Thursday, 09 Jul 2020
 
 
History of Danube-Oder-Elbe waterway PDF Print E-mail
Article Index
History of Danube-Oder-Elbe waterway
From the industrial revolution to World Wars
The D-O-E waterway and Greater German Reich
The project in the time when “tomorrow meant yesterday already”
Europe is getting interested
All Pages

Moravia and the Moravian Gate - Beginning of navigation on Moravia

It is surprising that for centuries projects of canals leading to the west and north from the Danube had avoided the easiest route to pass the European watershed – via the unusually low Moravian Gate. By land, the route was used as early as in Neolith for so-called Amber Trail. From its fields on the Baltic amber was shipped along the trail to the far south. Baltic amber was later found in tombs of pharaohs, in Babylonia, in Crete, and in Mycenae. There are also interesting remarks about small boats coming along the Morava all the way to the mouth of the Bečva, i.e. to the immediate proximity of the low watershed. Similarly, on the Oder they used to reach the mouth of the Opava. In its decrees, the Moravian Land Assembly made sure that dams, built for the water power utilization, would not prevent boats and rafts from free passing.

Stará rytina zachycující řeku Moravu pod hradem Devín dokumentuje, že lodě byly proti proudu taženy koňmi 

Old engraving showing the Morava river below the castle Devin documented that the ships were pulled upstream by horses.

 

“About timber floating on the river Morava, when it gets watered, as we have agreed, all who own shutters on the Morava, must see to it that timber could freely float, i.e. namely from the upcoming st. Wenceslas’ Day. Those not providing for the free floating channel as mentioned above will be fined to pay 100 three-scores of sous to the Land.”

The Decree of the Moravian Land Assembly from Monday after St. John the Baptist’s Day (June 26th, 1542)  

Consequently, a special committee for inspection of the bad navigational situation was established on May 11th, 1579. As early as at the Moravian Land Assembly meeting in 1653, its representatives agreed not only to make the Morava navigable but also to connect it to the Oder. The decree could be considered the first impulse for building the Danube – Oder canal.  

"As His royal and Imperial Highness continuously and most graciously remembers the common wealth of the hereditary margraviate, namely, he likes to see to better and fluent trading with the neighbouring lands, as well as to ease the pass of goods and crafts available there, and to provide such means as to achieve these goals. since different reports have humbly advised His royal and Imperial Highness that the Morava river was found rather convenient for boating, he liked to pass it down to his duets and obedient estates for considering and thorough examination in order not to omit immediate employing of certain subjects to execute the task with a minimum cost and delay."

The Special Article on Establishing Navigation on the Morava from 1653  

The Assembly indeed did not “omit” anything and delegated a committee from all the involved assembly estates. At the same time, Ferdinand III, advised by the court chamber, addressed a letter to the current Moravian district officer Count Johann from Rottal (dated September 30, 1653 in Regensburg). He announces that at the last conference of the land chamber it was proposed to ship the Alpine salt along the Danube and Morava Rivers instead on horse carts. The emperor obviously liked the possibility of lowering the shipping costs and the consequent rise of the profit. So he sends to Moravia the Italian architect and engineer, Filibert Luchese, to inspect the course of the river and propose a solution how to regulate it for navigation. Having obtained a district officer’s patent, Luchese immediately sets off. On February 13, 1654, he already reports back to the Emperor. In his extensive report, he proposes to clear the riverbanks and establish a towpath, as well as to build 15 pools, which would periodically release water in case of drought. On March 9, 1654, the Court Chamber passed the project to the Czech Court Office, with the Land District Officer recommendation to cover all costs by corveé labour. However, the unsettled times never allowed the project to get any further: on April 2, 1657 Emperor Ferdinand III died and his ancestor Leopold I discontinued his efforts. Shortly afterwards, the Osmanian troops burst into Moravia, and when in 1663, the army besieged Vienna, the court probably worried about completely different things.  

 

