Falkirk Wheel

Reinventing the Wheel

British Waterways unveiled the thrilling centrepiece of The Millennium Link canal project in December 1999 – the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first rotating boat lift.

Falkirk Wheel by day
As much a sculpture for the 21st Century as a feat of engineering, the Falkirk Wheel combines state-of-the art engineering, traditional Scottish imagery and marine architecture. Four years in the planning, the Wheel is a collaboration between some of the UK’s brightest architects and engineers, and is already being hailed as a future international landmark.

Designed to reconnect the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the Wheel is the symbol of the £78 million The Millennium Link, the largest UK canal restoration ever and a national landmark project supported by £32 million from the Millennium Commission.

Situated in a natural amphitheatre outside Falkirk, Scotland, the remarkable Wheel is more than just a boat lift. As working art it will be a celebration of the age and a monument to the future.

The Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland says of the scheme:- “There has been a definite attempt to design the Wheel for the 21st Century. This design is considered to be a form of contemporary sculpture. The combination of cultural and technical factors adds considerably to the effectiveness of the overall concept and has resulted in a truly exciting solution.”

Day visitors will be able to experience the thrill of The Wheel from special “trip” boats at the site. On land, a new visitor centre will provide the most sensational vantage point from which to view the Wheel in action.

Falkirk Wheel by night
Led by British Waterways, the scheme combines the international experience of joint-venture contractor Morrison-Bachy-Soletanche with leading specialists from Ove Arup Consultants, Butterley Engineering and Scotland-based architects RMJM. In addition to the Wheel, the site includes the construction of a new section of canal, two aqueducts, three locks, a tunnel, a railway bridge and a canal basin. Construction work began in summer 2000 and will be completed in December 2001.

Wheel Facts & Figures

The only structure of its kind in the world, the Falkirk Wheel will be 115 feet (35 metres) high – the equivalent height of eight double decker buses. It will be 115 feet (35 metres) wide and 100 feet (30 metres) long.
The Wheel will lift loads of 600 tonnes (300 tonnes at each end) – the approximate weight of 100 adult African elephants.
The Wheel will be able to carry eight or more boats at a time and a single trip will take about 15 minutes.
The Wheel will stand in a 330 feet wide circular basin with moorings for more than 20 boats.
The total cost of the Wheel “interchange” is approximately £17 million (includes aqueduct, new canal link, basin and associated works).
The project will involve over 500 construction staff.
The Wheel site takes up 110 acres (45 hectares), the bulk of which includes an abandoned open-cast mine. The project will involve major landscaping and the removal of 300,000 tonnes of soil.
Construction materials include 7,000 cubic metres of concrete, 1,000 tonnes of reinforced steel, 1,200 tonnes of prefabricated steel and 35,000 square metres of canal lining.
The Wheel is designed to last for at least the next 120 years.
The first wheel-based boat lift was proposed by a German engineer at the beginning of the century, though it was never built.
The Falkirk Wheel will be the world’s first rotating boat lift and the first boat lift to be built in Britain since Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire (1875).

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