App to allow boaters to open bridges from phone

An app could open canal bridges.
An app could open canal bridges.
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Boaters could be able to open canal bridges with their mobile phones under future 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 by boaters no longer having 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: “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.”

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 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.

Mr Parkinson said: “This project has looked at new technologies that will improve both customer experience alongside reducing costs to the trust.”

The app provides updates to the user on the progress of the operation, which is monitored by the control room staff using CCTV.

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 for the organisation 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.”

“Due to the high costs associated with projects like this, Scottish Canals currently does not have any plans in place to introduce such technology at this time,” she said.