Lothar Vogemont  

Lothar Vogemont’s Moravian activities mark another historical milestone. His person as well as his remarkable ideas is mentioned in tracts and essays on numerous European waterway projects. His origin has never been fully clarified. Some sources call him a Lotrine priest, which also matches his surname – “a Vogeso monte”, i.e. from the Vosges Mountains. Some assume his origin was Dutch. The only certain thing is that one of his Latin tracts named „Dissertatio de utilitate, possibilitate et modo conjuctionis Danubii cum Odera, Vistula & Albi fluviis, per canalem navigabilem“ (Dissertation on utility, possibility and manner of connecting the Danube with the Oder, Vistula and Elbe Rivers by a navigable canal) from 1700 is the first actual proposal of the connection of the Danube not only with the Oder, but also with the Elbe, i.e. the very first project of a complete interconnection the Danube – Oder – Elbe as perceived today. Meanwhile its routing employed the lowest passes of the European watershed – the Moravian Gate and the relatively low mountain range gaps around Česká Třebová. The author must have been thoroughly familiar with the details of the river network and terrain along the line dividing the Danube, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea catchment areas. A more profound examination of the above-mentioned tract, however, leads to a surprising discovery, which slightly complicates the picture of the mysterious Vogemont and his lucid ideas. It impels deeper pondering on the ideas commonly shared 300 years ago. The subtitle of the dissertation suggests a lot: “cum duobus paradoxis demonstratis de motu aquae in fluminibus“ [With the explanation of two opposing opinions on water flowing in riverbeds]. What does it actually stand for? Although Vogemont had a correct idea of the easiest routes for crossing the European watershed, he was fatally wrong as for the most convenient manner of its technical realization. More than half of his tract is dedicated to the reasons why water flows in flatland rivers even though the surface – as Vogemont assumes – is horizontal, i.e. it has no incline. He claims that the reason is to be found in the inflowing water of the river feeders: it displaces a certain area and thus makes the water masses move along the horizontal riverbed. He even refers to the contemporary top scientists.  

"The thing is rather clear. Those are the words of Mr. Gulielmini, a noted mathematician at the university in Bologna, who clarifies the phenomenon in his recent and most commendable work titled “A tract on the meaning of flowing waters“, head I, chapter 3, par. 1... Movement of the water stream ahead is based on the physical law, which says that the first cannot take place of the other, unless the place is vacated."

Lothar Vogemont: „Dissertatio de utilitate, possibilitate et modo conjuctionis Danubii cum Odera, Vistula & Albi fluviis, per canalem navigabilem“, Notes, par. 2 and 5.  

 This mistake, supported by other reasoning and drafts, leads him to a conclusion that water could flow even along a tangent to the Earth globe surface, e.g. it could flow in a “horizontal” canal from the meeting of the Morava with the Dyje to the watershed with no need for construction of a lock cascade. Although the first canals with such locks were built exactly in his time, and Vogemont must have been familiar with their construction (in his tract he refers to the technical solution of the above mentioned French canal du Languedoc), he considered the alternative option with such devices much less convenient.  Strictly speaking, the notion of horizontal surface of flowing water, which Vogemont as well as other contemporary scholars recognized, contradicts Bernoulli’s theorem on the rules of fluid flow, and even the law of conservation of energy. Incidentally, Daniel Bernoulli, a significant Swiss mathematician and physicist, who introduced the basic rules of hydrodynamics, was only born in 1700, the year when Vogemont’s tract came out. The slips of the “father” of the D–O–E canal thus deserve a little benevolence.  

Mapa Lothara Vogemonta uveřejněná v r. 1712. Vyznačena trasa průplavu od Přerova až k Odře a zařízení na zvedání člunů. V pravé části mapa vodních toků na Moravě. SOkA Přerov

Lothar Vogemont map published in 1712 show the route of the canal from Přerov to Oder  river and equipment for lifting boats. On the right side of the map is map of rivers on Moravia. State District Archive Přerov.

 

Other projects and partial achievements  

Throughout the 18th and in the first years of the 19th century, the vision of the navigable Morava and the canal to the Oder remained a task which many an engineer challenged with ever more sophisticated projects. They also show and increasing trace of foreign influence. In 1719, Colonel Norbert Wenzel von Linck of Uherské Hradiště fort submitted a proposal how to regulate the Morava for navigation. The map shows also the canal to the Oder, branching off the Bečva at Hustopeče. According to Linck’s project, a lock at Rohatec was built in 1722. It is the very first construction of its type in the Czech territory, as the other oldest locks (often mentioned in literature) on the Vltava in Županovice and Modřany were only built between 1729 and 1730. The Lock at Rohatec also proves that Vogemont’s ideas of making the flatland rivers navigable through the “horizontal” water surface had been abandoned a mere quarter of a century after issuing of his Latin tract.

Approximately at the same time the Olomouc councillor Jan Kryštof Dimbter and Salomon Beer Beckh published their project. Salomon Beer Beckh suggested to maintain the Morava navigability at his own expense, and to establish a towpath on its riverbanks for both people and horses. In exchange, Beckh was granted a privilege of salt shipping along the river all the way to the Napajedla state salt-house. As the example illustrates, making a river navigable meant mainly clearing the banks (shrubbing) to give the ropes enough space, or other towpath alternations in order to allow the barges to be towed upstream. The river stream itself took care of the opposite direction. Such practice was common on most larger “navigable“ rivers. In the following years sighting of the Morava and projects of its regulation for either navigation or flood-prevention purposes are connected with the names of Franciscus Josephus Wieland (1723), J. K. Altomante, Jan Křoupal (1741), and Collonel Brequin (1771).

