Brussels–Charleroi Canal

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The course of the Brussels-Charleroi Canal.

Coordinates: 50°36′31″N 4°13′28″E / 50.6087°N 4.2244°E / 50.6087; 4.2244

The Brussels–Charleroi Canal, also known as the Charleroi Canal amongst other similar names, (French: canal Bruxelles-Charleroi, Dutch: kanaal Brussel-Charleroi) is an important canal in Belgium. The canal is quite large, with a Class IV Freycinet gauge, and its Wallonian portion is 47.9 kilometres (29.8 mi) long. It runs from Charleroi in the south to Brussels in the north. It is part of a north-south axis of water transport in Belgium, whereby the north of France (via the Canal du Centre) including Lille and Dunkirk and important waterways in the south of Belgium including the Sambre valley and sillon industriel are linked to the port of Antwerp in the north, via the Brussels–Scheldt Maritime Canal which meets the Brussels–Charleroi Canal at the Sainctelette area.

The Ronquières inclined plane is the most remarkable feature of the canal.


Early proposals[edit]

The canal at Godarville.

The idea of a waterway to serve the cities of Hainaut, linking them ultimately with Antwerp, was first put forward during the reign of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396–1467). In 1436, an edict authorized the modification and deepening of the Senne River, though the project turned out to be more expensive than previously thought. The city of Mechelen, the sole city allowed to tax water transport on the Senne, protested extensively at the prospect of the construction of a parallel canal, and the project was abandoned.

During the 16th century, the prospect of a canal was renewed. In 1531, Charles V authorized the construction of a canal linking Charleroi and Willebroek, though work did not begin immediately. It was not until 1550 that Mary of Habsburg, Governor of the Netherlands, finally ordered work to begin. When work was finished in 1561, the canal linked Brussels to the Scheldt at Willebroek, though it did not continue south past Brussels.

As part of France from 1795 to 1815, proposals to build the canal were hampered by Napoleon's focus on waging expansionist wars.

Work begins[edit]

The lock at Ittre.

During the industrial revolution, coal saw a tremendous rise in economic importance. The Sambre and Marne valleys are quite rich in coal, and during the reign of William I of the Netherlands (1813–1840), concrete plans to extend the canal were at last made.

The project was undertaken by A.J. Barthélemy, member of the lower chamber of the States-General of the Netherlands and adviser to the regent in Brussels. He proposed inclined planes be used instead of locks, but his idea was ahead of its time. An inclined plane is quicker, and wastes less water, than a flight of canal locks, but is more costly to install and run. Jean-François Gendebien, a very prominent Belgian politician (although Belgium was then called the Southern Netherlands and was not independent) supported the idea, though finances had the last say in the matter, resulting in locks being chosen over inclined planes.

Today's canal is actually the fourth version. The first version, built from 1827 to 1832, has a gauge of only 70 tonnes (69 long tons; 77 short tons). Just over 20 years later, 1854, work began to create a "large gauge" canal (today's medium gauge) of 300 t (300 long tons; 330 short tons) on certain sections, which was completed in 1857. Ambitious enlargements began again with the lock at Flanders' Gate (Porte de Flandre) in Brussels, which was expanded to a gauge of 600–800 t (590–790 L/T/660–880 S/T).

By 1933, all locks downstream of Clabecq were modified to a capacity of 1,350 tonnes (1,330 long tons; 1,490 short tons). The last major improvement to the canal was the addition of the Class IV, 1350 tonne inclined plane at Ronquières, just uphill of Lock #5 at Ittre. The inclined plane is considered a masterpiece of civil engineering, while the lock has a rise of 13.5 m (44 ft), one of the highest in Belgium.[1]

Recent history[edit]

On 17 December 2005, the body of former Rwandan cabinet minister Juvénal Uwilingiyimana was found in the canal. He had gone missing on 21 November 2005, and when his body was found, it was naked and badly decomposed.[2] Uwilingiyimana had been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for his participation in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He had been meeting with ICTR officials, and many thought he was to testify against high-ranking officials from the former Hutu regime.[2]

Ronquières inclined plane[edit]

The Ronquières inclined plane, the most remarkable feature of the canal.

The Ronquières Inclined Plane has a length of 1,432 m (1,566 yd) and lifts boats through 68 m (223 ft) vertically.[3][4] It consists of two large caissons mounted on rails. Each caisson measures 91 m (299 ft) long by 12 m (39 ft) wide and has a water depth between 3 and 3.70 m (9.8 and 12.1 ft). It can carry one boat of 1,350 tonnes or many smaller boats within the same limits.

The weight of each caisson is held by a counterweight of 5,200 tonnes (5,100 long tons; 5,700 short tons) which runs beneath the rails.[3] Eight cables per caisson running around winches at the top allow each caisson to be moved independently of the other. They can be moved between the two canal levels at a speed of 1.3 m/s (4 ft/s), boats taking 50 minutes in total to pass through the entire structure.[3]

The inclined plane, while still in use, is now being promoted as a tourist site.[1]


  • 1987 - Tonnage: 1 094 000 T - 3084 Barges
  • 1990 - Tonnage: 1 289 000 T - 3346 Barges
  • 2000 - Tonnage: 2 100 000 T - 3471 Barges
  • 2004 - Tonnage: 3 160 000 T - 5155 Barges
  • 2005 - Tonnage: 3 019 000 T - 4812 Barges
  • 2006 - Tonnage: 3 143 000 T - 5215 Barges

Photo gallery[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Plan incliné de Ronquières" (in French). Association pour la Gestion et l'Exploitation touristiques et sportives des Voies d'Eau du Hainaut. September 25, 2007. Retrieved October 5, 2007. 
  2. ^ a b "Canal body 'was Rwandan minister'". BBC News. 2005-12-23. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  3. ^ a b c "The inclined plane of Ronquières". Direction générale des services techniques [of Wallonia]. Archived from the original on June 11, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2007. 
  4. ^ Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses. (1989). Ship lifts: report of a Study Commission within the framework of Permanent ... PIANC. ISBN 978-2-87223-006-8. Retrieved 2011-12-14. 

(in French) Sterling, A., Dambrain, M.: Le Canal de Charleroi à Bruxelles, témoin d'une tradition industrielle. Editions MET, 2001.