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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Revamped canal could take cargo
Neptune's Staircase (Picture from Undiscovered Scotland)
The 60 mile long canal includes Neptune's Staircase
Congestion on the A82 could be eased by freight being transported on the Caledonian Canal.

The move follows the completion of restoration work on the waterway, which has taken 10 years and cost 20m.

Transport Minister Tavish Scott, who visited Neptune's Staircase on Friday, said cargo could be taken off the road and on to the canal.

He said a study has shown 1,000 tonne vessels could navigate the 60 mile length of the 184-year-old canal.

Mr Scott said: "Successful trials show that freight travelling between Inverness and Fort William on the already congested A82 could in the future sail along the Caledonian Canal.

"Now that we have helped assure the canal's long-term future we need to consider how we can maximise the opportunities this important waterway provides."

The canal was the brainchild of engineers William Jessop and Thomas Telford
It was Britain's first ship canal
The intention was to link the Atlantic with the North Sea for shipping to America and the Baltic

He added: "With its more obvious leisure and tourism benefits, there is real potential for the reintroduction of freight on the canal, helping remove lorry miles from congested Highland roads."

The Scottish Executive funded a 20,000 study by KD Marine, which included taking a 1,000 tonne vessel through the canal last year.

Meetings have also been held between the executive and British Waterways to look at various plans to move freight by water.

These include the movement of timber and the possibility of supplying the Glendoe power station construction site beside Loch Ness.

Meanwhile, this year has seen the completion of a restoration programme started in 1996.

Repairs and refurbishment work was carried out on most of the 29 locks between the sea locks at Clachnaharry and Corpach.

Caledonian's history

Muirtown Basin was also drained and cleared of rubbish for the first time in more than 20 years

Studies have shown the waterway is a huge tourist attraction and supports about 500 jobs.

Campbell Christie, chairman of the British Waterways Scotland Group, said the programme was a significant moment in the Caledonian's history.

He said: "The huge restoration effort has helped to both ensure the long term future of the canal and provide a platform to continue to expand a range of leisure activities, such as the Sail Caledonia event which starts tomorrow (Saturday), and a variety of other commercial activities.

"The support of the Scottish Executive, Historic Scotland, the Highland Council and our other partners in the area has been absolutely critical at all stages of the works programme."

Construction of the canal cost 840,0000 and started in 1803.

It opened in 1822 but was too shallow for many of the large vessels plying Britain's waterways at that time.

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