 

The old engraving from the collection of Bad schandau Museum illustrates hard work of towing crews (“Bomätscher“) struggling up the Elbe stream. On the Elbe human force was used in barge towing till the beginning of 19th century, as shown in c. E. sprinck’s drawing of the river near Königstein close to the czech–saxon border.

Jan Rochus Dorfleuthner, a Hodonín wood merchant, deserves probably the highest credit for development of the Morava navigation. In 1780 he drew up plans on making the Morava navigable up to Olomouc. He also offered to finance the works and operate the navigation in exchange for certain privileges. Emperor Joseph II approved of Dorfleuthner’s proposal and in 1785 the merchant was granted a privilege to operate the river navigation. Like in the case of Salomon Bekh, it was in fact the popular PPP system (Public Private Partnership) of today. Dorfleuthner’s boats carried mainly wood, but reportedly also other substrates: cereals and other agricultural products, salt, craft products etc., and reached as far as to Veselí nad Moravou. During the time, when the company was active, the second Moravian lock was built at the dam in Hodonín. However, the navigation technology could hardly compare to present-day concepts. In good conditions, wooden barges, towed by horses upstream, could carry 30 – 40 tons in the lower section; even smaller vessels, carrying 10 tons, were used upstream from Hodonín. Barges delivered tobacco for a factory in Hodonín also.  

In the same year (1780), a company operating the Morava navigation was founded and a unified navigation regulations were issued. The idea of a canal to the Oder reappeared when the French engineer F. J. Maire designed a unified and systematic plan of canals connecting individual rivers to the Adriatic Sea (1785). The draft included also the Danube–Vltava and the Danube–Oder canals. Jan Alois from Hankenstein published a document on making the Morava navigable and negotiations of the Moravian (Versuch über die Schiffbarmachung des Flusses March un Handlung der Mährer). In its response engineer Stošek of the construction directorship designed a complete project of the Morava regulation for navigability. In 1804 the court councillor Wiebeking carried out his research on the Morava and designed a plan how to adjust the river for navigation and to reduce its flooding. In 1807 a private company for the Morava navigation was founded to site in Brno. They pondered the idea of connecting the river to the Oder as proposed in the project of the court councillor Wiebeking. The government in Vienna assigned the project to be evaluated by the court councillor engineer Joseph Shemerl, who then produced his own very sophisticated proposal in 1809. An important milestone of the waterway network development was reached in 1815 when the Congress of Vienna declared free navigation. It was the first step to legal regulations on the international rivers, i.e. rivers emptying to a sea. Although the time was obviously not short of projects, practically only a certain progress of the Morava navigation was registered, and its primitive standards could no way measure up to inland navigation on canals in Britain, France or Germany. It could hardly aspire to be gradually joining the modern transport system as its independent constituent. Construction of the canal to the Oder and Elbe, which could have become such an impulse and could have meant a more expansive approach to making the Morava navigable, unfortunately stopped at the phase of preliminary considerations. Thus, it was probably quite realistic, when in 1824 the Moravian representatives announced that navigability of the Morava was desirable only if a canal connection to the Oder was to be built. 

 

From the industrial revolution to World Wars

The development took a significant turn when in 1873 Prof. Oelwein and Ing. Pontzen presented the Anglo-Austrian Bank with their project of the D–O–E canal designed for vessels carrying 240 tons.

The route branched off the Danube at Grossenzersdorf, east of Vienna, and ran along the right Morava riverbank to Otrokovice, to follow along the left bank of the Morava and Bečva to Hranice and further on to the Oder valley at Bohumín. The same routing was later copied by most other projects until the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918.  

In 1873 the canal was authorized by both chambers of Vienna’s parliament. In the same year the bank got a concession for the canal construction.

However, the economic crisis of 1873 postponed its realization. The concession was eventually sold to the North Railway of Kaiser Ferdinand, which thus liquidated its competition. This interference proves two points: firstly, Oelwein and Pontzen’s project represented an unomittable threat to the railway; secondly, the competition between the private-funded waterway and the state-favoured railway was far from being fair. It was, in fact, the first purposeful and uncompromising attack on the idea of the canal, which was to recur in different forms many more times in future.  

