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Lock gate replacement by ECS restores navigation in Caledonian Canal

28th May 2020
ECS Engineering Services has completed the installation of 2 sets of lock gates at Kytra Lock, on the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. The operation, part of a refurbishment investment by Scottish Canals, was vital to maintain the navigation of the historic waterway.

The Caledonian Canal opened in 1822 and runs for 60 miles across the Scottish Highlands. The watercourse offers a unique scenic setting, as it passes through famous lochs, such as Loch Ness, and runs next to Urquhart Castle and the mountain scenery at Fort William. The canal’s fascinating environment and heritage attracts over 1,400 boats every year. Therefore, ensuring their safe and secure navigation whilst preserving the natural and historical features of the waterway is of the utmost importance.

In its ongoing commitment to improve reliability and safety of the waterway, Scottish Canals regularly inspects the conditions of the many lock complexes along the canal, including examining the upstream and downstream lock gates at Kytra, a particularly popular location between Fort Augustus and Loch Oich.

Celebrating technology and heritage in lock gate manufacturing

The investigation revealed the need to replace all of the upstream and downstream steel lock gates. The new systems would have to retain the traditional design and materials of the original gates. In this way, they would seamlessly integrate with their surroundings, keep their technical and historical significance and maintain the individual character of the Caledonian Canal.

To complete this highly complex and specialised project, Scottish Canals appointed a number of experienced framework contractors, including ECS Engineering Services to deliver this highly critical project. ECS were appointed to survey, design, manufacture and install the new lock gates, thanks to its ability to deliver high-quality engineering solutions for water control installations and its expertise in handling environmentally sensitive settings.

After conducting an exhaustive survey, ECS developed an upgraded design of lock gates, suitable for the structure, in its Sutton-in-Ashfield factory in Nottinghamshire. The structure would not only match the historical design, but also feature an extended service life. The two pairs of lock gates combining steel and traditional Douglas fir timber elements, are 6.5 metres wide. The downstream gates are 8.27m high and weigh 18.65 tonnes, whereas the two upstream lock gates have a height of 5.89m and weigh 13.3 tonnes.

The anatomy of a lock gate replacement

The installation of such large structures, restricted to the winter months to reduce any disruption to boaters and tourists walking the towpath close by, was conducted in different stages. First, the new lock gates were transported to Fort Augustus. There, different components, such as seals and sluice gates, were built onto the gates prior to installing them in the canal. In this way, ECS could considerably shorten the time required to mount the systems onsite.

Subsequently, a section of the canal covering Kytra Lock upstream and downstream gates was drained to support the removal of the old lock gate systems and installation of the new ones.

Water control on a project of this size is difficult so, after careful consideration, it was agreed to build a temporary dam that would help to regulate the ingress of water in the drained canal section. The 2000-tonne stone structure would provide safe access to conduct the replacement work for the duration of the project.

Brian Rhodes, Project Manager at ECS, explains: “While the design of Kytra Lock historical gates is similar to modern solutions, there are some differences that should be carefully considered during installation. Our extensive knowledge and experience in replacing navigational locks was crucial to complete the project in a timely manner and deliver a reliable and fully functioning lock system.”

In addition, the onsite activities were made even more challenging by winter weather conditions. These created a particularly harsh environment for ECS staff, especially when manoeuvring the gates into their lock chambers. Despite these issues, ECS was able to complete the installation efficiently and check its correct alignment as well as the absence of leaks on time.

Unlocking future collaborations

Following the replacement of the lock gates, ECS installed replacement walkways and other ancillary equipment back onsite, the temporary dam was dismantled and access to the waterway and the towpath was reopened to the public. Immediately after the successful refurbishment of Kytra Lock structures, ECS replaced a pair of nearby lock gates, located in Fort Augustus.

Tom Burgin, Project Engineer at ECS, comments: “This project faced many different challenges, nonetheless ECS managed to handle them successfully. In particular, while onsite operations had to be delayed due to poor weather conditions, ECS was able to work collaboratively with the main contractor in order to minimise the impact of these extraordinary circumstances.”

Brian Rhodes concludes: “By completing the refurbishment of Kytra Lock gates, ECS is offering further proof of its comprehensive capabilities to complete challenging water control projects in environmentally sensitive locations as well as in historical and heritage sites. We are delighted to know that Scottish Canals was extremely satisfied with our work and we look forward to supporting the organisation in the future.”


Image 1: The two pairs of lock gates combining steel and traditional Douglas fir timber elements, are 6.5 metres wide.

Image 2: ECS Engineering Services has completed the installation of 2 sets of lock gates at Kytra Lock, on the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.

Image 3: ECS Engineering Services were appointed to survey, design, manufacture and install the new lock gates.

About ECS Engineering Services

ECS Engineering Services has over 30 years experience in delivering high quality, reliable and cost effective engineering solutions, specialising in bespoke design and construction of water, energy and environmental processing and management projects.

In conjunction with key supply partners, ECS has the expertise and capacity to design and install a wide range of water control engineering projects. With in-house fabrication services, which have CE Marking approval to EXC4, well equipped and highly skilled engineers can also complete structural steelwork, bespoke fabrication work and access metalwork to the highest standard.

With a complete range of site services available, ECS offers a full turnkey project managed service for mechanical and electrical installations including managing civils contractors and supplying pipework, control and automation work to ensure that every installation is installed and commissioned to the highest standard. Existing clients include the majority of the UK Water Utility companies, Government Agencies and Internal Drainage Boards.

Editorial Contact: Jake Lacey-Watts

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ECS Engineering Services: Steve Crapper

Tel: +44 (0)1773 860001



Address: Fulwood Road South, Sutton-In-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, NG17 2JZ, United Kingdom