Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in Tamfourhill, Falkirk, in central Scotland, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. It reconnects the two canals for the first time since the 1930s. It opened in 2002 as part of the Millennium Link project.

The plan to regenerate central Scotland's canals and reconnect Glasgow with Edinburgh was led by British Waterways with support and funding from seven local authorities, the Scottish Enterprise Network, the European Regional Development Fund, and the Millennium Commission. Planners decided early on to create a dramatic 21st-century landmark structure to reconnect the canals, instead of simply recreating the historic lock flight.

The wheel raises boats by 24 metres (79 ft), but the Union Canal is still 11 metres (36 ft) higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel. Boats must also pass through a pair of locks between the top of the wheel and the Union Canal. The Fa...Read more

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in Tamfourhill, Falkirk, in central Scotland, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. It reconnects the two canals for the first time since the 1930s. It opened in 2002 as part of the Millennium Link project.

The plan to regenerate central Scotland's canals and reconnect Glasgow with Edinburgh was led by British Waterways with support and funding from seven local authorities, the Scottish Enterprise Network, the European Regional Development Fund, and the Millennium Commission. Planners decided early on to create a dramatic 21st-century landmark structure to reconnect the canals, instead of simply recreating the historic lock flight.

The wheel raises boats by 24 metres (79 ft), but the Union Canal is still 11 metres (36 ft) higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel. Boats must also pass through a pair of locks between the top of the wheel and the Union Canal. The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and one of two working boat lifts in the United Kingdom, the other being the Anderton Boat Lift.

Pre-1933 link  OS-Map of the lock flight at Falkirk

The two canals served by the wheel were previously connected by a series of 11 locks.[1][2] With a 35-metre (115 ft) difference in height, it required 3,500 tonnes (3,400 long tons; 3,900 short tons) of water per run and took most of a day to pass through the flight.[3]

By the 1930s these had fallen into disuse, and the locks were dismantled in 1933.[1][2] The Forth and Clyde Canal closed at the end of 1962,[4] and by the mid-1970s the Union Canal was filled in at both ends, rendered impassable by culverts in two places and run in pipes under a housing estate.[5] The British Waterways Board (BWB) came into existence on 1 January 1963, the day the Forth and Clyde Canal was closed, with the objective of finding a broad strategy for the future of canals in the United Kingdom.[4][5]

In 1976, the BWB decided after a meeting with local councils that the Forth and Clyde Canal, fragmented by various developments, was to have its remaining navigability preserved by building new bridges with sufficient headroom for boats and continuing to maintain the existing locks.[6] Restoration of sea-to-sea navigation was deemed too expensive at the time, but there were to be no further restrictions on its use.[6] A 1979 survey report documented 69 obstructions to navigation, and sought the opinions of twenty interested parties to present the Forth and Clyde Local (Subject) Plan in 1980.[6]

Proposal

The Lotteries Act 1993 resulted in the creation of the Millennium Commission to disseminate funds raised by the sale of lottery tickets for selected "good causes."[7] In 1996, when sufficient funds had been accumulated, the Commission invited applications to "do anything they thought desirable ... to support worthwhile causes which would mark the year 2000 and the start of the new millennium."[7] The conditions were that the Commission would fund no more than half of the project, with the remaining balance being covered by project backers.[7]

The BWB had made an earlier plan for the reopening of the canal link, which comprehensively covered the necessary work.[7] In 1994, the BWB announced its plan to bid for funding, which was submitted in 1995 on behalf of the Millennium Link Partnership.[8] The plans called for the canals to be opened to their original operating dimensions, with 3 metres (9.8 ft) of headroom above the water. The whole project had a budget of £78 million.[9]

On 14 February 1997, the Commission announced it would support the Link with £32 million of funding, 42% of the project cost.[10] The Wheel and its associated basin was priced at £17 million, more than a fifth of the total budget.[11] Another £46 million had to be raised in the next two years before construction could commence, with contributions from BWB, seven local councils, Scottish Enterprise, and private donations being augmented by £8.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund.[12]

Design

The Morrison-Bachy Soletanche Joint Venture Team submitted their original design, which resembled a Ferris wheel with four gondolas, in 1999. It was agreed by all parties that the design was functional, but not the showpiece the BWB were looking for.[13][14] After being asked to reconsider, a 20-strong team of architects and engineers was assembled by British Waterways. Under the leadership of Tony Kettle from architects RMJM, the initial concepts and images were created with the mechanical concepts proposed by the design team from Butterley and M G Bennetts. This was an intense period of work with the final design concept completed in a three-week period during the summer of 1999.[15][13][16] The final design was a co-operative effort between the British Waterways Board, engineering consultants Arup, Butterley Engineering and RMJM.[12]

Diagrams of gear systems that had been proposed in the very first concepts were modelled by Kettle using his 8-year-old daughter's Lego. Drawings and artist impressions were shown to clients and funders.[15][17] The visitor centre was designed by another RMJM architect, Paul Stallan.[18][19]

