Three Gorges Probe

Three Gorges shiplock not up to speed

Oriental Outlook Weekly (Liaowang dongfang zhoukan)
October 27, 2004

Improving navigation on the Yangtze was a chief justification for going ahead with the Three Gorges project, but so far the dam’s shiplock has proved to be a bottleneck and delays have become routine.

This article is based on a story published in Oriental Outlook Weekly (Liaowang dongfang zhoukan) on Oct. 20, 2004.

Improving navigation on the Yangtze River was cited as a chief
justification for going ahead with the Three Gorges dam, but so far the
project’s shiplock has proved to be a bottleneck. Delays have become
routine, Oriental Outlook Weekly (Liaowang dongfang zhoukan) reports.


Three Gorges shiplock

Luckily the holdups at the dam are not normally as severe as one that
occurred last spring. At one point during the 23-day closure of the
shiplock’s upstream chambers for inspection, 900 vessels became caught
in a giant floating traffic jam that lasted five days, as boatloads of
fresh produce and meat slowly rotted.

Though both sections of the shiplock are now back in operation, an
average of 30 boats a day are still not able to make it through the
dam. Shipping companies are being forced to move some freight overland
around the dam. And so, in addition to a string of boats waiting on the
river to enter the shiplock, a long line of trucks coming from roll-on,
roll-off vessels can be seen clogging the road for several kilometres
near the dam.

The Three Gorges shiplock went into trial operation on June 18,
2003. By the end of May of this year, an average of 222 boats were
passing through the shiplock every day, only 57 per cent of designed
capacity. Two complete open-and-close cycles of the shiplock are taking
one hour and 56 minutes, almost twice as long as projected (59.7
minutes, according to the original plans).

The Three Gorges Navigation Bureau submitted an urgent report to
Chinese leaders in March of this year, in which it blamed most of the
problems at the shiplock on design flaws. It said that whether or not
boats were "standardized" played a far less important role in the
navigation delays than the dam authority claimed.

The water level in the reservoir is now normally kept at 139 metres
above sea level. Boats pass through four chambers as the shiplock
raises them to the higher water level above the dam, or takes them to
the lower river level downstream. When the reservoir is raised to a
planned 156 metres in 2006, all five chambers of the shiplock will be
pressed into service. Experts who have been involved in inspections of
the structure worry that delays at the dam will get even worse when the
shiplock becomes a five-stage operation.

One remedial step that has been proposed is to transfer some freight
– and possibly some passengers, too – overland around the dam as a
long-term strategy. Roll-on, roll-off ports that were built to
facilitate the movement of freight around the dam during the project
construction phase may therefore be busy on a permanent basis.

Navigation officials who believe the one-step shiplift will help to
ease traffic congestion at the dam want it built as soon as possible.
Construction of the shiplift, which will be the largest in the world
both in terms of height and hoisting capacity, is scheduled to start
next year and to be completed in 2009.


Translation by Three Gorges Probe (Chinese) editor Mu Lan.


Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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