Canal inclined plane

An inclined plane is a type of cable railway used on some canals for raising boats between different water levels. Boats may be conveyed afloat, in caissons, or may be carried in cradles or slings.

Inclined plane on Marne-Rhine Canal with a caisson
Inclined plane of the Elbląg Canal with a cradle

An inclined plane is quicker and wastes less water than a flight of canal locks, but is more costly to install and operate. A development of the idea is the water slope. An alternative to consecutive locks is a boat lift.


Typically, such a feature consists of a slope, with one or more rail tracks on it. Boats are raised between different levels by sailing into water-filled tanks, or caissons, with wheels on the bottom and watertight doors at each end. The caisson is mounted on an angled wheelbase, to keep it horizontal to the water level, and is generally aligned sideways to the slope. These are drawn up or down hill on the rails, usually by means of cables pulled by a stationary engine. In most designs two caissons are used, one going up and one down, acting as counterweights for greater efficiency. When the caisson has reached the top or bottom of the slope, the doors open and the boat leaves.

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.


Inclined planes have evolved over the centuries. Some of the first were used by the Egyptians to bypass waterfalls on the Nile.[1] These consisted of wooden slides covered with silt which reduced friction.[1]


  • 600BC – The Diolkos, an early Greek inclined plane, was in use.[2]
  • 385AD – Inclined planes were in use on the Grand Canal in China.[2]
  • 1167 – Nieuwedamme overtoom (a simple type of incline) was built at Ypres.[3]
  • 1568 – Wagon of Zafosina in use near Venice.[3]
  • 1773John Edyvean proposed the use of inclined planes on the St. Columb Canal in Cornwall, UK.
  • 1773 – Inclined planes proposed on the projected Caldon Canal. (See Peter Lead, The Caldon Canal, Oakwood Press 1990.)
  • 1777 – 3 inclined planes or 'dry wherries' began operation on Dukart's Canal, near Coalisland, in the south-east of County Tyrone in Ulster.[4] The inclines were a failure and were dismantled by 1787.
  • 1788 – An inclined plane was built by William Reynolds and used, for the first time in England, to raise canal boats on England's Ketley Canal.[5][6]
  • 1792William Reynolds of Ketley Ironworks constructed several inclined planes on the Shropshire Canal.[5][7]
  • 1792 - 1921 – In 1792 the Shropshire Tub Canals were built incorporating a number of inclined planes. One of these, the Trench plane closed in 1921 and brought to an end boat-carrying inclined planes in Britain[4]
  • 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.
  • 1794Robert 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 - 1805South Hadley Canal began operations, on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, United States. The first North American inclined plane canal. Replaced by five locks in 1805.
  • 1797 - 1822 – At Worsley Navigable Levels, a coal mine operation in Greater Manchester, England, an underground incline started in 1795 was completed in 1797.[3]
  • 1800 Francis Henry Egerton (1756-1829), who became The 8th Earl of Bridgewater in 1823, wrote 'The Description of the Inclined Plane at Walkden Moor. (Lancashire)' [1]
  • 1801 - 1806 – Inclined plane built on the Somersetshire Coal Canal, connecting a coal mining region to the Avon Canal. Temporary while a system of 22 locks augmented by a pump were installed. Canal ceased operation in 1893.
  • 1806 - 1828 Two inclined planes built on the Stollen Canal at Gliwice, Upper Silesia.[3]
  • 1806 – Three inclined planes built on the Canal du Creusot near Torcy, France.
  • 1823 - 1891Bude Canal completed in 1823 incorporating six inclined planes along which tubs with wheels were transferred between different levels of the canal.
  • 1827 - 1871 – The Rolle Canal in North Devon, England included an inclined plane. The canal was closed in 1871 to make way for a railway.
    Inclined Plane 7 West on Morris Canal, showing flume, powerhouse, cabling, and track. Cradle can be seen at bottom in the canal. Note how return cable is on wooden stands with pulleys
    1831 - 1924 – Between 1825 and 1831, 23 inclines were built as part of the Morris Canal, New Jersey, USA.[5] This waterway, 100 miles (160 km) long, connected the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, rising more than 1,400 feet (430 m). In 1832, Mrs. Frances Trollope*[2], 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. In 1924 the canal was abandoned and later dismantled. The Morris Canal's design was reused for the planes on the Elbląg Canal[8] (see below).
  • 1834 - 1857 - The Allegheny Portage Railroad, consisting of 36 miles of track traversing 10 incline planes and the first railroad tunnel in the United States, opened in Pennsylvania as part of the Main Line of Public Works allowing barge traffic to travel between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh over the 1,399 foot (426 m) Allegheny Front. In 1857 a new railway between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had taken over the function of the canal.
  • 1837 - 1865 – The extension to the Kidwelly and Llanelly Canal, Wales opened in 1837, including two counterbalanced inclined planes and one single-track one.[9] The canal was replaced by a railway in 1869,
  • 1849 - 1942 – Inclined plane built on the Monkland Canal near Blackhill, Scotland to supplement existing locks.[5]
  • 1860–present – The first four inclined planes of the Elbląg Canal in Germany (East Prussia), nowadays Poland, were opened in 1860.[5] A fifth incline was added later to replace five wooden locks. This canal reused the design from the Morris Canal for its inclined planes.[8]
  • 1885 - 1948 – Keage Incline on Lake Biwa Canal in Kyoto, Japan. By 1948 a railway and road had taken over the function of the canal.
    The track of the Foxton Inclined Plane, which is no longer in use
    1900 - 1926Foxton Inclined Plane was built in England to help overcome shortcomings of the Foxton locks on the Grand Union Canal. Mothballed in 1911 and seeing only occasional use and dismantled in 1926.[5]
  • 1917 - 1923 Big Chute Marine Railway in Ontario, Canada was built as part of the Trent-Severn Waterway. Replaced in 1923 by larger inclined plane able to carry boats up to 60 feet.
  • 1919 - 1965 – Swift Rapids Marine Railway in Ontario, Canada was built. Replaced in 1965 by canal lock.
  • 1923 - 2003 Big Chute Marine Railway in Ontario, Canada replaced smaller lift built in 1917. Replaced in 1978 by even larger lift but continued operation until 2003.
  • 1969–present – In 1969 the Saint-Louis-Arzviller inclined plane replaced a ladder of seventeen locks over a distance of four kilometers on the Marne-Rhine Canal in France.[5]
  • 1973–presentMontech water slope the first of its kind was built on the Canal latéral à la Garonne in France.
  • 1978–presentBig Chute Marine Railway in Ontario, Canada added inclined plane carrying boats up to 100 feet in length. The smaller 1923 inclined plane lift continued operation alongside the new lift until 2003.
  • 1983 - 2001Fonserannes water slope was the second water slope. It was built on the Canal du Midi in France.

