Two Cable Car Journeys – One With A Sunset And One With A Lightning Strike

If you live in or are visiting London’s Capital County – Middlesex at this time of the year, in a spell of fine/dry weather you could be lucky enough to catch an Autumn sun-set and, if you happen to be somewhere in or around the county with a good view, then you’ve really got it made! Just last Friday, I was in this fortunate position for my ride on the Emirates Air Line Cable Car.

The Facts

The Emirates Air Line Cable Car opened on the 28th June 2012 just in time for the London 2012 Olympic Games.  The construction project cost a cool 61 million but took only 10 months to build.  The Cable Car is based on something called MDG (monocable detachable gondola technology) which is a system using a single cable for both propulsion and support.

Duration

Crossings take 10 minutes – off peak – and 5 minutes – during peak times.  I decided to begin my journey at the Greenwich Peninsula terminal  which is just 5 minutes walk from North Greenwich Station (on the Jubilee Line).

Emirates Greenwich Peninsula

Buying a Ticket

I was able to pay for my discounted Discovery Experience return ticket using my Oyster card with an Adult fare of £8.40 (which included admission to the Air Line Discovery Experience).  You can also receive this discounted fare by presenting a Pay As You Go Travelcard, Freedom Pass or a Paper Travelcard) but, in these cases, you still need to purchase a ticket separately and cannot use these cards/passes to pay your fare.

I received my Boarding Pass pictured below (Yes – they really do issue these like a real airline!) and my In-flight guide – which makes a nice souvenir – opening out to show all the locations you can view from the comfort of your seat.

Boarding

I climbed a flight of stairs to the carousel to board my car.  Each car passes by slowly so it was pretty easy to step in (in addition, most wheelchairs and push-chairs can be accommodated).  Before boarding, one of the staff members very kindly offered to take my photo.

Boarding The Emirates Air Line Cable Car

The Ride

The ride across to Emirates Royal Docks was smooth and there was little movement.  Before leaving there was a recorded announcement warning me to remain seated during the ‘flight’.  When crossing the Thames you really get a sense of how much this area has changed and is still constantly evolving.

The Emirates Cable Car is the first urban cable car in the UK – so I had a strange sense of not really being in my hometown when riding it – as my other experiences with this mode of transport have all been overseas.

There is a recorded video commentary which highlights some of the attractions and history of the areas below (I did not watch the video myself as I was too busy looking at the view) .

Royal Docks

Once you get across to Royal Docks there are some nearby attractions in the area worth investigation such as The Crystal (the world’s largest exhibition on urban sustainability), the SS Robin (the oldest surviving steamship in the world), Excel London (for exhibitions/sporting events/conferences), the urban beach (in July/August) and various walks on both sides of the water.

I didn’t stay too long at Royal Docks (due to a later appointment) but did have a little wander round and enjoyed taking these snaps of reflections in the glass windows of The Crystal Building (as the light was fading) before heading back for my ‘return flight’.

Reflections of O2 in The Crystal Building
Reflections from Emirates Cable Car in The Crystal Building, Royal Docks area

Back on the North Greenwich side of the river there are many restaurants and fast-food outlets as well as the Emirates Aviation Experience (where you can learn about modern aviation and to take to the skies in state of the art flight simulators).

Safety on the Emirates Cable Car and Another Cable Car Experience

The Emirates Cable Car certainly suffered a few teething problems in it’s early days being closed 354 times (for 520 hours or 37 days) during the first 2.5 years of it’s operation for various reasons including technical issues, high winds and risk of lightning.

My previous encounter with a cable car happened to be the other side of the world in Cairns, Australia.  Perhaps one of the reasons I had been a little reluctant to try the London Cable Car was what happened when I used the Skyrail Cableway to travel to the rainforest town of Kuranda?

Visiting tropical Cairns in the rainy season I discovered that it was not only very beautiful  but hot and steamy, prone to down-pours and thunder-storms.  For me that threat became a reality as the Cable Car control station was struck by lightning resulting in a number of us getting stuck mid-air for nearly one hour with just open water and rain-forest below.

Skyrail Cableway
Skyrail Cableway

I guess that unpredictable weather conditions are just a fact of life  in that part of Australia and they just keep things running anyway unless it’s that bad.  The result was that me and my cable car companions – a Croatian tour guide and a couple of German tourists – became pretty friendly.  I know that they had to be back by a specific time for the departure of their cruise ship so I only hope that they managed to make it!

Fortunately, everyone was very calm and we listened to reassuring announcements that the problem was being worked on over the tanoy but I think if we had been stuck for longer it could have been a bit different.

Back to London and My Return Flight 

Fortunately, there were no such problems on my Emirates Cable Car journey.  Perhaps it is just as well that they take such care not to fly in adverse conditions.   As I mentioned earlier, on the return flight to Greenwich Peninsula, we were blessed with the most amazing sunset – capping off a wonderful afternoon.

Sunset Emirates Airline Cable Car

The Future

The Emirates Air Line Cable Car has certainly a lot of controversy in it’s short life, being considered by some to be a vanity project of the previous Mayor of London Boris Johnson and with it’s future funding being threatened by the new Mayor Sadiq Kahn.  One of the main issues is that it was intended to be used by commuters but has been under-utilised and most of the users have turned out to be tourists or day-trippers.  The fact that it is not part of the LU ticketing system making journeys more expensive than other types of public transport in the area may be part of the problem.  My visit took place at around 2.00pm on a Friday afternoon and there was no one waiting at all  (though on arriving back in Greenwich at around 4.30pm a queue for tickets had started to form).  Perhaps with the continued development of the surrounding residential areas the cable car could become more popular with commuters.

I would say that the view from the cable car must be amongst the best views of Docklands area and, compared to the cost of a ticket on the London Eye (£23.45) or The Shard (£15.95), it’s something of a bargain.  There are not many other ways – apart from a plane ride – where you could get such a view.  Whilst it’s not a central city view like the Eye, if you’re a tourist visiting for more than a day or two its definately worth taking a trip over to Docklands and incorporating a ride on the Cable Car in your day and if you’re a local who likes urban/industrial views this could be just up your street.

Click here to find out more Emirates Airways Cable Car and here to find out about other activities you can enjoy around Royal Docks and Greenwich.  You can also find some information on the Transport for London website.

You can find a short video on Facebook Page @middlesaxons of my experience travelling on the Emirates Cable Car.

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