We aim to run to a target of at least 99% of scheduled crossings in a 12-month period, but sometimes there are circumstances where this is not possible.
On occasions we may run a few minutes late or slightly out of sequence. Various factors that affect our schedules include:
- Shipping movements (see separate section)
- Periods of high demand for the service, especially at peak traffic times when a ferry may leave full rather to an exact time schedule – this is considered to be a preferable compromise to leaving on time but not using the full capacity of a ferry
- Vehicles breaking down onboard and on slipways
- Waiting for emergency vehicles notified to be enroute and travelling under a blue light requirement or departing immediately on their arrival – these situations are referred to as “Fast Crossings”
- New customers who approach more cautiously as they are not familiar with the route to/from and loading/unloading process of the ferry service
- Technical issues
- Environmental conditions that may impact on the time required to cross the river or the need to change the sequenced running order of the ferries in service due to operational requirements
In such circumstances we aim to get back on schedule as soon as we can, but our overriding priority is to keep traffic moving and minimise the wider impact of road network congestion on both sides of the river. .
Tamar Crossings operates a smoke-free and vape-free policy, prohibiting smoking and vaping in all areas on the ferries and within vehicles onboard. This is in keeping with policies found across the majority of public service facilities to promote a healthy and comfortable environment for users and staff alike.
We are committed to keeping the public informed of relevant service-related information but also aim to avoid providing unnecessary minor details. There are no hard and fast rules, and judgement is made about what to post depending on traffic levels.
What we tweet:
- Ferries that leave early e.g., usually due to medical or blue light emergency vehicle crossings
- Any ferry that comes out of service unexpectedly as it may result in delays (see also essential maintenance section)
- Delays to customers (meaning you won’t get on the next ferry as too many cars in front of you)
- Unexpected high demand, often resulting from road network diversions and accidents
- Other issues or influencing factors that may cause delays or inconvenience to customers
What we don’t tweet:
- Minor delays in a ferry’s scheduled departure
- Changes in ferry allocation or sequencing due to maintenance requirements or resulting from environmental influences unless we anticipate significant disruption to the scheduled service
We load the ferries in the most efficient way possible to achieve the scheduled number of crossings per hour, carrying the maximum number of vehicles. We do not intentionally operate a “first on – nearly last off” system but we appreciate that it can sometimes appear this way! There are a number of factors and reasons that dictate the way ferries are loaded.
Sometimes ferry users may appear to ‘gain’ and sometimes they may appear to ‘lose’ but overall, we aim to load, move and unload all vehicles safely. The process is dictated by level of demand whilst always aiming to maintain scheduled service.
To achieve the required crossing time we generally have to start loading while vehicles are still leaving a ferry.
From Torpoint, vehicles access the ferry on the north (up-river) side of the slipway. To load these vehicles in the quickest possible time, we empty that side of the ferry deck first. This enables us to simultaneously load this area while disembarking other traffic from the southerly side of the ferries. The south (down river) side of the ferry is then loaded last.
When the ferry arrives at Devonport, the first vehicles to disembark will be on the southerly side (down-river) creating the reverse effect to the Torpoint operation. As a result, the first to board on the north side of the ferry may be some of the last off.Why doesn't someone 'pull up' all the vehicles so there are smaller gaps in between them, therefore making room for more vehicles?
Pulling up vehicles to the absolute minimum is labour intensive and will slow down the overall loading if extra crew are not available to complete the task. Also, the process does not always achieve the desired effect, as the additional room produced may still not be large enough for the next vehicle in the queue.
Instead, we trust drivers to make their own reasonable judgement on approaching the vehicle in front. However, our staff will offer guidance or direction if the driver leaves a significant or unreasonable gap in periods of high demand.
Where resources permit, we allocate additional staff to ferry decks who are specifically tasked to marshal vehicles maximising capacity and reducing shoreside queues.
Motorcycles and cycles are not provided a priority loading status, but for their own safety and to optimise loading they need to be treated differently from cars and other bigger vehicles.
