When finally completed, the most striking aspect of Boris’s latest folly/innovative public transport service (delete depending on political preference) will be the three tall pylons that carry the cables over the Thames.

Although work on the two ground-based stations has been underway for a few months, yesterday the very first component of the pylons was lowered into place over previously prepared foundations.

North Pylon - first stage

North Pylon – first stage

The pylons are being prefabricated elsewhere and then will arrive in 3-4 lengths and be reassembled on site – and the base of the final pylon on the North side of the river is the first to have been started.

A couple of weeks ago I wandered over to the south side offices, as for a very few hours, they were having an open day for locals (and some not so locals) to have a look at the place. After signing in with security – and being told to go outside, I found myself wandering around their empty offices unescorted for several minutes looking for the exhibition staff.

Had I been of evil intent (or in a tube office) I could have helped myself to all sorts of juicy gossip.

Eventually located the staff and the open day was really just a chance to see a couple of computer animations – one of which is on their website – and quiz a couple of staff who had turned up.

South Terminal under construction

South Terminal building under construction

The question that probably everyone asked was how did an estimate of £25 million end up at a final project cost of £65 million. That’s quite an overspend!

The answer being a mixture of typical political demand to announce something before the details had been finalised or the money secured (something ALL politicians are guilty of) along with some difficult building conditions and an unexpectedly higher cost for land acquisition, especially on the north side of the river.

It’s worth noting that the whole area is originally marshland, so the foundations have to be very deep to offer the necessary support and stop the pylons just tipping over in the mud. To put that into perspective, the 93-metre north main tower at Clyde Wharf will have foundation piles that go down 85-metres to support it.

As noted by London Reconnections though, the rest of the structure is essentially a kit-build using gondolas and services that are routinely used elsewhere in the world.

A full-size model of the gondola is at the Transport Museum at the moment, so I took a look at the weekend at the shiny red box.

Cable Car Gondola

I wonder if the door decoration is a permanent feature

Inside is fairly utilitarian, with red moquette design to match the sponsor’s branding and not much else. Considering that you are supposed to be able to take bikes on the Cable Car, I am a bit dubious about the space provided. I expect that on busy days, there will be some cursing if someone wants to put their bike in the aisle.

The windows all look as if they spring open should the, erm, unfortunate happen and you end up in the river instead of on dry land at the end of a journey.

Also worth noting that the computer-generated images all show a white box with a smaller sponsor sign than on this mock-up. I wonder which will prevail. I certainly hope the sign on the window is removed – as that will be most irksome as it blocks the view.

Cable Car Gondola

Not convinced about the space for bikes

As mentioned above though, the first of the three pylons has now started its upward ascent, and I would presume that the next piece(s) will go up this weekend when the DLR that is right next to the pylon is closed for engineering works of their own.

Theoretically then, next week the Cable Car will start to make its mark on the wider horizon as the white steel double helix spirals upwards.

North Pylon - first stage

For scale perspective – the small blue crane arm inside the pylon holds 2 people.

The next major bit of work looks likely to take place on the 13th Dec, when a Port of London Authority notice warns that a large crane will be in the river by the Greenwich pylon lifting in the large concrete raft that is to sit on the foundations.

Once all three pylons are up to their designated heights, presumably next Spring, then the task of getting the cables across has to be carried out – and rather dramatically, they are considering using a helicopter to do that. If they do, then it will be a fairly interesting spectacle to watch, or alternatively, they might just haul the cables up with pulley and rope.

I hope they use the helicopter though.


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  1. Andrea says:

    Where abouts is the cable car across the Thames?

  2. I understand that one of the seats will flip up to make way for a bike, or for a wheelchair.

    The mock-up in the museum didn’t flip-up, though. I did try…

  3. Alex Foster says:

    I’ve certainly been on cable cars which carry bikes – eg in an Alpine resort that converted to using the slopes for downhill mountain biking when the snow has gone.

    In that case, the bikers and the bikes were so unbelievably filthy – caked head to toe in mud – that they reserved some non-muddy gondolas for passengers and kept the filthy ones for the MTBers.

    I think in that case, the bikes were secured to the outside of the gondola, and didn’t go in.

  4. martin says:

    I believe that the National Grid use helicopters to string up (and maintain) HT electricity cables – for one thing, it saves the access fees they have to pay to the farmers whose land they cross.

    • Pete says:

      When I worked for Grid as a contractor (a few years back) most of the re-stringing was still done using winches etc. from ground level. They might have used a helicopter for some of this, but from what I was told, most of the helicopter’s work was LIDAR surveys (particularly vegetation surveys), some live-line maintenance work from a cradle suspended beneath the aircraft, and for ferrying materials to linesmen working in remote/sensitive areas – I saw this when they were re-stringing and changing insulators on one of the trans-Pennine 400kV lines. Every 10th tower (Grid call them towers, not pylons) has a big number plate at the very top just below the earth wire so the helicopter crew don’t lose track of where they are.

      I’m not in that line of work any more, but I’m still fascinated by the National Grid (and the transmission/distribution networks in general) and amazed at how they carry out such heavy engineering work in some of the remotest corners of the country in often very demanding conditions – linesmen are unsung heroes, particularly during bad storms like that in Scotland at present, when they’re out in all weathers, 24hrs a day, working hard to restore supply to affected customers. Good on them.

  5. Andrew says:

    Quadruple helix, surely?

  6. max imiroz says:

    it really is quite something. all credit to the contractors, cant be easy pouring concrete in middle of the river. i for one cant wait until it is finished. sure beats swimming across to get to the O2.

  7. Lee Brown says:

    I presume all of the cars will have cameras and be monitored at all times? Seems like a mugger’s/graffer’s dream environment.

    • IanVisits says:

      I would expect that it is no better or worse than any other form of public transport – potentially safer as the carriages are so small and only go between two points.

      Even if CCTV is installed, it will be mainly recorded for later use. Very little CCTV is actively monitored by live operators.

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