NY State Canals and Commercial Shipping

In days of old, canals meant canal boats hitched to a mule walking along a towpath. Those same towpaths are there today along many of the canals in New York State – the Erie Canal, Champlain Canal and Cayuga-Seneca Canal to name a few. The view today is a little different, as it won’t be mules walking along the towpath, but joggers out running, families on bicycles and the occasional fisherman. The view on the water has changed as well. No longer do you see cargo and oil products being moved by canal boat, rather, you might see a sailboat (with its mast down), a recreational powerboat or occasionally, the blue and yellow workboats of the NY Canal Authority.
The ad above that has been running in maritime periodicals for the past few years illustrates that the scenery could be quite different. As recently as 1994, commercial shipping continued on the canals with the transport of cement from Oswego to Rome on the MV Day Peckinpaugh (seen to the left). Today, the Peckinpaugh is a floating museum in Cohoes, NY. While there are currently no scheduled shipping services on NY canals, a study commissioned by the NY Canal Authority in 2010 determined that they are still commercially viable.

Worldwide, canals are in everyday use and many are recognizable to the general public, such as the Suez, Panama or the Kiel Canal. In general, these canals are more widely known, as they are used by ocean-going vessels and are critical transportation arteries. Less known, but equally important are the canals of Great Britain and Europe that continue to be used for commercial transportation and have been key in relieving congestion on roadways.

In the mid-2000s, the N.Y. Canal Authority put out a request for quote for a hopper barge that would be suitable for use in moving containers on the canals and rivers of N.Y. State. While the outcome of that request is unknown, it is known that no such craft is traveling the N.Y. canals today. If we were looking for a suitable craft to carry cargo on N.Y. canals, we might look to the vessels already in use on the canals in Europe, such as the container and crane barges shown below.

In this era of just in time shipping, there will be commodities and cargoes that would be better shipped by truck or by air. For the remainder, there may well be particular cost savings available for shipping via water.

The waterways are already there – no roads to build – energy to be saved………will we continue to let this asset go to waste?

Nice story. I can think of a lot of guys, me included, that would kill for a run like that after we decide not to go offshore anymore.

If you hold the door open for me, ill hold the next door open for you. As we trip all over ourselves grabbing one of these jobs! Too bad interstate commerce and federal trade don’t seem to realize the short sea maritime highway benefits. It would appear that the trucking industry has a better lobby than the entire maritime industry!

The trucking industry can band together as one. Our industry is too broken up into different segments that don’t give a shit about anything other than what they do to pull together like that.

The Barge Canal is a great trip. My last one was a westbound trip in ‘99 on a car ferry that was being delivered to the Great Lakes. Beam of the vessel was 42’, and as I recall, the controlling width of the narrowest lock was 43’. Good fun. We had the top of the wheelhouse off to get under the bridges at the western end, where the controlling height is 15’. Went under one bridge and the width of two fingers between the steering wheel and the bridge girder.

Would love to do the trip on a vessel where we could stop and enjoy the cruise.

There still was a limited amount of commercial barge traffic at that time.

My Bucket list is to take a trip up the Hudson (if i have the recency :-0 ) to Troy and to the two canals, Iroquois and Erie. All the way to lake Erie. The key of course would be to have NO schedule and a small motor cycle to trek around on for exploring.

Can’t agree more. I grew up next to the canal (Spencerport) in the '50’s and remember the lift bridge in town always going up because of traffic. I’m working in the Great Lakes now after many years in AK and I too would stand in line for a canal job.

I live just north of Rome. everytime I pass over it I nearly cry that this great resource is not in use. There iscurrently NO commercial liner service on her. Those canal boats in Europe would be perfect and would help alliviate traffic on the NY Thruway and provide us with some sweet jobs close to home.
I actually live off another canal that was not mentioned in the above article. The Black River Canal travelled from Rome, NY to Carthage, NY and had 109 locks! If one travells today up NY Route 12, and NY route 46 you will be able to see many of the old locks. The old resting staions for the mule teams were known as Snubbing Posts and there is a bar just north of Rome by that name. thursday night open mike night is the best!

I remember my Father putting me on his companies barges in the summer that ran the Canals. I always said I would take a pay cut to go back up there and work.