Canals & Waterways

Lifts and Inclined Planes - Elevators for Boats

The historic view: lifts and inclined planes were uncommon, and there is little trace left of most that were built. They were used for climbs which would have required a flights of numerous, closely spaced locks. Such flights were considered bottlenecks in the canal system and it was concluded that canal traffic would move much more quickly through a single lift or inclined plane, and save water in the bargain. However, these were mechanical contrivances and maintenance difficulties caused many to be replaced by the flight of locks that they had been designed to avoid.

In recent times, lifts and inclined planes have been put to good use on continental European waterways. See examples, labelled modern, below.

Unfortunately, over the years, much of the original source material I had linked to has disappeared from the internet, causing me to rely more on links to wikipedia pages (which actually seem fine).

For a book on this subject, see Canal Lifts and Inclines of the World, by Hans-Hoachim Uhlemann.


[Image] of Anderton Lift. Best exemplified by the Anderton Lift, built in 1875. Uses two counterbalanced tanks of water. One goes up while the other goes down. Movement is vertical, like an elevator (lift). 50 foot rise. Joins the Trent and Mersey Canal with the River Weaver. Was under repair (and unusable) from 1983 to 2002, but since then has been in full operation. The repair converted the lift from electrical operation back to hydraulic operation (similar to its original design).

The photo, by Rob Barker, shows the Anderton Lift as it looked in 1982, prior to its closure, when the lift was still electrically operated.
Additional photos from 1980 by Philip and Pete Payzant

The Henrichenburg lift-lock - in Germany; original lift operated 1899-1962, then later iterations in 1962 and 1989 (web page in english, deutsch, francais, nederlands) [Thanks to Eckhard Schinkel for directing me to this one.]

"submarine lock" - boats travel up and down underwater in a closed caisson. Operated on Somerset Coal Canal for two years in late 1790's. Further details will be found at this Somerset Coal Canal (Society) web page, under "caisson lock".

The web page entitled "Variations on tank-based lifts", formerly linked to here, is no longer available but the balance lock wikipedia page may provide similar information.

Modern examples: Wikipedia has a List of Boat Lifts, with links to individual lifts. A good example of a conventional modern lift is the Strépy-Thieu boat lift in Belgium. For a unique modern design, see also the Falkirk Wheel. The Wheel reconnects the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland.

Unfortunately, all information online about Terry Fogarty's concept for a "Diagonal Lock" seems to have vanished from the internet.

Comprehensive book on boat lifts (in German):
Eckhard Schinkel: Schiffslift. Die Schiffs-Hebewerke der Welt. Menschen - Technik - Geschichte. Essen, Klartext-Verlag 2001. ISBN 3-88474-834-3

Inclined Planes

A modern example is the St Louis-Arzviller Inclined Plane (photo) on the Canal de La Marne au Rhin in France. It lifts (or lowers) boats 146 feet (44.5 meters) along a 350 foot (108 meter) slope in a single tank of water. Cruise this canal and you can ride it yourself.

Another modern example is the inclined plane of Ronquières, in Belgium. It has a higher lift than St Louis-Arzviller, but is much less steep. [Thanks to Kenny Staelens for suggesting that the Ronquières plane should be mentioned here.]

Here's an old picture of the Foxton Inclined Plane in operation (37K), year unknown, obtained by Rob Barker from an otherwise unlabelled postcard. Further details, and restoration plans, may be found at the web site of the Foxton Inclined Plane Trust.

A surviving, but not working, example of an historic plane can be seen at the Blists Hill site of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. This is the Hay Incline of the old Shropshire (tub-boat) Canal. The vertical drop is 207 feet. An article mentioning this plane, and other inclined planes that existed in Shropshire, appeared in the Oct 2003 issue of Waterways World.

Though most planes move a boat while suspended in a tank of water, some carry a boat out of water in a cradle. There are five planes of this type on the Ostroda-Elblag Canal in Poland. (See the article in Oct 2003 Waterways World.) Another is in Canada, on the Trent-Severn Waterway, and is referred to as the Big Chute Marine Railway.

Thanks to Alan Reekie for his suggestions about this page.
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