Albert Canal, Belgium

Anyone visiting Belgium will have crossed over it many times, some may have wondered why it is there as it is so close to other waterways.  

Originally conceived in the 1920s as a means of linking Antwerp with Liege and connecting the industrial areas to existing waterways, the 129km long Albert Canal was constructed from 1930 to 1939. The German construction company Hochtief AG worked on the canal between 1930 and 1934, but it was completed by Belgian companies. The Albert Canal was used for the first time in 1940 but, because of World War II and the German occupation, intensive use only began later, in 1946.  The construction of the canal reduced time to travel from Antwerp to Liege from seven days to around 18 hours.

In the run up to World War II, the Canal formed part of the defence line of Belgium and then featured prominently in British and French plans for the defence of Belgium.  Nonetheless due to the speed of the German advance, it did not offer much of a hindrance.  

The Albert Canal has a standard depth of 3.4 metres (11 ft) and an overhead clearance of 6.7 metres (22 ft). To allow four-stacked container traffic, bridges over the canal are currently being heightened to allow for a 9.1 metres (30 ft) overhead.

The largest vessels that can use this canal are barges of just 1500-2,000 tons - much smaller than the ones on the Rhine or the Danube or the ones in the waterways of the United States and Canada.

Between Antwerp and Liège, there is a difference in elevation of 56 metres (184 ft), and six sets of canal locks were needed to overcome this difference. Five canal locks each have a lift of 10 metres (33 ft), and these are located in Genk, Diepenbeek, Hasselt, Kwaadmechelen, and Olen, Belgium. The sixth lock at Wijnegem has a lift of 5.45 metres (17.9 ft).

The canal is also a popular leisure and cycling destination, with well paved service roads on both sides traversing picturesque farm land, particularly around Smeermaas, Lanaken and Maasmechelen.