On board TfL’s new Superloop SL2 from North Woolwich

London’s latest Superloop begun operation this weekend and given a bit of free time it was opportune to give route SL2 a spin  to see TfL’s second launch in two weeks.

After all, it starts at North Woolwich so not the hardest route to reach from south east London. The route named SL2 runs between North Woolwich and Walthamstow via Beckton, Barking, Ilford, Gants Hill and South Woodford ticking off a lot of other transport modes along the way.

The route passes the DLR at Beckton, the London Overground, Hammersmith and City line, Distract Line, c2c rail and London Overground at Barking, Central line at Gants Hill, Elizabeth line’s eastern branch at Ilford and the Victoria line at Walthamstow.

Barking has two tube lines, c2c rail and London Overground

The day begun with a slow 177 bus to the stop closest Woolwich ferry and the foot tunnel south of the river. It crawled through Plumstead towards Woolwich even on a quiet Saturday morning reminding me why I often avoid buses unless late at night. They’re so painfully slow much of the time. So these new express buses should be right up my street.

Upon arriving in Woolwich it was time to jump off on Woolwich High Street. The area remains a mix of the decrepit – with the Waterfront leisure centre itself looking very tired in places before a 2025 closure – and gleaming new towers. The streetscape is as grim as ever beside new towers lining part of the street.

Woolwich High Street.

The contrast becomes ever starker here as more new developments arrive. While the Waterfront will go soon, there’s still nothing substantial planned for Woolwich High Street. TfL’s newest cycle lane plans pretty much ignore the street and Greenwich Council show little interest by rarely ever allocating Section 106 funds from new developments all over the area.

To reach the SL2’s starting point it’s a jaunt through the foot tunnel. It’s been a long time since I did this walk and with time on my hands rather than a need to rush to work/home/shops I could stop and take a closer look.

Foot tunnel with the Waterfront wedged close to entrance

I’d forgotten just how much the Waterfront leisure centre ignored the foot tunnel when built. It offers little space for pedestrians at the southern entrance and exit. It’s wedged about as close as you can get not only hampering access but also making access from Hare Street and Woolwich High Street indirect.

A future redevelopment will make more of a feature of the Victorian structure and should open up views from Hare Street – well at least that was in a planning strategy years back.

The foot tunnel itself remains a time capsule. It’s easy to see how many would be put off by the isolation down there. Hopefully more housing means more footfall and it’ll feel a bit safer. It struck me that one obvious (and not too expensive) improvement would be a screen at the entrance showing real time camera images throughout the tunnel – much as some buses have showing various views across the vehicle.

lift out again


Upon arriving on the other side the north lift wasn’t working. Apparently it hasn’t for a year (or possibly more). The revamp a decade back really was cack-handed.

There were also people hoping to use the ferry which appeared to not be running whatsoever. No signs up. Plus ça change.

With the never working foot tunnel lift and the rarely working ferry, links between each side of Woolwich are as bad as I can ever remember.

North Woolwich

So then, arriving shortly before a heavy shower at North Woolwich what awaited? Two SL2 buses and none had a destination blind or any Superloop branding.

Then a third turned up and it was the same story. Not an impressive start. Still, at least some buses were waiting. Compare that to last week’s first day on the SL3 when at Abbey Wood it was a 25 minute wait. I’m told they’ve improved the headways now and reliability there is improved.

Buses at stand

North Woolwich near the ferry isn’t beautiful at the best of times but under heavy clouds and sharp showers it’s bloody gloomy. A smattering of bus fans were waiting and excited by the new buses lining up.

What was evident here was work on a new development that explains why routes like the SL2 should have a positive future. It’s stalled due to Henry construction going under, but will be finished one day.

SL2 stop near new housing. Site to right to see 350 further homes

Next door is the old North Woolwich station sidings where 350 homes were recently approved.

SL2 will benefit many new residents alongside those already in the area.

350 homes approved beside SL2 stop

On board

Our SL2 then swung around from its rest point to let us board. The bus fans ran to the front seats. Normally I’d try to nab one to take photos but on this occasion the weather was so bad it was pointless.

The next best was at the back on the top deck like a bad boy. This type of bus isn’t too common on routes I normally use. It’s a bit like the New Routemaster with glass beside the stairs upstairs.

Being at the back is a decent place to be with big wraparound windows. The seats have TfL logos which is a nice little touch.

Seat moquette

USB chargers were evident throughout. It’s not a bad place to be and a step up from buses like the 177 I’d been on earlier.

USB chargers

We set off. Sorry for a lack of photos but most looked like this.

Handily it serves the UEL campus in East London.

Rain streaked windows

But damn was it slow. Despite not stopping we didn’t seem to break 15 mph even on dual carriageways in non-built up areas. If Transport for London want people to use “express” buses maybe make them expresses.

The timetable on a quiet Saturday morning is a nonsense. It’s way, way too padded out. We crawled along empty streets and waited at bus stops for a few minutes. Not impressive.

I’d like to show photos of developments and areas en route but unless you like smeared shots through rain-spattered windows there’s not much.

New homes in Beckton. DLR just about visible. Could the building be any more boring?

Lots of new housing is evident in Beckton (and some of it is dull as dishwater) near Gallions Reach station shortly before passing underneath the approach to London City Airport.

It’s also about here that we pass under the stump of road built to link towards a bridge to Thamesmead never built. Past that is the DLR sidings now being expanded for new trains due to enter service in coming months.

