In days of old, canals meant canal boats hitched to a mule walking along a towpath. Those same towpaths are there today along many of the canals in New York State – the Erie Canal, Champlain Canal and Cayuga-Seneca Canal to name a few. The view today is a little different, as it won’t be mules walking along the towpath, but joggers out running, families on bicycles and the occasional fisherman. The view on the water has changed as well. No longer do you see cargo and oil products being moved by canal boat, rather, you might see a sailboat (with its mast down), a recreational powerboat or occasionally, the blue and yellow workboats of the NY Canal Authority.
The ad above that has been running in maritime periodicals for the past few years illustrates that the scenery could be quite different. As recently as 1994, commercial shipping continued on the canals with the transport of cement from Oswego to Rome on the MV Day Peckinpaugh (seen to the right). Today, the Peckinpaugh is a floating museum in Cohoes, NY. While there are currently no scheduled shipping services on NY canals, a study commissioned by the NY Canal Authority in 2010 determined that they are still commercially viable.
Worldwide, canals are in everyday use and many are recognizable to the general public, such as the Suez, Panama or the Kiel Canal. In general, these canals are more widely known, as they are used by ocean-going vessels and are critical transportation arteries. Less known, but equally important are the canals of Great Britain and Europe that continue to be used for commercial transportation and have been key in relieving congestion on roadways.
In the mid-2000s, the N.Y. Canal Authority put out a request for quote for a hopper barge that would be suitable for use in moving containers on the canals and rivers of N.Y. State. While the outcome of that request is unknown, it is known that no such craft is traveling the N.Y. canals today. If we were looking for a suitable craft to carry cargo on N.Y. canals, we might look to the vessels already in use on the canals in Europe, such as the container and crane barges shown below.
In this era of just in time shipping, there will be commodities and cargoes that would be better shipped by truck or by air. For the remainder, there may well be particular cost savings available for shipping via water.
The waterways are already there – no roads to build – energy to be saved………will we continue to let this asset go to waste?