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History of Danube-Oder-Elbe waterway - From the industrial revolution to World Wars PDF Print E-mail
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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.