The current processes for loading the ferries and the configuration of the queueing lanes mean that they are directed to queue in the priority lane which will result in them being loaded to the next available ferry if they have arrived in time for that ferry and if capacity exists in their allocated stowage lane onboard.
Motorcyclists and cyclists must follow the directions of the loader which remains consistent with the requirements for other vehicle drivers.
To access the ferries during the Control Tower manning hours of 06:00 to 21:30, motorcycles and bicycles must queue in lane 7 at Torpoint and lane 11 at Devonport and adhere to the traffic control signals, waiting to be called forward on demand. To access the ferries when the Towers are not manned (overnight between 21:30 and 06:00), motorcycles and bicycles must use the open traffic lane (green light at lane entry and exit). In both cases, once at the slipway, motorcycles and bicycles must follow the instruction of the ferry loader.
All vehicles must arrive in the queueing lanes in time for the scheduled departure in order to be loaded on to that departure if space is available. In line with other transportation networks, the ferry’s departure time is the time that the ferry leaves the slipway. To maintain safe and timely departures, a set process of shutting the gates and raising the prow is followed and this can take a few minutes.
Any vehicle judged not to have arrived in the queuing lanes in time to be loaded safely will not be called forwards and loaded regardless of spare capacity.
All users should allow sufficient time when planning their journeys and not rely on last minute arrival at the crossing.
For safety and efficiency, motorcyclists and cyclists are held together in the Priority Lanes (Lane 11 Devonport or Lane 7 Torpoint), segregated from other vehicles and called forward to the slipways with a green traffic light. As a result, motorcyclists and cyclists are loaded on to the ferry as a group and while all other vehicles are stopped at red traffic lights. This system is implemented to ensure there is a safe and coordinated loading process and ensure the right type of vehicles are loaded to the appropriately allocated stowage position onboard the ferries. In the case of motorcyclists and cyclists Lane F is designated underneath the canopy for comfort and safety.
During periods of high demand and, on occasions where there may be minimal motorcycle or cycle traffic, a decision is sometimes taken to part fill Lane F with other vehicles to maximise stowage capacity. This decision is based on the volume of motorcyclists and cyclists waiting in the queuing lane at the time. In every case a decision is made to balance demand against motorcyclists’ and cyclists’ safety and comfort.
Lane F cyclists and motorcyclists on the ferries are unloaded as a priority group from the ferries to clear the slipways and marshalling areas before disembarking the heavy flow of other vehicles.
As a matter of routine, the Priority Lane is restricted for use of blue light emergency vehicles, in-service buses (see separate section for full details), motorbikes and cycles (see separate section for full details). There are also a limited number of other users who have been granted permission for using the lane for safety related reasons. Where possible, and if pre-arranged, funeral processions and wedding vehicles may also be allocated ad-hoc priority status.
Only blue light emergency vehicles get priority loading on to a ferry, but all priority lane users will usually have access to the next available ferry if they arrive in time for its scheduled departure and if capacity exists in their allocated stowage lane onboard.
Other vehicles that you might see in the priority lane include:
• Tamar Crossings staff or contractors who are just moving around the site to meet business commitments
• extra-large vehicles who have requested to use our lanes to “loop around” the ring-road at Torpoint and avoid causing congestion
• surplus vehicles that may not have fitted on the last departed ferry and have been instructed to join the lane by an authorised member of staff
We are often asked why we don’t complete the loading of lanes in sequenced order i.e., start loading at the front of lane A, fill it, then repeat in lane B, etc. There are a number of key considerations that we take into account when loading and the outcome will invariably be influenced by the size, type and quantity of vehicles waiting to be called forward.
