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Falkirk Wheel
jcn Forth & Clyde Canal and Union Canal, Falkirk, Scotland, UK
associated engineer
Butterley Engineering
Tony Gee & Partners
date  2000 - 13th May 2002
UK era  Modern  |  category  Boat Lift  |  reference  NS850805
ICE reference number  HEW 325
The boat lift known as the Falkirk Wheel, with two giant rotating arms transferring boats between the Edinburgh & Glasgow Union Canal and the Forth & Clyde Canal, is one of a kind. Which makes it doubly astonishing— not only does it combine futuristic artistry with engineering prowess, but so far it has defied imitation.
The level of the Union Canal is 25m above that of the Forth & Clyde Canal where they meet near the town of Falkirk in Scotland. The Wheel replaces the a flight of 11 locks, each of which raised/lowered boats 3m. The locks closed in 1933. The Falkirk Wheel is the centrepiece of the 78m Millennium Link regeneration scheme and is the world's first rotating boat lift.
The structure consists of a pair of two opposed axe-shaped steel arms fitted either side of a steel axle that is supported by a concrete plinth (on piles) at one end and part of a tall narrow buildng (the machine building) at the other. Each arm has a large circular hole through it. The four holes support two steel water-filled caissons, or troughs, that bridge from one pair of arms to the other. As the Wheel rotates, the arms and axle rotate, supported by 4m diameter slew bearings, the outers rings of which are attached to the concrete supports.
The diameter of the Wheel is 35m overall. The axle is 28m long and 3.8m in diameter. The four caissons are 6.5m wide and contain 250,000 litres, with watertight doors at each end. Matching doors are located on the upper structure and lower dock pit, making a double-door system. Each caisson holds four 20m canal boats, and all remain horizontal during rotation, as the circular holes supporting the caissons have geared tracks in them, allowing movement and counteracting the displacing forces of wind and friction.
The Wheel is always in balance, since the caissons weigh the same, whether they have boats in them or not (following Archimedes' Principle). This allows it to rotate through 180 degrees in around just five minutes using very little power. In doing so, about 1,800 tonnes is moved using ten hydraulic gearbox units, which are located in the machine building.
Boats from the Union Canal travel along a new, reinforced concrete aqueduct to reach the lift. This was engineering by Arup and its supports are the same in profile as the lift supports and arms. At the bottom of the lift is the docking pit — a kind of dry dock. When the caissons are at their loweset position, they are in this dock, not the canal basin. Boats leave via the watertight door system.
The Falkirk Wheel is only one part of the Millennium Link project, built for British Waterways by Morrison-Bachy Soletanche Joint Venture, who sub-contracted various parts of the design and construction.
On the higher side, the Union Canal has a new section added, with two new locks that lower the water level. These lead to the new 150m long, 8m wide Rough Castle Tunnel, which is elliptical in shape and lined with sprayed concrete. The tunnel passes under a road, the Edinburgh-Glasgow main railway line and the Antonine Wall, built by the Romans. The tunnel leads to the 100m long aqueduct mentioned above. Below the lift, a new basin for the Forth & Clyde Canal has been constructed.
The Falkirk Wheel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 24th May 2002, and is now a major tourist attraction.
Architectural consultant: RMJM
Structural consultant: Arup
Steel Contractor: Butterley Engineering
Mechanical engineering: Bennett Associates
Civil engineering consultant: Tony Gee & Partners
Research: PD, ECPK, JJ, FG
"Civil Engineering: The Falkirk Wheel" fact sheet
published by Bachy Soletanche, document A399, undated
reference sources   CEH SLB

Falkirk Wheel