Elizabeth line: ‘ship impact protection’

Elizabeth line: ‘ship impact protection’

Ship impact protection? What the heck is that? Well its a means of protecting something from being hit by ships. You know ships can be pretty nasty if they collide with something, say another boat, a quay or even buildings sited alongside water. Thus its said that Canary Wharf is the only Elizabeth Line station to have ‘ship impact protection.‘ … ‘Wait a minute! Ship what…??? And why would they need it?’

Is it some sort of massive biggie this ‘ship impact protection?’ Apparently they think so, which is why it was said. Quote unquote: ‘Canary Wharf is the only station with ship impact protection.’ I spat out my tea upon learning of this claim and wondered to myself ‘Ships? Who’d the hell be able to get a ship past, let alone anywhere near, the Elizabeth line station?

‘Ship Impact Protection.’ Crossrail’s Community Relations Officer Richard Storer makes the surprising claim in a recent video related to the handing over of the station to TfL.

At first glance, one might think, well, it makes sense because the entire area’s surrounded by water and there’s lot of… erm… ships. But there’s a huge catch. Yes there’s ‘ship impact protection,’ and there’s the ships – but the big question is where are the ships? There’s no danger of ships coming off the Thames and crashing into the Elizabeth line station simply because its too far from the river.

In fact, there isn’t anywhere a vessel of any size (not even the small schooners in West India Dock) could ever gain significant momentum in order to collide with the station’s superstructure. It’s because there isn’t any substantial navigational space of any sort available.

It means should a vessel get ‘prop wrap’ (that’s rope, wire, or other indestructible material wrapped around its propeller), it won’t be travelling at speeds that could endanger nearby structures because it’ll have barely started its journey anyway.

The sailing ship Tenacious (seen Canary Wharf August 2021) and one of the bigger regulars to use the area could never hope to get anywhere near the Elizabeth line station!

In the above picture the 800 foot (243m) high One Canada Square, with its distinctive pyramid roof, is in the background. The new Elizabeth Line station is located on the far side of the iconic skyscraper – practically the other side of the country in terms of shipping lanes!

The Elizabeth Line station box was built with ship impact protection but that’s for reasons lost in the annals of time rather than the current circumstances the station is located. There’s little information available about this ‘impact protection.’ It actually seems somewhat secretive as it appears Crossrail’s documents do not mention this.

Its just a few companies who were involved in the building of the ship impact protection system – for example Arup and Wiehag. One other, Dam Structures, divulged a little more detail about the protective structure that was built:

Canary Wharf’s station’s ship impact protection. Source: Dam Structures.

Let it be said that barely any water space in the area can now accommodate any ships. Some docks were converted to mere water channels in order to increase the real estate space, and these have since also been filled in to allow for new development. Thus there’s not even any direct water routes to the North Dock area where the new station is located.

Skuna Hot Tube boat passing the Elizabeth Line’s main entrance at Canary Wharf. No chance of anything more threatening than the sight of bikini clad creatures enjoying a floating sauna whilst passing the station! Perhaps this should be ‘Skuna Impact Protection?’

What of the Jubilee Line? Its station box was built in the same manner as that for the Elizabeth line. But it doesn’t have this ship protection. There’s a reason for that. For a start there’s no navigable water anywhere near it. Even the vast stretch of water at the western end (where the new Reuters building/Heron Quays DLR is) sees no craft of any kind – not even a Skuna or a Go Boat because the water space is no longer connected to the other dock areas.

Ironically the water area in the North Dock is being decreased again to facilitate development on the Poplar side. It means the water channel past the Elizabeth line station is actually becoming even narrower! One day it’ll be skiffs only that will be seen about the station!

Its not just that, the Bellmouth Channel (the one single link these days between the southern and northern water space areas) has been reduced significantly to make room for the massive Wood Wharf development, and then there’s the bridges that cross the Bellmouth Channel further north so any time one gets to see a ship up here, well it’ll just have to be either the Flying Dutchman or the Marie Cleste!

A Skuna BBQ and a Skuna Hot Tub boat just outside the Canary Wharf station western end. Can’t have these bumping into the new station!

In the early days of Canary Wharf almost every dock remained as a vast expanse of water and large ships could still navigate these, but this is more than thirty five years ago. That’s why the Docklands Railway’s own bridges have a substantial impact protection system. But let’s face it, the Docklands Light Railway was built in the eighties when those large ships could still use the docks!

It seems the Elizabeth line’s ‘ship impact protection’ was likely instigated at a time when certain aspects of the older dockland navigation shipping conditions were thought to be still somewhat possible. After all the Crossrail Act was passed in 2008.

Thus its clear that the station’s ‘ship impact protection’ is simply a massive over engineering for the current circumstances. It’s a folly!

The impact protection for the adjacent Docklands Railway’s bridges are far more substantial than those for the Elizabeth line station!

The next couple of views show the main visible elements of the Elizabeth Line’s ‘ship impact protection.’

The stone bund that protects the tops of the concrete station box is very clearly visible.

The perimeters of the Elizabeth Line station box is lined with a framework of steel girders, and a secondary barrier of timer baulks (these are also decorative because they hide the unsightly main protection somewhat.) At the eastern and western ends of the station box there is a stone bund.

What this is essentially is its a type of embankment that’s used for protection. Its meant to stop any ships colliding with the station box. The only vessels that could do that would perhaps be those in the West India Dock but then these are practically exhibits these days and if they had to be moved they’d be travelling under supervision anyway, and going extremely slow because several bridges would have to be moved/raised out of the way.

The station box’s sides have a similar arrangement – excepting a stone bund. The side channel isn’t wide enough for anything other than perhaps those aforementioned small schooners thus there’s practically nil chance of any damage being done.

Another view which shows the main steel protection system a bit more clearly.