 

The D–O–E corridor guaranteed by law

In 1893, the Ministry of Trade in Vienna established a department of research and  construction of canals, which drew up a project of the Danube–Oder canal and proposed  its connection to the Middle Elbe as well as to the Vistula and the Dniester. The  project already took into account barges carrying 600 tons, as they dominate the Danube,  Elbe and Oder of that time. The department work also more precisely outlined  the orientation on a modern concept of the waterway and other concrete steps.  At the beginning of the 20th century, these activities led to political efforts for  enforcement of the so-called waterways act. On March 16, 1900, a meeting of the  Chamber of Trade and Commerce in Prague demanded that the Middle Elbe and the Middle Vltava were canalized, and the canal Danube–Oder–Elbe was built in order  to expand the transportation infrastructure. The demand was justified by the fact that  the Czech Lands would have to share construction costs of strategic railways in the  Alps. In his speech from the throne at the Chamber of Deputies from February 4 of  the same year, Franz Joseph I explicitly expressed the interest in navigation and faster  regulation of rivers as a part of the government’s political objectives. In the imperial  council the deputies of the Czech National Liberal Party supported the idea of the  D–O–E canal construction unambiguously; the others rather differed as their interests  in canal building and river canalization clashed with concerns for land amelioration. The  canal idea was then supported also by deputies of Lower Austria, Silesia and Galicia.  Development of waterways in the Czech Lands was actively advocated especially  by the Czech National Liberal deputies Ing. Jan Kaftan and JUDr. Václav Šílený. 

They proposed to establish a fund for building canals from the budget overplus of  22 mill. crowns a year. In March 1901, in cooperation with the deputies of Lower  Austria, Silesia and Galicia, they designed an outline of the canal construction and  river navigability act. However, the government created their own concept of the act.  After suggestion proceedings, which emphasized more profound river regulations for  agricultural reasons, the waterways act was presented to the Imperial Assembly.  At the waterways act parliamentary hearing in May 29 – June 1, 1901, the Czech  deputies tied their assent to construction of the costly Alps railway to acceptance of  the waterways act. After a boisterous discussion, the waterways act was eventually  accepted at the voting rate of 198 : 46, while 181 deputies were absent. The  Reichsrat recognized the act on June 10, 1901 after a much more matter-of-fact  discussion, and it was signed on June 11, 1901.  The estimated costs of the waterways construction, as included in the Act from June  11, 1901 “of construction of waterways and regulation of rivers”, are listed in the following  chart: 

Vodocestný zákon

The waterway Act, 1901 

The directorship started its  work in 1902 and sited in Vienna. Later its branch offices open also in  Prague (1903), Cracow (1905) and in Přerov (1907). 

The Directorship for Construction of Waterways drew up a building programme  for the first stage (1904–1912) with the budget of 185.3 mill. crowns.  They assigned a number of studies concerning vessel types, canal cross-sections,  types of locks, bridges, aqueducts, and they carried out a lot of fieldwork. The  international competition to design a 36 meter boat lift at Újezd (south from  Přerov) was one of the significant events of the preparation procedures, announced  on April 30, 1903. Although later, the idea of the high lift was abandoned  in favour of smaller locks, the “Přerov competition“ has kept its all-European  (if not world-wide) significance for the progress in the waterway building  engineering. The following chapter is dedicated entirely to this event.    

Nevertheless, it would be unfair not to list at least the modest results of the  plan realization. Still in the time of the monarchy, some locks and dams of the  Middle Elbe between Mělník and Jaroměř were prepared and built (locks and  dams in Hadík, Obříství and dam in Hradec Králové). Others were under construction  and later finished in the first years of the Czechoslovak Republic, like  locks and dams in Lobkovice, Kolín, Poděbrady and in Nymburk (to be precise,  we should mentions even the dam in Předměřice above Hradec Králové, which  broke down in 1932 and had to be rebuilt later). Especially interesting is to  compare them with the locks and dams on the Lower Elbe (their construction  was guaranteed by a previous programme of the Committee on canalization  of the Elbe and the Vltava in Bohemia). On Moravia were been modified rivers for navigation and was built dam Bystricka in the years 1907-1912, which purpose supply of the canal by water. In the latter case, collapsible dams  with frames and needles (or shutters, respectively) were built (perhaps even for  economic reasons), although they were operation-intensive and did not allow  winter navigation. The projects carried out within the Waterways Act, on the  other hand, used modern compact constructions, which – with few exceptions  – have worked until today. Thus, the Waterways Act introduced also qualitative  changes to the waterway engineering. Moreover, some of the top architects of  the time carried out design of the individual projects.    

However, the on-coming First War  interrupted all the works. The consecutive breakup of the Danube Monarchy  then shattered all legal norms and regulations passed in the time of its existence. 

