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Vehicle: Boat
Canal Container Trains   (+4, -6)  [vote for, against]

As I understand it, the United Kingdom is criss-crossed by an extensive network of canals, dating from the early Industrial Revolution. The main current use of these canals being quaint holidays by houseboat and the collection of shopping trolleys.

I propose that these canals be re-integrated into the national freight cargo grid as follows.

Container cranes drop standard shipping containers onto a waiting floating barge which is the size and shape of a double-length container. With inflatable pontoons on either side, the barge provides a stable floating platform for each container, while still fitting lengthways into the canal.

Containers are then hitched together into water-borne trains.

The leading container is the drive vessel. It has a pointy or sloping bow to cut through the water.

It can be powered by any number of means. My first thought was a pair of wheels that pop out from the sides and drive against the canal walls. It matters not. It could be diesel or electric, water screw propeller, water jet, overhead cable and pulley, electric drive, diesel.

The chains or cables between each floating shipping container being extendible and retractable allows groups of containers to pass through locks without being unhitched.

As per ground-based trains, groups of containers can be hitched and unhitched to reach different destinations.
-- BunsenHoneydew, Sep 16 2008

Freight containers http://en.wikipedia...Standard_containers
Typical sizes [8th of 7, Sep 16 2008]

Most canal bridges would have to be rebuilt.
-- coprocephalous, Sep 16 2008

Not only the bridges ........

The U.K narrow canal network is designed for boats that are 7 feet wide, which is narrower than a standard freight container ..... therefore, boats carrying such loads could not pass through locks.

It would be possible to design a smaller container that could be "clustered" on removal from the boat to form a unit of the same dimensions as a standard container.

Most former canal terminals and cargo-handling areas have now been converted to marinas, or are in conservation areas, precluding the installation of the new cranes and lifts etc. that would be required.
-- 8th of 7, Sep 16 2008

If canal width was the only problem one could load the containers tilted at a 45 degree angle, with each barge having a deep v-shaped cargo deck. Of course, in reality this would only serve to exacerbate the low bridge dilemma, but it does eliminate the need for a new smaller "standard" container size.
-- Canuck, Sep 16 2008

But then they still wouldn't fit in the locks, as the diagonal is even longer ......
-- 8th of 7, Sep 16 2008

Umm, if we graphically represent a container thusly []
and we roll it over 45 degrees or so like this (bear with me here) <>
how does that make it longer?
-- Canuck, Sep 16 2008

A "standard" container is about 2.4 m wide and 2.4m high. Thus, across the diagonal is Root2 x 2.4 = 3.4m.

The locks are built to take a 7 foot wide boat, with a small clearance; about 8 feet, or 2.4 m. In theory, you might just be able to squeeze a container in ...... but tipped through 45 degrees, it wouldn't fit.
-- 8th of 7, Sep 16 2008

Aha! I was so focussed on the "diagonal is even longer" thing I completely missed the key word "locks"! Sorry!

My thinking was based solely on the canals. I pictured tilting the containers in the barges so they'd hang over the sides and clear the banks (assuming the banks slope away from the waterline) as the barge putted its way along.

Shall I delete the foregoing proof of my stupidity?
-- Canuck, Sep 16 2008


This will interrupt swimming and fishing.

p.s. If you have not taken a dip in the Grand Union canal, you are missing out.
-- mylodon, Sep 17 2008

To make a more serious comment, the entire reason the canals failed is because of the creation of the train system, for gliding on rails is superior to pushing through water. If you want this to succeed even better, remove all the water from the canals and install rails.
-- mylodon, Sep 17 2008

//gliding on rails is superior to pushing through water//
I disagree - all those sleepers and ballast grate on the underside of your kayak.
-- coprocephalous, Sep 17 2008

// Shall I delete the foregoing proof of my stupidity? //

No, let it stand .... evidence of the stupidity of others is always enjoyable.

// gliding on rails is superior to pushing through water //

Not quite. Water has no limiting friction. For a slow-moving object, flotation is quite efficent. Trains won out because they could carry much heavier loads at higher speeds. The efficiency of large surface ships is such that they are used in preference to rail transport between China and Japan and their European markets, even though a rail route has been in place for about a century.

The Macclesfield Canal, one of the last built in Britain, was designed by its promoters to be easily convertible to a railway line. As a consequence, it is relatively shallow, and has long, sweeping bends.
-- 8th of 7, Sep 17 2008

Thankyou, [coprocephalous], the mental image you provided made the whole exercise worthwhile.
-- BunsenHoneydew, Sep 18 2008

How about pallets then? The ones in my back yard look like they would fit two abreast onto a 7 foot wide flatbed barge. The loading and unloading works would also be much simpler - no cranes required, just an embankment or pier and a few forklifts.
-- BunsenHoneydew, Sep 15 2013

//The Macclesfield Canal, one of the last built in Britain, was designed by its promoters to be easily convertible to a railway line. As a consequence, it is relatively shallow, and has long, sweeping bends//

I smell a a rat* here, I'm guessing they built it as a railway line but the fact that it hasn't stopped raining in Macclesfield since 1759 forced their hand somewhat.

On a more general note, I suspect automated canal transport might be a lot easier than road/rail. A 5 mph canal boat crash, from experience, results in little but a loud "dong" and a bit of masonry abuse.

* or possibly a water vole... not easy to tell with a fleeting glimpse through the reeds
-- bs0u0155, Sep 16 2013

I like the idea of small autonomous cargo loads making their way along the canal. They would be fitted out with GPS. No doubt they would be endowed with decoration by those inclined which would add festivity to an otherwise prosaic endeavor.
-- bungston, Sep 16 2013

Simply place the GPS antennae* in those brightly painted watering cans the narrow boat crowd are so fond of.

* One at each end, the distance fixed by the boat length, and a little bit of software should yield really accurate GPS.
-- bs0u0155, Sep 18 2013

I wonder what perverse course of history set canal boats at 7ft width, and furthermore, containers at 8ft width.
-- Ling, Sep 18 2013

random, halfbakery