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The charity making life better by water

Our mechanical and electrical work

Want to know what the Anderton Boat Lift, Blue Bridge in Docklands and Liverpool Docks all have in common? They are all looked after by our mechanical and electrical team, who make sure all of our structures that are either mechanically or electrically operated work smoothly.

There are hundreds of examples of mechanically and electrically operated lifts, bridges and locks on our waterways and we've combined modern technology with our historic structures to make them last longer, make them easier for you to use and make sure that as many people as possible can use them while they are on our canals and rivers.

Here are some examples of the different mechanically and electronically operated structures we look after each day.

Side view of the Anderton Boat Lift on the River Weaver

The Anderton Boat Lift was built in 1875 and connects the Trent & Mersey Canal to the River Weaver. Originally it used a hydraulic counter-balanced system, which was replaced in 1908 by electric operation. However, the lift now works hydraulically again so that boaters and visitors can enjoy the original experience.

There is a wide range of mechanical and electrical equipment used to keep the lift working. These include pumps to keep the well of the lift dry, winches and cables to operate the gates plus a complex hydraulic system.

The whole lift sequence is managed by a programme with switches and sensors and these all need to work correctly to keep the lift moving.

When you add in the fact that Anderton Boat Lift is a scheduled ancient monument and we can't make any changes to components that affect the way the lift looks, it can be a very complex structure to deal with.

Liverpool Canal Link

At Liverpool Docks our staff maintain and operate several mechanical locks, gates and bridges that allow boats to move in and out of the docks. The structures must work effectively as when the tide in the River Mersey is low they ensure that water is kept within the docks.

Also when large ships come in from the river, there is only a small tidal opportunity for this to happen so the structures need to operate correctly to make sure the ship gets in time.

The mechanical and electrical team at Liverpool also maintain hundreds of lights around the site and ensure that electric points which power moored crafts and attractions are working correctly. In addition, they make sure all of the metal handrails are safe and secure to protect the public.

Boats moored in basin with London Docklands in background

There are several moving bridges in and around Docklands including the Blue Bridge on Manchester Road and the Eastern Access Bridge, which is one of the main traffic routes into Canary Wharf. These bridges have to be operated to allow vessels to pass but when you're in the heart of London it only takes a small problem to lead to a lot of disruption. Maintenance is vital.

Also in Docklands, there are three pumps dating from the 1920s, which are used to impound water. When the River Thames is at high tide, the pumps are used to pump water back into Docklands and ensure water levels stay where they need to be.

The three pumps can pump 9000 litres each minute, which would fill an Olympic swimming pool in nine minutes.

Needless to say, there is a system of grilles and a skip to catch all of the debris in the water to stop it damaging the pumps.

The smaller things

It's not just huge structures that need looking after though. We look after the smaller things too like lighting at locks so that you can see what you're up to, sluices that operate automatically depending on water levels and some very small swing and lift bridges.

Last Edited: 11 November 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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