Map from book of Jan Antonin Bata "Let's build a state of 40 million people" show the use of all transport routes for the development of Czechoslovakia.

The technical solution of the D-O-E waterway drew on the previously proposed routing with one difference: the Danube join-point was no longer planned close to Vienna but rather at Devín. Thus, the routing thoroughly respected the Czechoslovak territory and remained independent on Austria. At this transitional stage, a new legal regulation was being prepared in order to substitute the imperial Waterways Act. Such regulation had not appeared until June 11, 1919, when the Act n. 33 was adopted on competences of waterway constructions, and later the Act n. 50/1931 from March 27, 1931 on the state fund for making rivers navigable, construction of ports and reservoirs, and for waterpower utilization.

The only dam was built on the Czech part of Oder and completed close to Koblov in 1937. His plaque proclaiming "First Lock and Dam on the Danube-Oder canal".

Zdymadlo Střekov

Masaryk dam and lock at Strekov near Usti nad Labem was completed in 1936.

Continued work on the Middle Elbe, which in the stretch Mělník–Pardubice represents an access route to the actual canal. In the brief time between the wars, this section featured 7 locks and dams under construction, which were completed shortly afterwards: at Přelouč, Kostelec nad Labem, Brandýs nad Labem, Lysá nad Labem, Kostomlátky, Srnojedy and Čelákovice. The lock and dam Klavary was nearly finished as well. In the section of Hradec Králové, the dam Smiřice was established; at the same time the lock and dam at Střekov on the Lower Elbe was built, which completed canalization of the section. Also the Hradištko lock and dam construction began to be finished only during the war.

Staunch advocate of the speedy construction of the waterway Danube-Oder was an entrepreneur Tomas Bata. He built so-called Baťa Canal from Otrokovice to Rohatec. The waterway was built in 1934–1938 in relationship with an irrigation system. The company Baťa financed half of the costs of the navigation part, evaluated as 13,339,000 crowns. The other half of the navigation part was covered by the Ministry of Social Affairs as a project of “productive care for the unemployed”. The waterway of total 51 kms in length was fitted with 14 locks, which sizewise corresponded with the French “Freycinet gabarit“. The barges were of the same length and width as the French type “péniche”, although without the relevant carrying capacity (270 tons at the draft of 1.80 ms) and carried only 150 tons at the admissible draft of 1.20 ms. The navigation of the canal opened on December 2, 1938, the main shipped substrate being lignite from the mines of the Baťa company at Rohatec to the plant heat station in Otrokovice. Even though there were suggestions to prolong the isolated small waterway down south to the Danube, they were of no concrete concept. In any case, it is to be noted that navigation on Baťa Canal was the second truly serious attempt for transport utilization of the Morava after the 150 years old Dorfleuthner’s project.  

The Central Office of Czechoslovak Commercial and Trade Chambers was struggled for the fastest possible engagement of Czechoslovakia as an inland country in the European network of modern and reliable waterways. Also notable were activities of the Association of the Danube–Oder Canal. It was established on the initial impulse of Ostrava industrial circles, which in 1937 donated 1 million crowns for the prompt preparation of the canal project. The constitutive assembly took place on February 5, 1938, its founding members being lands, municipalities and industrial enterprises.

 Baťův kanál, konec 30. let

Baťa canal, end of the 30th the 20th century.

 


 

 

The D-O-E waterway and Greater German Reich

In the end, the strongest political efforts for realization of the project had to come from the outside, i.e. from Germany: after the “Anschlus” of Austria in March 1938, the Reich waterway network integration was its life priority. Due to serious political crisis in Czechoslovakia (the Munich Agreement in September 1939, autonomy of Slovakia and establishment of labile Czecho-Slovakia one month later) the Czech side was under an intense German pressure. Eventually it led to the German-Czech-Slovak Protocol, signed on November 1938, which treated the manner of realization of the Oder–Danube Canal and its Elbe branch. The first meeting of the Committee for Construction and Operation of the Danube–Oder Canal took place as early as on November 20, 1938. Within the preparation procedures a new project of the waterway was drawn. The construction was estimated to last 6 years, the costs were to reach 500 mill. RM. To overcome the rise there were 27 double locks proposed of the dimensions 225 x 12 ms. Later, when canal lifts were inserted, the number of locks and lifts between the Danube and the Oder came down to 16–19. However, the high canal lifts forced the route of the canal through some rather demanding terrain.  

Na gliwický kanál dokončený v roce 1939 navázala stavba průplavu Dunaj-Odra.

On Gliwice canal, completed in 1939, followed construction of the Danube-Oder canal.

