Thursday, March 31, 2011

K&A Canal lock gates... 'FRAGILE' handle with care

It is less than two weeks since the Caen Hill Flight was re-opened following major winter works that included the replacement of seven pairs of wooden lock gates — and already there is an emergency stoppage to replace another pair of wooden lock gates on the Devizes Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

A P Herbert Lock (46) Devizes will be closed 
for the wooden bottom gates to be replaced.
Picture by Bob Naylor
The Devizes Flight lock gates were made between 1987 and 1989 and fitted by early 1990 — just in time for the Queen’s visit to re-open the canal.

Following a five week stoppage after a lock gate failure on Caen Hill in the Summer of 2006, Mike Lee, the Canal Trust Hon Engineer said of the locks on the K&A Canal, “There were a number of deficiencies, some poor quality oak being the main one and the fitting of straps instead of steel caps on the mitre posts; a recipe for the start of rot. 
“The normal life of a pair of timber gates is about 25 years but unfortunately the Caen Hill bottom gates and all the Crofton Flight gates will not last that long as serious rot is developing in the timber and they will all need replacing within the next 2-3 years.

“There are many other gates which also need replacing, but hopefully over a longer time span. “We could reduce the risk of gate failure by more careful boat handling.

“It is a case of treat the gates with care and try to ensure that other users do the same”, he concluded.

Mike Lee's time forecast has passed and because of shortage of money there are still gates that have not been replaced — and  if the K&A is to be kept open for navigation then boating on the canal has got to become a 'non-contact sport' so that a the ageing lock gates can last a few more years.
Mike's sentiments were echoed by Mark Stephens shortly after he took over as waterway manager on the Kennet & Avon Canal.  Speaking at a Canal Users' Forum meeting in Devizes he called for experienced boaters to set a good example by opening both gates when entering and leaving locks to minimise damage to them. 

He said that whereas experienced boaters can get through one gate without making contact — if this becomes seen as normal practice less skilled boaters will, unfortunately, try to do the same and over time the lock gates will suffer.

One of the bottom gates on Lock 46, 
fixed in position so that it cannot be used.
Picture by Bob Naylor
A P Herbert Lock (46) above the Caen Hill Flight and just before Prison Bridge in Devizes will be closed from Tuesday 5 April until Thursday 14 April to have the bottom gates replaced. These gates have had extensive plating work to try to keep them in service but the wood is in such a poor state that they are now beyond 'patching up'. 

The worst of the two lock gates has been fixed in position so that it cannot be used and until the work begins on the 5th of April narrowboats can use the lock — with care.  Wide beam boats will have to contact BW to arrange for an assisted passage. 

The galvanised metal top gates on the Devizes Flight were installed before the wooden gates  — and they are still in very good condition with many years service left in them.

Is it time to revisit the idea of metal or composite gates which clearly have a far longer life with less maintenance?

AP Herbert Lock (46) closed from Tuesday 5th April to Thursday 14th April 2011.
Wide beam boats ring BW on: 07920824310 to arrange assisted passage until the 5th.

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