Charlton Lane Crossing

Px01684_800x500_Av-HDR - 6 Apr 2015

Above: Looking west at the level crossing from the lower steps of the pedestrian footbridge.

One of the curios of the railway line between Greenwich and Woolwich is the fact that it still has a level crossing at the lower end of Charlton Lane. It is the only level crossing left in Inner London. The line is a busy one with at least twenty trains per hour during peak times, not including empty stock movements or freight. The average number of trains passing across it is rated at 284.

Along with the level crossing, there is a throw-back to the past in the form of the old signal box which came into service about 40 years after the North Kent Line opened in 1849. In later years Charlton Lane signal box was reduced in status to a gate box, with the traditional level crossing gates being retained for a short time longer. Full automatic barriers, complete with warning lights, came into use during May 1973, these being controlled directly from the signal cabin. More recently, in about 2002, the cabin’s traditional four-quarter wooden window frames were replaced with double-glazing, complete with thick plastic rims.The signal box retains its original mechanical levers.

The signal box would have originally had mechanical levers but sadly they are no longer in use. The signals are now operated by switches and the barriers are controlled by a separate control panel, both worked by the signaller or crossing keeper on duty. The original lever frame was removed from the box around 2015.

Living in London, motorists tend to forget that railway trains are also running because most lines are located well away from roads with the lines using railway viaducts, embankments, deep cuttings or passing through tunnels. This level crossing on a side road is so unexpected that you almost expect Mr Perkins from the ‘Railway Children’ story to appear at any minute.

The level crossing is used by pedestrians and cars on the side road called Charlton Lane. There is a level crossing for the footpath at what is known as Angerstein Penninsula and there are about 40 level crossings on roads in Outer London. This now remains as the last survivor of its type in Inner London.

While on this subject of railways, the builders of the first railways in Inner London – of which the London and Greenwich Railway, which opened in 1836, was the first – were most concerned about the possibility of a large farm animal straying onto the line. The London and Greenwich Railway was constructed entirely on a brick-built viaduct, about three miles long, just so that no level crossings would be required. That started a trend and within the next few years dozens of railway lines were crossing what was then open land and now constitutes today’s Inner London. Not only did it prevent accidents from trains hitting stray horses of cows but it allowed roads to thread their way underneath the railway arches. Only in a very few places were level crossings required. These were, as in the case of the one at Charlton, where the line ran at ground level. The reason why the line at Charlton Lane is at road level is because the line passes through several tunnels on its way out of London.

After being in use for over 150 years, one wonders if the level crossing will still be in existence for another similar period of time. It is certainly unusual for us ‘townies’ to have such a crossing still in use. We tend to associate such crossings with rural stations in the depths of the countryside.


This entry was posted in /Greenwich. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Charlton Lane Crossing

  1. Alistair says:

    I wonder how do you define this as “Inner London”?
    I’m curious because there are working level crossings closer to Central London than this one.
    There are two on Vine Road in Barnes (which is actually closer to Central London, 7 miles to Charing Cross, vs 10 miles). Not to mention one at White Hart Lane and another at Sheen Lane, half a mile down that line. Barnes, Mortlake and Sheen are all Zone 3 stations, just like Charlton.
    And according to this website, there are 29 level crossings within 10 miles of Charing Cross (generally used as a point to represent the centre of London), so there are plenty of other places within London where “townies” might find a level crossing.



    • Thanks for getting in touch. Inner London is what was once Metropolitan London. The Inner London Boroughs are: Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth and Wandsworth – on the South side of the Thames. On the north side they are: Hammersmith, Kensington, Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

      I believe that Charlton crossing is the only one in the Boroughs just mentioned. If I am right then it is the only level crossing in Inner London ( as stated in my article).

      There is another ‘layer’ of London Boroughs around those – like Kingston, Bromley and Harringey.

      I accept that Charing Cross is considered the ‘centre’ of London but I am talking about the Inner London Boroughs.

      I hope this helps.


  2. Luke winn says:

    Charlton lane crossing box no longer uses lever frame operations, signals now are operated by switches & barriers controlled by a seperate control panal, both worked by the signaller/crossing keeper on duty


    • Thank you for the information. I believe that the levers are still there, even though they are not in use. If you happen to know whether the levers are still in the box, I would be grateful if you could let me know.


      • Luke winn says:


        I can 100% confirm the lever frame has been removed from the box, which is very unfortunate of course, the change happened roughly 2 years ago according to the crossing keepers at charlton lane.


  3. I am most grateful to you for the correction. Your reply sounds as if you have revisited the box and found this information out. If so, then thanks for your trouble. I have amended the text of the original article and, once again, many thanks for pointing out the error in the text.


  4. Luke winn says:

    Sorry if i caused any bother, i only knew this as my friend works at the box controlling the crossing & was telling me about the history & future of the box


  5. I am so pleased that you took the trouble to set the record straight. Writing these blogs, I cannot know all the answers. It is people like yourself who have detailed knowledge who can, therefore, contribute information that few other people would know. Thanks to yourself and to your friend in the signal box.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.