The list below highlights some of these key considerations :
• wider vehicles – Lanes C and D on the ferries are wider than the other lanes, so we direct bigger, wider vehicles into those lanes e.g. buses
• motorcycles and cycles – Lane F has a canopy and is used to shelter and protect motorcycles and cycles from the elements and try to provide a practical level of comfort and safety
• other vehicles use of Lane F – where demand dictates, other vehicles may also be placed in Lane F, but this is restricted and subject to suitability of individual vehicles due a height restriction created by the overhead canopy
• heavy vehicles – we avoid loading heavy vehicles on to the moveable part of the prow
• high vehicles – we avoid loading high vehicles into positions that block the line of sight of the person controlling and landing the ferry
• weight distribution – we aim to load and stow vehicles evenly across the deck for stability
• narrow prows – we may change the order of loading and unloading dependent on the vehicle loading configuration i.e. quantity of buses, cars, vans, minibuses etc to accommodate vehicles safely and efficiently boarding or unloading though narrow gaps due to reduced access of the ferry prows
• optimising deck space utilisation in periods of high demand.
As we can’t anticipate what vehicles will join the queue and the crew member loading the ferry cannot see the queuing traffic, staff are trained to assume that every load will be at maximum capacity and include a large quantity of oversized or awkward shaped vehicles.
We are often asked about the rules for buses using the ferries. Both Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council are committed to providing a reliable and efficient public transport network for their communities. This helps to reduce road traffic congestion and support environmental initiatives. We deliver part of the local public transport network on behalf of the two local authorities and remain committed to support these principles.
A maximum of two “in-service” buses are permitted to be loaded onto each ferry to avoid unreasonable delay to other customers. The only exception is where there is clear spare capacity, in which case we might take more buses to clear the lanes. Out of service buses, private coaches, and HMS Raleigh coaches queue in the normal lanes and access the ferries with other customer vehicles.
For this reason, you may well see more buses on board in addition to two in-service buses, but this is on a ‘first come first served’ basis and doesn’t unreasonably inconvenience other customers.
We aim to avoid this practice where reasonably possible, but there are occasions where high demand may impact on the wider road network and therefore, we proactively try to avoid unreasonable congestion on approach roads.Delays - Why do you say that there are no delays when I'm sitting in the lanes waiting for a ferry and there are none on the slipway?
We use similar terminology to any other public transport network. If you arrive before the scheduled departure time for a train or a bus and have to wait to be boarded before the scheduled departure, your journey would not be described as delayed.
If we are running to timetable (or as close as reasonably possible) and clearing the lanes of every vehicle that arrived in reasonable time to be loaded for that departure, then there is no delay. If there are so many vehicles in front of you that you would not catch the next available ferry, or if the ferry is running significantly out of cadence with the schedule, then this would be considered to be a delay.
The timetable has not been designed to accommodate the fastest possible crossing, but to ensure that we are delivering a safe, reliable and resilient service. Crossing at maximum speed causes disproportionate wear and tear on a lot of the drive system and is less efficient on fuel so we reserve top speed crossings for emergency services ‘blue light’ crossings.
The ferries travel at the required speed to achieve scheduled departures, but the speed can be affected by a number of factors, including weather, tides and the volume of vehicles.
The scheduled service and ,therefore, transit times are based on a ferry speed that is efficient and achievable in most conditions and scenarios, with a very small contingency to accommodate unforeseeable events and situations.
We operate some priority arrangements for certain vehicles, falling into two categories. A higher level of priority is given to emergency service vehicles and in-service public transport buses. We aim to get these vehicles loaded and unloaded as quickly as possible on the first available ferry.
Staff on duty and any contractors working for us at the crossing are given priority to get on the next available ferry where possible, but these vehicles would not get any other special treatment in terms of loading or unloading order.
We do have a small number of other vehicles that have been granted a concession to use the priority lane or have been granted ad hoc permission in advance to use the priority lane, usually for medical or safety related purposes. Funeral and wedding cars can also request permission in advance to use the priority lane purely for traffic management, and we would then aim to get those vehicles on the next available ferry and ideally let the vehicles travel in convoy. Such vehicles do not benefit from any other priority in terms of the order of loading or unloading from the ferry.
Shipping movements are co-ordinated and authorised on behalf of the King’s Harbour Master and involve the movement of large vessels, most predominantly national and international naval and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, transiting the Tamar River to and from moorings or berths related to Devonport Dockyard.
