London to get new ferry while bridge at risk of collapse is closed

A warning sign is seen attached to Hammersmith Bridge, the closure of which has caused the annual Oxford versus Cambridge boat race on the River Thames, which passes under the now structurally dangerous Victorian bridge, to be relocated outside of London for the first time since World War Two, London, Britain, November 26, 2020. REUTERS
A ferry will be set up to carry pedestrians and cyclists across the River Thames at Hammersmith, in west London, reducing the disruption caused by the closure of a Victorian bridge that is at risk of collapse, the city's transport authority said.

Built in 1887, Hammersmith Bridge has been closed to motor traffic since April 2019 following the discovery of micro-fractures in its brittle cast iron pedestals.

In August 2020, it was closed to pedestrians and cyclists and river traffic beneath it was banned after a sudden increase in the size of the fractures led to fears that it could collapse without warning.

The closure has cut off residential neighbourhoods on the southern side from the major transport and retail hub of Hammersmith on which many people depend for their daily needs.

Transport for London (TfL) said on Tuesday it had received two bids for a contract to operate a ferry capable of carrying a minimum of 800 pedestrians or cyclists an hour. It said it would announce the winning bidder in March though it was unlikely the ferry would start operating before the summer.

The ferry would not hinder any repairs on the bridge, TfL said, though it is unclear when any fix will begin due to a lack of funding.

Engineers have estimated that fully restoring the bridge would take up to three years and cost up to 163 million pounds ($230 million) - an impossible sum for the local authority that owns it. A government task force is studying funding options.

As a result of the closure, the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities, which usually passes under the bridge, will take place outside of London this year for the first time since World War Two.