLR there were of course other substantial new DLR stations in the pipeline. In 1994 it was claimed another station so close on the other side of the river (eg Island Gardens) made it doubtful an extra stop could be built near to the world famous Cutty Sark clipper ship.

The station was eventually approved and had to be dovetailed into existing plans. Cutty Sark DLR is to all purposes and intents a deep level tube station and to have constructed it on the scale of any of the others (including Island Gardens) would have been massively exorbitant. Plans for a much larger station in a slightly different location serving both the DLR and the adjacent main line were rejected.

Ironically the other much larger Greenwich DLR is just a short distance away. Its a far bigger station and it has vast capacity yet its considerably underused! As mentioned earlier it had been thought that this and Island Gardens would take some of the load off the much smaller Cutty Sark DLR station, but that’s not been the case.

This pic of the station shows what a dire presence the station presents. Its May 2024 of course but the situation is the main entrance has been closed for ages and tourists and locals have to use the entrance opposite that offers an inadequate lift and some rather insipid flights of stairs in order to reach the DLR platforms.

The station still falls down on many counts for what should be a prestigious entry point to a world heritage site. Indeed social media paints a dire picture of a station that is absolutely filthy and whose escalators and lift barely ever work.

TfL have made attempts to give the station a more pleasant feel with posters and pictures and this new welcome sign. This work was done late summer 2023. The location pictured is the intermediate concourse level some distance below ground. Its still 75 steps down to the platforms and 46 up to the surface from here!

A station whose cleanliness was been brought into question – shocking as its meant to be a showpiece entry point to a UNESCO World Heritage location!

In terms of the station’s cleanliness, well it seems this is TfL’s call judging from the news reports and social media outrages.

Let’s not forget the escalators. They’re the bane of the whole station at the moment…

In a lot of correspondence on social media and representations made to the area’s MP, TfL asserted everything would be working by 2023. Its now 2024 and not a lot has changed it seems! In earlier correspondence to the same person above TfL had said things would be done by the end of 2022.

Cutty Sark DLR station’s escalators have a huge screeching sound or whatever (and its the ones that have been fixed apparently…) and there’s been a number of tweets on this. Its claimed this noise can be heard even from the trains inside the tunnels! I’m not aware that was even a problem under the old CGL regime.

Its a good way (not!) to welcome the millions who come to visit London’s UNESCO World Heritage site – as well as the residents, workers and the likes who have to put up with this darned nuisance.

As I have already mentioned, there have indeed been past reports of unreliability re the escalators under CGL’s regime. However one should perhaps not be surprised the escalators have succumbed to the ravages of time quite quickly. After all they are used very intensively and not only that, when there are festivals and fairs and the likes the escalators are used even more intensively. Plus the annual London Marathon must put the escalators and lift through something like a week or more of use in a single day in terms of wear and tear. Its no surprise that TfL has a difficult job managing this ‘chapter of horrors’ of a station – but there are many aspects to this which seem to have wholly emerged under TfL’s watch.

Twitter/X post expressing fears Cutty Sark DLR’s one meagre lift would not make it through the London Marathon.

The station might look somewhat large but in practice only four cars of a six car DLR train can fit into it! Unlike the other DLR stations this one cannot be expanded without great cost and huge engineering challenges.

The station’s one and only lift is woeful. Its a standard sized DLR lift and they’re not that big – but generally DLR platforms are a pair and so there’s a pair of lifts too and the level of traffic isnt as intense thus in most instances the lifts are adequate. For a station such as Cutty Sark DLR there should no doubt be a much larger one. There should be two lifts in fact! Invariably queues form as the elderly, the disabled and those with heavy luggage struggle to get onto this one lift with a capacity of about four – and many social media posts lambast the fact its almost impossible to use this lift.

There has been another problem! Its said those who use the lift may have to alight at the intermediate level in order to touch their Oyster (or other card) in or out. The problem then is people loose their space in the lift so they have to queue all over again and hope to be able to squeeze into the lift for the second stage of its descent down to the platforms. Even though there’s a card reader at the entrance many complain it regularly seems to be out of service and so the other card readers half way down need to be used….

The size of the lift means its too small for some wheelchairs/power chairs. Some say they have had to disassemble or remove parts of their electric wheelchair just to get in the lift. Its not a very good look in terms of accessibility.

And there’s instances of people who alight from the lift at intermediate level thinking its street level and they get ‘trapped’ as observers have put it. Meaning they now have to wait for a space in the lift which is almost invariably full from street level to platform level or vice versa.

Due to its short platforms and layout the station most definitely has capacity problems and falls considerably short of expectations. As mentioned earlier the station can’t even accommodate a complete DLR train! There’s no doubt a station of this scope today would have never been built the way it has given the current levels of patronage.

On my visit in May 2024 just the one up escalator was in use from the intermediate level. Everyone going down to the platforms had to use the awful stairs or that ever so unreliable lift.

A view of one of the station’s lengthy staircases. Women have said they find these uninviting and potentially dangerous. See this Twitter/X post for example.

The bottom of the stairs at platform level. There are 121 steps to surface level. That’s quite a bit more than a number of deep level tube stations in London!