The bottom width of the canal was to spread to 32 ms, the surface width to 45 ms, the depth of some sections was reaching 4 ms; the design took already into account vessels carrying 1,000 tons. The German side insisted on the original routing branching off the Danube at Vienna. The adopted protocol created a kind of a paradox situation: Czechoslovakia was forced by a hostile country to carry out a project, which was crucial for development of the local transport infrastructure in Czechoslovakia, and which the local irresolute politicians had been postponing.

Místo slavnostího výkopu dnes. Na Gliwický kanál navazuje 6 km dlouhý úsek průplavu Dunaj-Odra.

The place of grounbreaking ceremony for the Oder-Danube Canal on December 8, 1939 near Nowa Wieś close to Kędzierzyn. From  south to north is Gliwice canal with a wide mouth of a 6-km stretch of Oder-Danube Canal on left - a branch canal for the chemical factory in Kędzierzyn.

The groundbreaking ceremony of the Oder–Danube Canal took place on the eve of the second war: on December 8, 1939 near Kędzierzyn in the contemporary Poland. However, the works proceeded only very slowly forward as the final plans of the canal routing had not been finished yet. The works commenced even at the other end of the waterway at Vienna. The 6-km channel, which was then excavated, is today used for recreation. As an advance, the area got even the port in Lobau, which is use today as a refinery with operation of river tankers.  

Přístav Lobau ve Vídni a ústí průplavu Dunaj-Odra do Dunaje

Port Lobau in Vienna and the mouth of the Danube-Oder Canal into the Danube.

Vybudované úseky průplavu Dunaj-Odra jsou využívány k rekreaci. 

Built sections of the canal Danube-Oder are used for recreation.

Nevertheless, the war prevented completion of some larger integrated part of the interconnection. In 1942, almost all larger water management construction works ceased and only construction and maintenance works pursuing important public interests and protecting traffic on the navigable rivers were allowed to continue. Finally, in 1943, even the geological research, geodesy, and design works were suspended as well. The war naturally set back the continuous construction of the access section of the canal between Mělník and Pardubice; although the construction of the last lock and dam below Kolín at Velký Osek was actually launched, it was later discontinued. The only lock and dam was completed at Hradištko. Thus, as of 1944, regular running navigation could be operated all the way to Kolín.

 



The project in the time when “tomorrow meant yesterday already”  

It looked like the end of the war finally brought a favorable atmosphere for the continuous realization of the D-O-E interconnection. Within the new borderlines, the friendly Poland replaced Germany in the north part of the route. It was expected to be only a matter of the nearest years if not months when the works would restart again. Also, the above-mentioned Association of the Danube–Oder Canal played an important role in the post-war years. In April 1946, they drew the Memorandum of the Danube–Oder Canal and presented it to the government, parliament, economic entities, and other authorities or interested people. One month later, they suggested international funding of the project. 

Výstavba zdymadla Velký Osek byla zahájena v roce 1940 a ukončena v roce 1952.

Construction of the Elbe lock and dam Velký Osek started in 1940; as the work proceeded quite slowly during the war, it had not been finished until 1952.

In 1948, in order to bring the project into line with the new politically economic situation, they proposed establishment of the national enterprise The D-O-E Canal. Upon this proposal, the economic council applied a questionnaire to find out if the possibility of the canal construction still remained. The published results revealed that from the point of economy, rentability, technical feasibility and financing, the project had lost none of its topicality, and that its national economic impact is undeniable. After the communist coup, though, all these activities were doomed. The politically economic orientation of the country had changed completely as well as the priorities. The tight dependence on the Soviet Union and an emphasis on heavy industries made the project of the D-O-E waterway quite redundant, if not detrimental. Thus the state appointed entities, which were to safeguard its realization, were systematically disassembled, while the private efforts and activities were being suppressed.  

As of the decree n. 4/66 from January 29, 1949, the Minister of Engineering dismissed the Directorship for Construction of Waterways in Prague without any adequate substitution. Although the Canal Department joined the Water Management Office of the Ministry of Engineering and later, in 1952, to the newly established Water Management Development Centre in Prague, by ruling of the government decree n. 206 from August 26, 1952, all preparation works on the canal were terminated anyway. Formally it was only “a temporary solution”, but in fact it was for good, as until now, they have never been revived in their original range. Activities of the Association of the Danube–Oder Canal were being administratively restrained. Eventually, as of December 31, 1959, the association was “consentingly” dismissed – the Ministry of Finance did not allow the people’s committees to pay membership dues, plus the voluntary organizations and assemblies as corporate bodies were being liquidated. It is highly advisable to keep remembering these events, as the current opponents of the project do not hesitate to call it “communist” to score some extra political points. They either gamble on the events of half a century ago being largely forgotten, or neither they are aware of the real circumstances.

