Canal bosses float notion of boaters’ app to open bridges

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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Boaters would be able to open canal bridges with their mobile phones under plans being considered for the Scottish network.

It follows the introduction of a smartphone app on an English canal which enables remote-controlled operation of five swing bridges from on board barges or sailing boats.

Scottish Canals is examining the possible use of such “self-service” technology, which triggers traffic lights and warning signs on roads to bring vehicles to a halt, then activates the bridge mechanism. Lasers check the bridge is clear of cars and pedestrians before opening.

It would speed up the operation as boaters would no ­longer have to wait for canal staff, and they would not need to disembark from their ­vessel.

Scottish Canals infrastructure director Richard Millar is keen to examine the technology’s potential in Scotland.

He said: “There is a trial on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, which includes several trunk road bridges over the canal. Scottish Canals is thinking as innovatively as we can.

“Rather than having to wait for the bridge keeper to arrive, boaters could operate the bridge using an app.”

However, funding would be required to develop the scheme and is not currently available. Scottish Canals has yet to identify suitable bridges for a future trial on its network, which includes the Union and Forth & Clyde canals between Bowling in West Dunbartonshire, Grangemouth and Edinburgh; the Crinan Canal in Argyll, and the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands.

The innovation was highlighted at the World Canals Conference in Inverness in September by Darren Parkinson of the Canals & Rivers Trust – formerly British Waterways.

Mr Parkinson said: “The trust currently has 14 mechanised bridges on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal that are operated by staff for the use of boaters. Manning of these bridges is not only costly but has a number of negative impacts on customer service.”

He described such costs as “excessive”, and said closure of the bridges for two days a week in winter caused major 
frustration for boaters and limited the canals’ economic development potential.

Scottish Canals said it still needed to find a way of paying for the technology, which has saved £500,000 a year on the Severn canal.

A spokeswoman said: “Scottish Canals is continuing to watch with interest the work the Canal & River Trust are doing in relation to developing technology to allow user operation of bridges through smartphone apps.”