After a few weeks of delays, last night at around 1am, the preliminary cables were draped between the two pylons for London’s Cable Car, creating the first permanent fixed link above the river between Tower Bridge and Dartford.

Not knowing exactly what was due to happen, I based myself on the riverside pier that usually carries revellers to and from the Dome, and at midnight still had some people waiting to catch the last boat home. They were in fact the only activity, as the pylon was looking particularly lacking in people working on it. So lacking that I double checked that I had the right date!

The river was due to close to traffic for an hour at some point between midnight at 5am – and fortunately at around midnight it was possible to see construction workers in their distinctive hi-vis clothing finally starting to arrive on site. Probably all in the canteen getting last minute nourishment for a cold night’s work ahead.

A final Thames Clipper arrived within the closure window to drop off a passenger and seemingly do some maintenance work and eventually left after about 10 minutes. The river was now the property of the Cable Car, and it was possible to just see the flashing light of a harbour master boat in the distance to stop any boats that might ply the river at that time of night from encroaching on the forbidden zone.

At half past midnight workers were — by the flashing of their torches and spotlights — evidently up on the top of the pylon preparing the cables to be strung across the river.

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The pylons on both sides already has the cables strung up to them from the land side, it was just a case of linking the two sides across the river that was needed to be carried out.

At about a quarter to one in the morning, two tugs and a speedboat started to slowly “drift” across the river from the northern side. While it wasn’t possible to see if they were carrying the cable, it was a reasonable assumption that they were.

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A bit of fuss as the two tugs got close to the Greenwich side, with the larger tug suddenly veering away and the smaller one being tied up next to a floating barge. I presume the larger barge was needed to provide the strength necessary to pull the heavy cable across.

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It was now a case of just hanging around wondering what was going on as people shouted at each other in the distance, and I could occasionally see workmen on the tug behaving very much as if they were hauling on a rope of some sort. A gigantic game of tug-of-war was being played out and when a huge splash was heard and they all looked over the side of the tug, for a moment, I wondered if they had lost the cable.

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More hanging around as people shouted and waved – then suddenly a huge thwack along the river as the steel cable became visible in the darkness for a moment. At least I knew the tug had the cable, and for a fleeting moment as several thwacks on the river took place, it was quite an impressive sight. Sadly also too fleeting to capture on the camera.

This though evidently heralded some achievement as less than 10 minutes later, the cables in the river were linked up with their counterparts dangling down from the southern pylon.

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And then in just a few short minutes, almost when I was distracted trying to warm my frozen hands, the cables were released by the tug and started to soar upwards into the sky. Lifting out of the Thames to create an graceful arc across the river.

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Sadly, there wasn’t enough floodlighting to see much of the cable once it got far from the pylons. I had expected a lot more floodlighting for the works to help them see what was going on (and for me to get photos), but evidently they decided it wasn’t necessary.

The cables will be tightened off a bit today (Sat), but they are only guide ropes. The main cables arrive tomorrow and between 6am and 9pm, they will be carried across the river via the guide ropes. The river will have to close three times during the day (one per cable).

Come Monday evening, the cable car cables will finally adopt their final position.

Anyway, back to earlier this morning, and heading off home, I was given a very rude shock.

Getting to the top of the pier – someone had locked and bolted the gates. I was trapped on the pier! A mild panic ensued and I pondered if I could climb over an 8-foot high fence (not really), or if I should shout over to the tug for a rescue. Or sleep on the pier overnight.

After running around a bit trying to see if there was a gap I could climb over, I spied a side gate and fortunately, although bolted shut, it wasn’t padlocked, and I was able to open it enough to squeeze out again.

Heart rate calming down, time to head home.

But what idiot locks a pier without checking if anyone is on it first?

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16 Comments

  1. Ian

    Will you be there for when they hang the main cables?

    • IanVisits

      Maybe.

  2. wawd

    thanks for all your updates on the cable car! i live at the Greenwich Millennium Village and have been following progress carefully. i have been posting images on skyscrapercity if anyone is interested…

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?p=89990395#post89990395

  3. That was above and beyond the call of duty.

    ‘and they all looked over the side of the tug, for a moment, I wondered if they had lost the cable.’

    I laughed as my brain quickly went through the follow up scenarios of dropping the cable to the bottom of the Thames.

  4. Melvin

    The main cables are hung nightly in my house.

  5. K F Banhart

    Will the cars come down to ground level or will users have to travel up a tower to board? Which would be a fag. Does anyone know?

    • IanVisits

      There are big terminal buildings at ground level.

      Not sure why ascending the towers would “be a cigarette” though.

  6. Henry, London Living

    Bloody impressive feat of engineering!

  7. Andrew Thomas

    I can’t wait to have a trip on the cablecar. Hope it opens SOON !!!

  8. Philip Aris

    Thanks Ian for your valiant efforts, keeping us informed about London’s
    quirky happenings. I am so pleased that someone is doing it and that it is not me! Keep going. We are out here watching.

  9. Mel

    Hello! Excellent write up- I was directed to your page by me asking Jeeves “how do they get cable across river” can u enlighten me how they get the cable from one side to other? Sounding stupid I know . pylon support things are imbedded in river bed- then how does cable get threaded through initially?

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