I recently returned from a two-week cruise on the Danube River that began in Budapest and ended in Nuremberg.
The cruise was an excellent river experience, with plenty of wining, dining and sightseeing. And with only 96 passengers aboard the 128-passenger Avalon Artistry II, we received plenty of attention from the 37 crewmembers.
For me, the workboat element of the cruise was especially interesting. The trip encompassed the Main and Danube rivers and the Main–Danube Canal. The Main River’s section developed for shipping has 34 locks and is 239 miles long. The Danube’s shipping section has six locks along its 130 miles, and the canal is 106 miles long and has 16 locks.
As we neared Nuremberg, Alexander Estel hopped aboard to give a talk on the Main-Danube Canal. Estel is the chair of Bavarian and Franconian history at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
Estel offered up several facts on the Main-Danube Canal: Its average depth is about 13′ at the sides and 14′ in the middle. The canal’s average width is 180′.
This compares to the Mississippi River, which is 2,320 miles long, has 29 locks, and a 9′ channel. At its widest point, just downstream from its confluence with the Missouri River near Alton, Ill., the Mississippi is nearly one mile across.
Estel discussed the canal’s 16 locks, which he said are the most technically impressive structures along the waterway. The locks are 656′ long with a lifting height of 81′. Because the canal has no natural current, all the water removed from a canal pound must be replaced.
Initially, construction of the locks was based on the “Europa ship,” the standard 262’x31’x8′ European barge, Estel said. That meant a 541’x39’x13′ lock was needed. However, with the advent of integrated tug-barges — 600′ long — the length of the locks was set at 623′.
Compare this to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam on the Mississippi River in Alton, one of the newest facilities on the U.S. inland waterways system. Located 20 miles above St. Louis, it opened in 1989. It has two lock chambers — a 600′ lock used for recreational and smaller craft, and a 1,200’x110′ main chamber used for large commercial tows.
Freight volume on the Main-Danube Canal averages close to 7 million tons a year. Mississippi River tonnage in 2015, was 315 million short tons.
A quarter-century after its completion, many say that the canal has been a disappointment in terms of cargo transport. However, a positive surprise has been the growth of the river cruise industry, and it shows no sign of slowing.