Belleek to Tralee in 10 hours by inland waterway

Learned Readers are undoubtedly familiar with Design-Driven Innovation, but I’m afraid I hadn’t come across it until I read a conference paper: S McCartan, P Murphy, R Starkel, A Sánchez González and M López Cabeceira “Design-Driven Innovation: Sustainable Transport Opportunities for the Inland Waterways of Ireland”, read at the fifth annual conference of the Irish Transportation Research Network at the University of Limerick from 3 to 5 September 2014.

The paper [PDF] can be downloaded free from Sean McCartan’s page on the site, though you have to be registered with the site; the paper is also available, I think, from, but I’m not registered there so I haven’t tried the download.

As I understand it — and I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Long Words Bother me — Design-Driven Innovation means that a lot of clever chaps and chapesses come up with new and brilliant ideas and then ask people what they think of them:

The process of Design-Driven Innovation is an exploratory research project, which aims to create an entirely new market sector for a given product through changing the design meaning the user has for the product.

It seems that, in Ireland, 99.1% of freight travels by road, leaving just 0.9% for rail; 82.8% of passenger traffic is by car and 14.4% by bus and coach, leaving just 2.8% by rail. Waterways transport could use existing ports and canals; once the canals had the right bridges and automatic locks, running costs would be low. West coast ports could be used by a “coastal cruiser service”; people could travel by fast boat from Donegal right around the west and south coasts to Rosslare. All of this would reduce the carbon dioxide footprint (assuming, of course, that folk on the west coast wanted to travel, or needed to send goods, to anywhere else on the west coast rather than to Dublin).

On the inland waterways, 139 catamaran CLF vessels (Cruise Logistics Ferries) could run from Belleek to Tralee. Travelling at 22 knots, and ignoring lock times, they would complete the journey in only 10 hours; they could carry freight but also carry passengers in green luxury. These CLFs would be 81 metres long and 25 metres wide; each could carry 20 TEUs. At sea, 26 high-speed (40-knot) CLFs could each transport 12 TEUs from Cork to Dublin in just under four hours. And solar-powered catamarans on the Shannon and Erne could carry 64 passengers at 12 knots.

Meanwhile, the Grand, Barrow and Royal would not be forgotten. They would have a fleet of 1549 unmanned canal catamarans, with autonomous control systems, powered either by batteries or by fuel cells, ultimately fed from wind farms. They would each carry two TEUs but could also be converted for tourist cruising.

The overall aim, with those numbers of boats, is to replace half of the amount carried by road.

The paper concludes:

This is a first step in the analysis of the potential of the coastal and inland waterways of Ireland, to meet the EU targets for transport. State aid has been identified as a potential funding mechanism to support the realisation of these proposals.

Sometimes I wonder.


8 responses to “Belleek to Tralee in 10 hours by inland waterway

  1. 22 knots?! How do they propose to stop bank erosion? Are they perhaps confusing canals with those big water slides you get in theme parks?

  2. If you note the beam of the proposed vessels, you’ll see that erosion is the least of their problems. bjg

  3. Dear Both,
    Just picked up on this thread while researching our next DDI proposal. The 22knots was an initial proposal based on no locks, this will be revised with a more detailed analysis using automated lock timings. Catamarans can be designed to have very low wake compared to the conventional monohull canal vessels, enabling them to achieve a much higher speed before wake becomes an issue. The infrastructure costs of canals should be compared to the cost of road infrastructure. Where the EU average for a motorway is 800,000Euro per km.

    I will post a link to this group when we publish the new paper.

    Kind regards,
    Sean McCartan

  4. Thank you.

    Much study of the history of Irish inland waterways has introduced me to large numbers of persons who sought state money to create transport systems between places that did not require them, because there was no conceivable trade of any significance between those places. Furthermore, even at the height of the canal era, promoters ignored the fact that road transport was cheaper and, except for very heavy cargoes, took most of the traffic over distances of up to 50 miles.

    Nowadays, we have even better roads in many places, especially on the main trade routes, so I don’t see why we need an expensive but slower mode of transport on very minor routes. Even the railways should be abandoned.

    Your proposal, in its initial form, would require the complete rebuilding of all the locks in Ireland as well as major work in straightening all the waterways. Some of the bends on the Shannon–Erne Waterway are so tight that a 60-foot vessel has to slow down to about half a knot to get around them.


  5. Dear bjg,

    I appreciate your insight into the infrastructural issues. The opportunity to move 40tonnes with 1hp (the horse) is significant for non-time critical goods such as waste and wine. Major supermarkets have invested in the use of canals to move wine in parts of Europe. Removing bin lorries and skip trucks from the road would significantly reduce traffic and thus CO2 emissions. Feeding the new waste to energy plant in Dublin by canal would reduce traffic, noise and pollution, compared to heavy lorry use. Most factories operate just-in-time logistics, which can be significantly affected by traffic. Using the canal, supplies could be moored close to the factory and quickly moved into position for unloading, effectively providing free material storage or vehicle parking. These sort of proposals are predicated upon the use of autonomous control systems, as people are expensive. So no staff means that you can take all the time you like to get there which in turn means that you use as little power as possible.

    Kind regards,

  6. I wrote an article for a boating mag some years ago suggesting that the Liffey and the Royal and Grand Canals could be used to feed the incinerator at Poolbeg.

    However, I think you overestimate the size of the Irish waterways. Without major dredging and widening (and costly spoil removal) you couldn’t moor a barge on the canals in Dublin without effectively blocking them. The locks limit you to roughly 60′ X 13′ (longer on the Royal, which has an inadequate water supply). And, on a hot day, a couple of swimmers would block traffic completely.

    Your solutions might work on continental canals, but not on the Irish waterways.


  7. Hi bjg

    Are there any detailed online maps of the Irish canal system?

    Could you send me a copy of your article about Poolbeg.
    Kind regards,

  8. [email address redacted]

    [reply being sent direct]


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