Unlocking River Power

Someone asked on my post about Amsterdam’s bicycles whether I would comment on the River Locks to Budapest. What a good idea!
In Roman times the rivers of Europe were unsuitable for transport, too shallow with strong currents and dangerous rocks. The Romans built good roads on the banks to allow quick movement of troops and commerce and used the rivers as boundaries between their Empire and the Germanic barbarians.
Four things changed this: Explosives to clear the rocky shoals, powered ships to overcome the currents and the development of Locks and Canals to join the European rivers into a complex continent wide network of river roads. The last only occurred within the past 20 years.
While the luxurious River Cruisers like we have travelled from Amsterdam to Nuremberg get a lot of attention, and bring in the Euros, it is the commercial traffic that dominate the rivers and Locks. Barges 135 metres by 11.5 loaded down with building materials, food, petroleum products, coal, rubbish what ever go streaming past endlessly. In Australia these are often transported by road.
This movement pattern is controlled by Locks – think of elevators for those giants vessels, that allow us to navigate gradually from sea level to 406 metres and back again. They also are a flood migration aid.
On the Rhine and the Amsterdam Rhine Canal, with its greater commercial traffic these locks were paired allowing one for each direction, double width and double length, allowing 4 maximum sized vessels to move in each direction. On the Main River and it’s Canal, the locks are one way, single width and shorter meaning that a vessels often has to wait for Lock space before moving on.
There are doors at both end of the Lock which close, water either floods in from a holding pond alongside or floods out down the river, depending on whether you are going up or down. This is one case where a picture sequence shows more clearly than words.
The greatest height our boat will be moved is yet to come – 24.7 metres or 81 feet vertical movement will be just after Nuremberg, on our next sailing day. Imagine lifting boats and cargoes the size of these to the height of an 8 story building just with the power of water and gravity, using technology which has hardly changed in a century.









2 thoughts on “Unlocking River Power

    • Giovani, the flooding has been bad in all the River systems. Normally we would be on a single ship from Amsterdam to Budapest for 15 nights. We are shuffling on and off ships twice because damage to the Locks and Port facilities has blocked the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in several places. The Canals do not flow like a river. Between each pair of locks is flat so it like a series of swimming pools, separated by gates. When flood waters hit the Canals, they eventually pour over the top of the gates, sometimes causing damage, as the waters the flow downhill to the next section.

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