These movements take priority over other activity in the river and invariably result or a temporary cessation or delay to our scheduled crossings. Although these movements are planned and our operations team are made aware of the daily schedule, we are not authorised to publish the activity.
We work closely with the King’s Harbour Master’s staff, and they try to wait as long as possible before instructing ferries to hold their position on either side of the river. There are however isolated occasions where we have started moving before we have been instructed to stop operations which isn’t ideal but it is far outweighed by all of the other times it works in our favour.
In these situations, as we’ve already commenced transit it is important that we do all we can to maintain scheduled service and minimise the delay for passengers already embarked on the ferry.
Shipping movements can be a challenging consideration when managing a scheduled service but where possible we aim to ensure that passengers suffer minimal delays.When I'm coming from Tamar street and dropping someone off on the Torpoint side, why am I sometimes kept waiting at the traffic lights?
During peak traffic times it is important to keep a controlled flow of vehicles to the ferries from the marshalling area to maintain scheduled departures. During peak periods vehicles travelling from the queuing lanes to the ferries are given priority to avoid delayed departures and traffic congestion on the wider local road network.
We allow 7 minutes to unload and load a full ferry. Any delay will have a knock-on effect to subsequent scheduled departures. Where opportunity exists and there are sufficient breaks in the flow of traffic, those vehicles waiting in Tamar St will be signalled to proceed, giving time to drop off passengers, but otherwise it would be once the ferry has loaded.
We have a very close working relationship with the emergency services. We encourage drivers to start their engines and be prepared to move when they see an emergency vehicle en-route to board the ferry. The ferry crew are still instructed to wait until all vehicles have been unloaded before departing with the emergency vehicle. During this period, we work hard to safely load as many vehicles as possible, without delaying the emergency departure, balancing our customers’ needs with that of the emergency services.
You will often see a social media message saying a ferry has been delayed for “essential maintenance”. The ferries are complex machines and require regular or planned maintenance, to keep the machinery operating correctly, an example being an oil change for a diesel engine. This type of maintenance is normally, and where possible, completed without disruption to the service.
The ferries can also suffer from unexpected defects, which can occur at any time and in the worst case, mean that a ferry has to be taken out of service for repair. There are over 1000 sensors on each ferry in addition to a strict regime of visual checks to ensure that any problem is identified and dealt with as soon as possible. Defects of this nature require ‘unplanned maintenance’.
With over 1290 crossings scheduled each week, all systems and machinery require servicing and preventative maintenance that can only be completed safely during daylight hours. These tasks are referred to as ‘Essential Maintenance’.
Whilst most planned maintenance can be achieved without disrupting the ferry service there are certain lengthy and complex tasks such as a chain change, that due to time, resourcing and environmental constraints can only be completed by taking a ferry out of service.
These decisions are never taken lightly, and due consideration is applied to notifying customers in a timely manner, keeping service disruption to a minimum.Why don't you use the third Ferry when you are running a two-ferry service and there are problems or queues?
We recognise that queues and delays are very frustrating for customers and we always consider resourcing and other options to minimise disruption. Unfortunately, while it would be great to be able to bring the third ferry into service at a moment’s notice, this is not possible for a number of reasons.
Out of service ferries are moored up in deep water to protect them from grounding during changing tidal states. In favourable conditions, it takes approximately 20 minutes to get crew on board a moored-up ferry and complete the necessary safety and start-up procedures before it can be brought in to service.
The vessels have complex drive systems that require very careful and systematic start up sequencing.
Providing the capacity to bring the third ferry into service at very short notice would also require significant additional standby resources. Achieving this 365 days a year would result in significant additional numbers of staff paid to be on standby, and on balance the cost is considered unjustifiable. We are also constrained by employment legislation and working time directives that limit crew operating hours.
The two-ferry service periods also enable the maintenance team to complete planned maintenance on the ferry which may mean it is temporarily unserviceable, and provide opportunities for legislative, safety and service inspections to be carried out and for refuelling etc.