The State Water Management Plan from 1953 became the only document, which actually acknowledged the idea of the D-O-E canal in the 1950s and 1960s. Although it specified principles of the complex utilization of water resources, it remained a mere outline plan with no concrete terms or deadlines. Only the atmosphere of the Prague Spring melted a little the ice clutching any serious efforts to revive at least the research work. Upon the government decree n. 222/1966, as well as the order of Directorship of Water Resources, Hydroprojekt Praha presented a study “The Danube–Oder–Elbe Canal Interconnection – the General Solution 1968” [Průplavní spojení Dunaj–Odra–Labe – generální řešení 1968]. 

Ukázka pečlivě zpracované dokumentace v rámci „generálního řešení“ z roku 1968.

An example of a thorough documentation for the “General solution“ from 1968.

The destiny of General Solution in the years to come was marked by the period of “real socialism”. In the same atmosphere the government passed the decree n. 169/1971, which assigned the competent authorities to protect the territory of the future canal as defined in the General Solution, so that uncoordinated investment ventures in the area would not prevent or excessively raised the costs of its realization.  

Přeprava energetického uhlí po Labi probíhala od 70. do druhé poloviny 90. let. 

Transport of coal along the Elbe demonstrated the capacity of modern navigation; it suggested the quality and efficiency of the transport as well as the environmental benefits which the water corridor D-O-L would guarantee.

The dynamic development of the Danube navigation in 1950s–1980s indicated the great potential of the waterway. Its exploitation implied sooner or later realization of the connecting waterways. Since 1975, the opportunities of inland navigation proved even more clearly on the Elbe, as it joined the combined transport of energetic coal by railway and water from North Bohemian coalfields to the power plant in Chvaletice. Considering the short distance, the water transport was less convenient pricewise than the railway solution, therefore the reason was the insufficiently conducting railway capacity on the lines along the Elbe. After the sharp decrease in demands for the railway service in 1990s, the water transport came to a halt again. It implied a notion that it was economically inefficient, while it was actually the railway, not the navigation, which was the pricy partner of the collaboration. 

Přístav Chvaletice byl otevřen plavbě v roce 1975

Chvaletice port delivering coal to the power plant. High capacity bucket wheel devices (front) and a large repair shipyard (centre).

The Chvaletice project also called for some modernization touch-ups on the Elbe waterway – namely for replacement of the old dams with with frames and needles (or shutters) with new modern constructions and for modernization of the secondary locks of the waterway. Hydrostatic weirs were used in four dams: at Dolní Beřkovice (1974), Roudnice nad Labem (1972), České Kopisty (1971), and Lovosice (1972). In 1970, a new movable weir with radial gates was built in Štětí nad Labem, closely followed by modernization of secondary locks in Dolní Beřkovice (1974), Štětí nad Labem (1973), Roudnice nad Labem (1975), České Kopisty (1971) and Lovosice (1977). The effective length was extended to 85 ms and new upper falling gates installed allowing a combined filling of the lock. In 1973, the original Middle Elbe dams in Hadík and Obříství (1919–1912) were replaced with a single modern sector gate dam. Construction of the locks of Veletov and Týnec nad Labem was especially important, as it pushed the ending point of the river navigability from Kolín to Chvaletice, i.e. closer to the spot where the Elbe should connect to the D-O-E water corridor. Despite only a single missing lock and dam – in Přelouč – to reach Pardubice, the "spell" was not to be broken yet.  

Zdymadlo v Parubicích bylo dokončeno v roce 1974 

The lock and dam on the Elbe in Pardubice has a symbolic meaning. Finished in 1969, its river pool should join the actual D-O-E corridor of the future.


 

Europe is getting interested

In a contrast to the hesitant attitudes towards the water corridor D-O-E in the post-war Czechoslovakia, the all-European institutions treated the project as well as the systematic development of waterways as such quite differently. In the first place, it is necessary to mention activities of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva. 

As early as in 1959 the organization set an advanced goal of creating a unified waterway network of Europe. To succeed, they were ready to make especially two arrangements: integration of so far completely separated systems of the West and Southeast European waterways, and unification of the basic parameters of the unified network. International classification of European waterways was to become the instrument of such unification; it was first drawn in 1961, to be amended in 1992.

