Canal inclined plane

Canal inclined plane

An inclined plane is a system used on some canals for raising boats between different water levels.

Typically, such a feature consists of a slope, up which there are two sets of rail tracks. Boats are raised between different levels by sailing into giant water-filled tanks, or caissons, which have wheels on the bottom and watertight doors at each end, and which are perpendicular to the slope. These are then drawn up or down hill on the rails, usually by means of cables being pulled by a stationary engine. In almost all designs two caissons are used, one going up and one down, to act as counterweights to make the system more efficient. When the caisson has reached the top or bottom of the slope, the doors are opened and the boat leaves.

Near Coalisland, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, a series of inclined planes or 'dry wherries' were used to connect adjoining canal sections on Dukart's Canal, an extension of the Coalisland Canal. The system was ahead of its time and didn't work.

An inclined plane is quicker, and wastes less water, than a flight of canal locks, but is more costly to install and run. It can be considered a specialised type of funicular railway. A development of the idea is the water slope. Another alternative to consecutive locks is a boat lift.


Inclined planes have evolved over the centuries. Some of the first were used by the Egyptians to bypass waterfalls on the Nile. These consisted of wooden slides covered with silt which reduced friction.cite book |title=Foxton Locks and Inclined Plane A Detailed History|publisher=Department of Planning and Transportation, Leicestershire County Council | isbn=085022-1919|Pages=p3]


*600BC The Diolkos an early Greek inclined plane was in use.cite book|title=Canal Inclines and Lifts|author=David Tew]
*385AD Inclined planes were in use on the Grand Canal in China.
*1167 Nieuwedamme overtoom (a simple type of incline) was built at Ypres.
*1568 Wagon of Zafosina in use near Venice.
*1773 John Edyvean proposes the use of inclined planes on the St. Columb Canal in Cornwall, UK.
*1777 3 inclined planes begin operation on the Tyrone Canal, County Tyrone, Northern IrelandHadfield's British Canals eighth edition "Joseph Boughey" Page 49 ISBN0-7509-0017-2]
*1788 An inclined plane is used for the first time in England to raise canal boats, on England's Ketley Canal. []
*1792 William Reynolds of Ketley Ironworks constructed several inclined planes on the Shropshire Canal. []
*1793 American born inventor Robert Fulton wrote a letter to Lord Stanhope suggesting inclined planes instead of locks for Bude Canal in Cornwall. Lord Stanhope replied saying his idea for working the plane had already been thought of by Edmund Leach.
*1794 Robert Fulton took out a British patent (# 1988), for improvements to inclined planes including a double inclined plane system to be used to raise canal boats without locks.
*1795 South Hadley Canal begins operations, on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, United States. The first North American inclined plane canal.
*1797 Worsley Navigable Levels underground incline started in 1795 was completed.cite book|title=Canal Lifts and Inclines of the World|author=Hans-Joachim Uhlemann]
*1800 Francis Henry Egerton, eighth Earl of Bridgewater (1756-1829) wrote 'The Description of the Inclined Plane at Walkden Moor. (Lancashire)' []
*1801 Inclined plane built on the Somersetshire Coal Canal []
*1801 to 1806. Two inclined planes built on the Stollen Canal at Gliwice, Upper Silesia.
*1806 Three inclined planes built on the Canal du Creusot near Torcy, France.
*1825 to 1831. 23 inclines built on the Morris Canal, USA.
*1827 The Rolle Canal includes an inclined plane
*1832 Mrs. Frances Trollope* [] , publishes in "Domestic Manners of the Americans" her account of a visit the previous year to see one of the inclined planes of the Morris Canal. This waterway, convert|100|mi|km long, connected the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, rising more than convert|1400|ft|m by means of a series of inclined planes.
*1860 The first four inclined planes of the Elbląg Canal in Poland (then East Prussia) were opened.
*1885 Keage Incline on Lake Biwa Canal in Kyoto, Japan was built.
*1900 Foxton Inclined Plane was built.
*1911 Foxton Inclined Plane mothballed.
*1921 Trench plane closes and brings to an end boat carrying inclined planes in Britain
*1973 Montech water slope the first of its kind was built on the Canal latéral à la Garonne in France.

Other examples

With caissons

* The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Washington, D.C. later had an inclined plane built to move boats into the Potomac River so that they could bypass Georgetown which was becoming congested with traffic. The inclined plane was two miles (3 km) upriver from Georgetown.
* Foxton Inclined Plane
* Ronquières inclined plane on the Brussels Charleroi Canal in Belgium.
* The electric "ship elevator" at the Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric dam, ship capacity up to 1500 tons, maximum ship size 80 x 17 x 2 metres, elevation 104 metres.
*St.Louis-Arzviller Incline on the Canal du Marne au Rhin.

Without caissons

There are also inclined planes without a tank or caisson, instead carrying vessels up out of the water cradled in slings or resting on their keels. In a few cases the boats were permanently fitted with wheels.

* Big Chute Marine Railway on the Trent-and-Severn-Waterway in Canada
* Bude Canal in Cornwall
* Elbląg Canal between Elbląg and Ostróda in Poland
* Hay Inclined Plane in the Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire
* Morris Canal, Northern New Jersey.cite web|url=|title=Photo Documentary of Morris Canal]
* St. Columb Canal built by John Edyvean
* Trench inclined plane on the Shrewsbury Canal, Shropshire
* Underground inclined plane in the Worsley Navigable Levels

See also

* Boat lift
* Funicular
* Portage
* Water slope
* Inclined plane – "the simple machine"

Further reading

*cite book |last= Tew|first= David|title= Canal Inclines and Lifts|origdate= |edition=|date= 1984|publisher= Sutton Books|isbn= 0-8629-9031-9
*cite book |last= Uhlemann|first= Hans-Joachim|title= Canal lifts and inclines of the world|origdate= |edition=English Translation|date= 2002|publisher= Internat|isbn= 0-9543-1811-0


External links

* [ Article on the C & O incline plane]
* [ Photo of St Louis-Arzviller inclined plane] , Canal de La Marne au Rhin, Alsace-Lorraine, France
* [ Second photo of St Louis-Arzviller inclined plane]
* [ The inclined plane of Ronquières] (official site)
* [ Ronquières Inclined Plane]
* [ Photos of Ronquières inclined plane]
* [ Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric dam boat lift] — photograph gallery showing all stages of ship elevation
* [ Funicular railways of the UK] – "Mainly concerning Funiculars but with a good section on canal inclined planes"
* [ Overtoom] – "Dutch Overtoom page"
* [ Avenhorn Overhaal]

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