Rear of bus looking towards City Airport

Further along is retail park hell. Endless big barns and car parks. Utterly soulless. A DLR extension to Beckton Riverside should help transform the area and provide much needed housing. As stated many of time on this site I can easily see a DLR extension heading here to unlock 15,000+ homes.

I’m far less convinced of the higher cost of a tunnel under the Thames to a solitary Thamesmead stop for 10,000 homes when the Elizabeth line is so closer to most in Thamesmead be it planned or current housing. A high capacity, high frequency link to the Elizabeth line from Thamesmead would be no slower (faster for most in fact including area sin line for development).

Last week’s SL2 from north Thamesmead to Abbey Wood station with the Elizabeth line, Thameslink and Southeastern got that ball rolling with a trip taking just six minutes. The forthcoming £23 million Bus Rapid Transit from North Thamesmead to Woolwich keeps it rolling from 2026. Then something more substantial (tram, bendies, tri-axle double deckers etc) could assist with 10k new homes.


After dual carriageways through Beckton we reached Barking after barely touching 20 mph despite no traffic, and the town is clearly in a state of major change. Lots of development about and a few high rises. Given the transport links it’s little surprise.

The bus pulled up and sat there. And sat there. By now I was bored so jumped off to take some photos.

Outside Barking station. East London Transit bus EL3 visible. TfL love their double letter acronyms these days

Barking station is currently undergoing renovation and so it seemed an ideal time for some photos.

It’s certainly seen better days inside and out but should look superb when it’s all complete.

Inside Barking station

After that it was onto another SL2 (no livery or destination blind again) and then towards Ilford. Again, no chance to take much in the way of photos due to the rain. Given a check of the weather the rest seemed a write-off for decent pics so I decided to jump on the Elizabeth line to Stratford.

If I’d stayed on it’d be the delights of the North Circular and then onto Walthamstow. On a less rain-drenched day I’ll do it again.

Superloop SL2 route between North Woolwich and Walthamstow

The route is no doubt handy, as using the Hoppa fare enabled me to get from Abbey Woodwell into east London for £1.75 via the change at Woolwich/North Woolwich. Saves money and a trip further into central London for many potential trips.

Ultimately though flaws were clear. The signage and destination blinds should really have been ready on more buses. I checked and about 3 or 4 out of 16 apparently had them. None I saw did.

Two SL2 buses at North Woolwich, Rare gap in the rain

Whether that’s down to Arriva, TfL or a contractor it’s not a good look.

But that can be fixed. More worryingly was the extremely slow journey. It was off-peak and if the current timetable yesterday was any guide is way, way too conservative.

Sure, allow longer at busier times but early on a Saturday morning? An “express” bus that barely reaches 20mph at any stage despite clear roads and sits around at stops for minutes at a time is indicative of something going wrong. Coupled with the very slow 177 earlier in the day and it again reminded me why I often give buses a wide berth wherever possible – and if TfL want people to use buses and/or switch from cars, this isn’t the way to do it.

I’m going to give it another go soon when the rain isn’t lashing down to see how it’s shaping up. Fingers crossed TfL grasp the issues and it speeds up where possible as it looks an excellent link for many.


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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

    8 thoughts on “On board TfL’s new Superloop SL2 from North Woolwich

    • It may be that the driver is unfamiliar with the route. That, and being conditioned to years of stacatto driving on regular routes: the prospect of empty road and few stops probably as terrifying as the outside world to someone who’s been locked up for a decade or two.

    • Haha I like the idea of drivers tentatively gaining their freedom on the route.

      Though by driving so slowly and stopping for long periods he kept to the timetable. Other reports state buses ran well ahead of timetable by driving normally. Not just a little bit ahead but miles ahead. It seems to be timetabled extremely slowly – at quiet times anyway.

    • I had the same painfully slow journey off peak though was held at Gants Hill for quite a while. TfL need to sort that out. It’s not much cop if your fast bus isn’t fast.

    • Can’t wait for that area at the ferry to be made more welcoming at north Woolwich. It’s useful for those of use able enough to cross the river and head to east London for work and leisure.

    • Seem a few people ask why it goes North Woolwich. This is one of few places I’ve seen it mentioned that it benefits those of use in Woolwich over the Thames. I have friends in Walthamstow. This bus looks brilliant for us.

    • Yep North Woolwich may seem a strange spot to some if travelling from Walthamstow, for example, to sample the route but it makes sense.

      One, it’s practical with a bus stand.
      Two, as shown in the post it has one new build half finished and another approved next door. That’s a fair few potential passengers
      Three, it’s useful for those crossing the Thames.

      The foot tunnel will become of increasing use when those new builds open and the Waterfront is redeveloped so the entrance isn’t hidden away in Woolwich. Given how unreliable the ferry is, it’s not a bad option. If I wasn’t stopping every few yards to take photos I could’ve crossed it in 5-10 mins – and loads of buses feed into the stops near the foot tunnel south of the river.

    • The route started a week earlier than previously announced and explains why the destination blinds weren’t ready. They are all now fitted and working. Three of the buses now carry the branding. More will be done this week.

    • TfL needs to show more joined up thinking.

      Speeds on many roads in London were recently capped at 20mph. This has happened with the Mayor’s full backing, presumably to punish motorists.

      This has made the launch of a true “express” bus service not feasible. Even without as many stops, the “Superloop” does not offer competitive journey times.

      Slower speeds have had the unintended consequence of disincentivising the use of public transport and for many taking to the rails or the tube is now the only viable way to get around.

      I’ve heard that bus operators are starting to share my views, as at the same time as slower speed disincentivises bus travel, more buses are now required to maintain service intervals, adding to costs.


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