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Where ships run on rails

How to connect two lakes with a difference of height up to 100 m by water? In 1844 Georg Steenke did exactly that. The Elblag-Ostroda canal was built with several locks and inclined planes to overcome the difference in elevation. Initially, the canal was used for transportation of agricultural produce and timber, mainly Tabor pine used for building sailing ships. Over time, however, the development of railroads reduced the importance of the canal. Since the 1930s it has been used exclusively for tourist purposes. 

How do inclined planes work?

Only water power is used to propel the mechanism that transports ships to higher levels. The ship enters between railings projecting above the water level, which are part of the transport platform standing on rails. To pull the ship uphill, the driver operates a water valve from the upper channel. Water flows down a pipeline to the turbine blades setting the turbine in motion. In the engine room there is a large drum constructed so that it spins in one direction and rolls out one steel cable while rolling in another one. This way two ships sailing in the opposite directions can traverse the hill at the same time. 

The route was declared a technical monument in 1978 and a historical monument in 2011. Currently, it is the only place in the world with still functioning inclined planes. There were similar ones in North America on the Morris Canal, but they did not survive to this day. 

Boat trips on the grass

Currently, you can go on a grass boat trip from Buczyniec to Elblag, or from Elblag to Buczyniec. Cruises take place from May 1st to September 30th and it is best to buy tickets in advance. It is quite a popular attraction especially for tourists from Germany. When buying tickets you can also order a meal. This is a small additional cost, and considering the tour is over 4 hours long, it is definitely worth taking. We thought it will be food similar to that served on airplanes, but we were pleasantly surprised. The lunch consists of two courses and I must say that it is very tasty. Alternatively, you can always take your own sandwiches, or use the mini bar, where you can buy sweets, snacks and drinks. 

Lake Druzno

On the way, the ship passes through the Druzno Lake Reserve. It is a breeding place for many water birds and marsh animals. This is a very shallow lake and for the passage of ships there is a designated narrow strip of water. However for us it was the most interesting part of the trip. Here we could see many aquatic plants and a huge number of birds. We regretted that it was only a short part of the trip. We would have liked to stop there and take more pictures. 

Weather that ruins everything

Just our luck, of course, the weather was not good. Just a few minutes into the cruise it started raining and did not stop until the end of the day. Sitting in the upper part of the ship, where we could see more, unfortunately, did not make sense. 4 hours in the rain would certainly not be pleasant regardless of the views. In the lower part, however, although comfortable, it was not possible to see much, and the photos through the dirty glass are also not the best quality. 

Is it worth it?

Nevertheless, we recommend such a cruise, maybe just on a sunny day. It is quite an interesting and lazy way to spend the day. What’s more, during the trip, at the inclined planes and on the lake, information and interesting facts related to the passing objects are given through a loudspeaker. It must be stressed here, however, that the information was only in Polish and German. Inclined planes, though it is a unique view, becomes more common with time, so we recommend taking a book to kill time. We enjoyed the trip, especially the Druzno Lake… but in our opinion it is a bit too long. Two inclined planes and the lake would be enough to see, understand and experience something new. Unfortunately (as far as we know) there are no such routes. 

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Margaret 21

Sorry to have missed this when we were in Poland. But your account makes a close second!

Bespoke Traveler

Sounds like a fascinating ride. The engineering marvel of canal locks is so intriguing. Is there a particular sized ship that uses this system or is it made for all?

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