Other examplesEdit

With caissonsEdit

Without caissonsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Foxton Locks and Inclined Plane A Detailed History. Department of Planning and Transportation, Leicestershire County Council. p. 3. ISBN 0-85022-191-9.
  2. ^ a b David Tew. Canal Inclines and Lifts.
  3. ^ a b c d Hans-Joachim Uhlemann. Canal Lifts and Inclines of the World.
  4. ^ a b Hadfield's British Canals eighth edition Joseph Boughey Page 49 ISBN 0-7509-0017-2
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses. (1989). Ship lifts: report of a Study Commission within the framework of Permanent ... PIANC. ISBN 978-2-87223-006-8. Retrieved 2011-12-14.
  6. ^ David Minor (July 1996). "A CANAL CHRONOLOGY". EZnet. Archived from the original on 2012-02-04. Retrieved 2011-12-16. 1788 -- An inclined plane is used for the first time to raise canal boats, on England's Ketley Canal.
  7. ^ H. W. Dickinson (1913). "Robert Fulton: Engineer and Artist". London Publishing. Archived from the original on 2011-01-12. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
  8. ^ a b "Railroad Extra, the Morris Canal and its Inclined Planes". Retrieved 2014-02-06.
  9. ^ Raymond Bowen (2001). The Burry Port and Gwendreath Valley Railway and its Antecedent Canals. Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-577-2.
  10. ^ "Прохождение судами Енисейского пароходства судоподъемника Красноярской ГЭС - Фотогалерея". (Boats of the Yenisei Shipping Company traveling via the ship lift of the Krasnoyarsk Hydroelectric Station: Photo gallery) (in Russian)
  11. ^ From River to River - photo gallery, 2007
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2017-10-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Photo Documentary of Morris Canal".

Further readingEdit

  • Tew, David (1984). Canal Inclines and Lifts. Sutton Books. ISBN 0-86299-031-9.
  • Uhlemann, Hans-Joachim (2002). Canal lifts and inclines of the world (English Translation ed.). Internat. ISBN 0-9543181-1-0.

External linksEdit