Monday, 7 October 2013

Thinking Out Of The Box (2)

Thinking out of the box (also thinking out side of the box, thinking beyond the box or thinking the unthinkable) is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective. The cliché, has become widely used and refers to novel or creative thinking. Thinking out of the box, is forcing yourself to give considerations to options that you might discount in the first place. To think outside the box is to look farther and to try not thinking of the obvious things, but to try thinking beyond them.

I wonder if the canal infrastructure could be utilised once more for doing the things that are uniquely suited to take advantage of the special conditions the canals can provide.  One of the biggest bulk carriage items for many years was coal. Other items included timber and grain. The downturn continues and its only recently that the movement of sand and gravel has come to an end. 

But the problem now is that road vehicles have reached a plateau with 44 ton all up weight around the maximum carrying capacity for the roads. Due to the weather and lack of funding many roads are in a parlous state and there has been speculation that weight limits will be applied to many roads that were constructed to carry much lighter weights.

The railway has already seen a resurgence in the amount of containerised freight-liner traffic. Could the canals see such a resurgence in the next few years.

The rivers and canal system however have one unique cargo. One that features in everyone's daily life. A cargo that has almost an unlimited demand. A cargo that road and rail can never out perform the inland waterways in terms of capacity or price for delivery. That cargo is water. Essentially there are two types of water. Water for domestic and industrial consumption. The second one is drainage of water.

In 1942 during the second world war. One of the most ambitious waterway proposals ever was floated was presented by J F Pownall. It proposed the creation of what he called the 'Grand Contour Canal' The route of the GCC was intended to be a lock-free canal on the 310 ft (95 m) contour. This would allow for the connecting of most parts of England. But he also proposed links to the main river systems. The width of the canal was to be 100 ft and its depth 17 ft. In addition to encouraging internal shipping, it was also proposed to use it for water transfer. Because of the strictures of war and the subsequent financial crisis the proposal came to nothing.

In 1942 the Grand contour canal, could have been built as a distribution network, linking major ports, industrial centres and as a water grid for distributing water from the more abundant to dry areas. With the changing weather patterns and rainfall varying from one area to another the grid could be a two way scheme and also at the same time provide a huge linear reservoir. 

Fast forward to 1965 when Mr M Macfarlane, chairman of the development committee of the Inland Waterways Association reminded the government of the day of this scheme. Fast forward to today. The government are still wondering what to do about water shortages. HS2 looks like it is about to hit the skids. The country needs a number of major construction projects. Housing, updating the existing railways and rolling stock and a water grid.

Maybe a whole new kind of lock is required. The Diagonal Lock is designed as an alternative to a traditional flight of locks, connecting the canal at the summit of an incline to the canal at the base. The concept is based on the construction of a watertight, concrete tube built on the incline - allowing boats to float securely inside the tube as the water level is varied via a system of pumps.

The Diagonal Lock technology has been assessed by various technical and research organisations, resulting in the following conclusion. The key components of the Diagonal Lock utilize standard construction technologies which would make best use of pre cast solutions - this increases the speed and ease of construction. One Diagonal Lock is likely, depending on specific site condition, to be more cost effective to construct than a flight of 4+ conventional locks for the equivalent incline. Ongoing maintenance costs will be less than the cost of maintaining a flight of conventional locks. The ability to re-use water using side pounds will produce quantifiable environmental benefits. The Diagonal Lock will be a powerful focus of interest and generate an economic boost to the local community - through increasing tourist numbers and attracting investment into the area.

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