IT WAS shortly after Canal & River Trust was created that came its decision to put the maintenance of the waterways in the hands of contractors.
Such has been the standard of maintenance since that time that it has resulted in the record low of having up to 33 stoppages in one month. Stoppages.
The problem, as regular readers will be well aware, is that the standard of maintenance/repairs is so poor that all too soon it again fails with contractors having to be called back for another attempt.
All too often locks and swing/lift bridges are 'repaired' but then again fail, and in many cases not once, but time and time again.
During last week it was reported that the gates on Small Hunts Lock (pictured) on the Weaver had to be reset as they were leaking too badly. Yet these self-same gates had been replaced only two years previously, but obviously not properly, as we are informed that next year there will be a three weeks closure to fix them.
Yet some 20 years ago a set of gates on the Weaver was installed by the then British Waterways Board in three days!
Then take the case of the stoppage on the Ripon Canal where boaters were stuck in the marina for months. It was first stated there were two voids in Ripon Lock but only one was attended to that took many months to repair. Then a few months later—of course—the second void failed so the boaters were stuck yet again as the lock was closed yet again.
Where was the sense in that? Double the cost?
Swing and lift bridges
There is little doubt that the contractors fail miserably as far as repairing swing and lift bridges are concerned. Take Coxhead on the Leeds & Liverpool, (pictured) that failed three times this year, in February, August and October.
Then there's the Winkwell on the Grand Union, in competition for failures, with it out of action in January, June and November. You're not telling me this is normal maintenance?
It was in November that the Winkwell joined the Crabtree and Brewery Swing Bridge making it three giving up the ghost in one day—how's that for good maintenance?
On the 13th September Wood End Lift Bridge on the Peak Forest failed, closing the navigation—for exactly a month it remained closed being reopened on the 14th October. Then it failed again on the 21st of the month—the 'repair' lasting just seven days.
And September was the month when ten lift bridges failed in the single month! That really takes some doing!
What does it all add up to? I reckon the trust is being ripped-off time after time for having to pay over and over again for what are basically the same repairs. Little wonder it is so worried about cash.
Which most surely would have been saved if it employed its own people who knew exactly what they were doing instead of those that obviously do not.
And indeed—why does it usually take five days, or multiples of, for contractors to complete a job? Filling-in for a working week, obviously.
Well proved when we encounted the stoppage at Irvin's Lock on the Leicester Section that to attend to leaking gates two strips had been installed (pictured)—that we were told by one of the contractors on the Friday had taken a week!
Wolverhampton 21 (pictured) has for many years had a problem with vandals—yes, I accept it in this case—even to the setting-up of police patrols we are informed, with CaRT 'looking at any further ways to prevent vandals from operating the locks'.
One way would be to make an attempt to replace the broken anti-vandal locks and also include them on the paddles without them, and there are many—that we noticed when we last went that-a-way.
A decent anti-vandal lock, key operated, should do the trick.
Another navigation that has always suffered from vandals in the Erewash, especially around Ilkeston, but the 'T' keys lock is pretty useless, as I have been shown 10mm sockets fixed at the end of a screwdriver that easily open the locks.
And so leaves the paddles at the mercy of the vandals.
Water by canal
I see there is another suggestion for moving drinking water by the Grand Union from the midlands to the south east.
Looking back some ten years, I see this is not the first time this scheme has been put forward, but then the sponsors realised that the Grand Union goes quite a way uphill, so it was squashed.
But the latest is having new pipelines plus a couple of water treatment plants, it tells, to treat water before it's distributed into the canal and an array of pumps to keep the water moving.
Knowing of the stuff that ends up in the canal I would have thought the treatment plant would be better when the water leaves the waterway. After all, this is not a Llangollen Canal area, winding through the countryside, providing drinking water but a waterway through built-up areas, towns and the like, and regrettably a rubbish tip for many.
And it needs to raise the banks of the canal in one part, which is rather worrying.