Inspirations for the design include a double-headed Celtic axe (a bearded axe), the propeller of a ship and the ribcage of a whale.[20] Kettle described the Wheel as "a beautiful, organic flowing thing, like the spine of a fish,"[17] and the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland described it as "a form of contemporary sculpture."[12]

Models and renderings of the Falkirk Wheel were displayed in a 2012 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.[21] Since 2007, the Falkirk Wheel has been featured on the obverse of the new series of £50 notes issued by the Bank of Scotland. The series of notes commemorates Scottish engineering achievements with illustrations of bridges in Scotland such as the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Forth Bridge.[22]

Construction  View of the aqueduct and top of the wheel

In March 1999 Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, cut the first sod of turf to begin work at lock 31 on the Forth and Clyde Canal.[12] Over 1000 people were employed in the construction of the wheel,[23] which has been designed to last for at least 120 years.[20][24]

The wheel was fully constructed and assembled at the Butterley Engineering plant in Ripley, Derbyshire. The structure was then dismantled in the summer of 2001, and transported on 35 lorry loads to Falkirk, before being reassembled into five sections on the ground and lifted into place.[25] Construction of the canal required 250,000 m3 (8,800,000 cu ft) of excavation, a 160 m (520 ft) canal tunnel of 8 m (26 ft) diameter, aqueducts of 20 m (66 ft) and 120 m (390 ft), three sets of locks and a number of bridges, as well as 600 m (2,000 ft) of access roads.[3] The 180 m (590 ft) Rough Castle Tunnel was driven in three stages, with the two upper quarters being drilled with a standard excavator before the lower half was dug using a modified road planer in 100 mm (4 in) layers. This technique was 15% cheaper and reduced the build time of the tunnel by two weeks.[15]

Technical considerations  The construction of the basin

The ground on which the wheel is built was previously used as an open cast fire clay mine, a coal mine, and a tar works, resulting in contamination of the canal with tar and mercury.[15][26] Twenty metres (66 ft) of loosely packed backfill from the mining operations containing large sandstone boulders was not considered adequately solid foundation for the size of the structure, so deep foundations with thirty 22 m (72 ft) concrete piles socketed onto the bedrock were used.[15]

Due to the changing load as the wheel rotates in alternating directions, some sections experience total stress reversals. In order to avoid fatigue that could lead to cracks, sections were bolted rather than welded, using over 14,000 bolts and 45,000 bolt holes.[15][20][23]

The aqueduct, engineered by Arup, was originally described as "unbuildable", but was eventually realised using 40 mm (1.6 in) rebar.[3][27] The original plans also showed the canal being built straight through the Antonine Wall, but this was changed after a petition in favour of two locks and a tunnel under the wall.[14]

Opening ceremony  Members of the Royal Family at the opening ceremony

On 24 May 2002, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Falkirk Wheel as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. The opening was delayed a month due to flooding caused by vandals who forced open the wheel's gates.[28] The damage, which cost £350,000 to repair, resulted in the dry well being flooded, damaging electrical and hydraulic equipment.[28][29]

^ a b "History of The Falkirk Wheel". Scottish Waterways Trust. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2013. ^ a b "History". The Falkirk Wheel. Retrieved 6 January 2013. ^ a b c "The Millennium Link" (PDF). University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2014. ^ a b Paterson 2013, p. 1875 ^ a b Paterson 2013, p. 1877 ^ a b c Paterson 2013, p. 1880 ^ a b c d Paterson 2013, p. 1885 ^ Paterson 2013, pp. 1885–1886 ^ Paterson 2013, p. 1886 ^ Paterson 2013, p. 1887 ^ Paterson 2013, p. 1889 ^ a b c d Paterson 2013, p. 1890 ^ a b Cite error: The named reference bacsol was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ a b "The Falkirk Ferris Wheel". gentles.info. Retrieved 11 January 2014. ^ a b c d e f "Falkirk Wheel site visit – information sheet" (PDF). University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 January 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2014. ^ "Building the missing link". millenniumnow.org.uk. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2014. ^ a b Crawford 2013, p. 206 ^ "Falkirk Wheel". urbanrealm.com. Retrieved 7 February 2014. ^ Richard Waite (15 July 2011). "Rebrand: Paul Stallan leads RMJM rebirth". Architects' Journal. Retrieved 7 February 2014. ^ a b c Freeland, Lee. "The Falkirk Wheel" (PDF). elevator-world.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 19 September 2008. ^ "British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age" (PDF). Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 11 January 2014. ^ "Banknote Design Features: Bank of Scotland Bridges Series". The Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers. Retrieved 12 January 2014. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference qqf was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ "Reinventing the Wheel". gentles.info. Retrieved 13 January 2014. ^ "Design and engineering". The Falkirk Wheel. Retrieved 6 January 2013. ^ Review of the Session. Royal Society of Edinburgh. 2003. pp. 91–92. ^ Cite error: The named reference et was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ a b "Wheel back on roll after vandalism repair work". The Scotsman. 14 October 2002. Retrieved 6 January 2014. ^ "Falkirk Wheel Vandalism". gentles.info. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
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