The new international waterway classification from 1992 has played a crucial (and until now perhaps not properly appreciated) role in development of their network. The waterway parameters thoroughly reflect a modul principle. It took into account that there is no point in applying wider or longer vessels on the larger waterways but rather wider and longer pushed convoys consisting of units of unified parameters. Such modul system corresponds with the traditional technology of pushed navigation in the USA. Its expansion was long prevented by conservative attitudes of navigation practicians. Owing to the classification, it is nowadays possible to head gradually for a completely homogenic waterway network of international importance, as the base unit (a pushed barge) has constant dimensions from the class Va up. The higher classes differ in number of barges engaged in the pushed convoy.  

Kategorie vodních cest 

Only so-called regional waterways (class I to III) do not apply the modul system. However, it concerns only small waterways, which will not be further developed. The class IV represents a certain transient type. The modul selection was based on the width 11.4 ms, which is far the most convenient for vessels on the European network. Firstly, most of the existing locks of European waterways are 12 or 24 ms wide, which could be optimally employed by the vessels of 11.4 ms. Secondly, the other reason is implied by the increasing role of container transport, which requires a tight fitting of the standard containers to the boat cargo area. The classification is rather permissive of drafts, as it allows exceptions depending on local circumstances. The bridge clearance is marked by different calibres suitable for transport of two, three or four container tiers; any intermediary calibres are not supposed to be used. According to UNECE, the final integration of the network was to be achieved through realization of three navigation connections:

 • the waterway Rhine – Main – Danube, 

• the waterway Danube – Oder – Elbe,

• and the waterway Oder – Vistula – Dnieper, or rather a fundamental modernization of the already existing, although old-fashioned waterways between these rivers.  

Schéma ze studie OSN zobrazující přepravy na spojení D-O-L 

A diagram of the future D-O-E waterway traffic density according to a research of the International rapporteur Group with EcE/UNO. The survey showed that the busiest part between Bratislava and Přerov would transport up to 40 mill. tons per year. However, the later estimation is a little more modest.  

In order to evaluate the economic efficiency of the projects, it was proposed to establish international expert committees for each of the above-mentioned interconnection, so Groups of Rapporteurs. The most active of the groups – the Group of Rapporteurs for the waterway Rhine – Main – Danube – began its work in 1964, to complete it in 1970 by presenting an economic study supporting the economic validity of the waterway connection. The through-navigation between the Rhine and Danube Rivers opened in September 1992. Its increasing volumes prove the group’s estimations correct and realistic. The coastal countries of the last interconnection have showed the least understanding for the goals set by the UNECE entities: their competent group of rapporteurs has not been appointed yet.

The D-O-E project remains an alive idea in UNECE. The so-called Blue Paper from 1998, which treats listing of norms and parameters of the main European waterways of class E (TRANS/SC.3.144), indicates the D-O-E canal as a ‘missing link’. Similarly, the document TRANS/SC3/2002/1 from 2002, concerning the crucial bottlenecks and missing links of the category E waterways, marks the part of missing links in Austria, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic with ‘the Connection Danube–Oder–Elbe (E 20 and E 30)’. 

 

The indirect, although quite obvious support of the D-O-E waterway project could be traced in the White Paper titled “European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide”. The Transport White Paper adopted by the European Commission on 12 September 2001. It recognises the great potential of inland navigation as an alternative transport mode for freight, in particular road transport, and consequently has a great interest in developing inland waterway infrastructure. It highly recommends to eliminate the bottlenecks of the network, reconstruct non-used waterways and built missing routes.

Naturally, the emphasis on better configuration of the European waterway network was clearly pronounced even in the admission protocol, on the base of which the Czech Republic entered the EU. As a matter of course, the document includes the D-O-E project into the perspective transport network of EU member countries.

Similarly, the prominent role of the D-O-E waterway was accentuated in the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN). Prepared by an expert working group appointed by UNECE, it was enacted in Geneva on January 19, 1996. In the name of the Czech Republic it was signed in Helsinki on June 23, 1997, to come into operation on July 26, 1999 (Notification of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs n. 163/1999).

Hlavní evropské vodní cesty dle dohody AGN 

UN/ECE map of european waterway network of AGN agreement

Lastly, in the changes to the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance, adopted by the UNECE Working Party on Inland Water Transport on October 20, 2005, i.a. the article 2 was extended of the second paragraph, which suggests: 

"Contracting Parties are called upon to establish national action plans and/or bilateral or multilateral agreements, such as international treaties, guidelines, memoranda of understanding, joint studies or any other similar arrangements, aimed at elimination of existing bottlenecks and completion of missing links in the network of E waterways crossing the territories of countries concerned."

Last but not least, let us remind you that the D-O-E project is explicitly mentioned in the admission agreement between the Czech Republic and the European Union.