After realising the ‘drain’ outside my hotel window was the Charleroi Canal I decided to do further research discovering the canal has an inclined plane and the highest boat lift in the world. This warranted some further exploring, so I entered the coordinates into the gps and set off to visit both locations.
The inclined plane is at Ronquières and is huge. Unlike the Foxton Inclined Plane which raised boats parallel to the plane, the Ronquières cassions are at right angles to the plane.
The plane was constructed in 1968 as part of an upgrade to the canal. It replaced 14 locks and raises boats 222 ft. It is 4698 ft long and the two 299 ft long cassions operate independently with a 5200 ton counterweight runs in a trough below the rails that carries the cassion. It takes approximately 22 minutes for a cassion to travel the length of the inclined plane.
Approach to the inclined plane
Bottom of the inclined plane. The size of the gantry structure is obviously due to the size and weight of the guillotine gates.
I arrived too late and just missed seeing the right cassion convey a large barge up the plane.
Unlike the Foxton cassions, these have a ‘wedge’ shape with the base parallel to the incline and the top horizontal. There are a hell of a lot of rail wheels under the cassion.
The top of the inclined plane is similar to the bottom except for the very high central tower which seems somewhat extravagant!
Back to the car and a 20 minute drive to the Strépy-Thieu boat lift. This is another impressive engineering structure. The lift raises boats 240 ft using two independent cassions. until January 2016 it was the highest boat lift in the world.
Completed in 2002 at a reputed cost of € 160 million, it replaces four smaller boat lifts and two locks. The cassions measure 112 x 12 metres and when full weigh between 7200 and 8400 tonnes. The variation in weight is due to variations in canal water level.
Large concrete blocks form the counter-weight. Electric motors raise the cassions using 112 steel suspension cables and 32 control cables.
It takes approximately seven minutes to raise or lower a cassion. Well that’s my canal ‘fix’ for the day!