Pente d'eau Fonserannes - Canal du Midi

The exact history of the water slope (pente d'eau) at Fonserannes has
been difficult to establish. The excellent book "Canal Lifts and
Inclines of the World" , available translated into English, talks
about the accident but many people that you ask have ill-informed
opinions. These range from "it closed after a number of accidents"
and "it was only for use by Peniches, not pleasure boats" to "it is
still in working order" - all of which are false. There was only one
accident and the machine operated for a few years after that. It was
used by private pleasure boats and hire boats (the pente d'eau at
Montech does not accept small pleasure/hire boats) and it is not in
working order at present.

Trying to get to the bottom of this, I contacted Monsieur Samuel
Vannier with whom I have corresponded before. M Vannier is the
fulltime Archivist for the Canal du Midi, employed by the VNF at
Toulouse and is agueably the best informed authority on the CdM.
Surrounded as he is by many of the original documents relating to the
canal, he certainly has the best sources of reference. This week I
received his reply to my request and I am indebted to him, especially
as he went to the trouble to consult the VNF Sub-division Heads at
Beziers that spanned 1986 to 2005.

The gist of his reply is as follows:

In 1973, the world’s first water slope was inaugurated at Montech on
the Canal de Garonne. Later, the decision was made to extend a
number of locks on the Canal du Midi to “Freycinet” gauge (38.50
metres). Following several years of satisfactory operation at
Montech, it was decided to build a second water slope, using improved
technology, on the site of Fonserannes to bypass the staircase locks.
The building work began in 1980 and the inauguration was made in

In 1984, there was a serious accident caused by a loss of adherence of
the driving engine and there followed a series of inspections and
surveys. A team of experts recommended a series of improvements and
modifications and these were incorporated between 1985 and 1987.

In 1987, the machine was brought into service for the second time.
It functioned for 5 days out of 7 during this initial period, reducing
to 4 days out of 7 in 1988 and to 3 days out of 7 in 1989.
Nevertheless, reliability was always a problem and it was not possible
to operate the water slope, uninterrupted, for long periods.
Frequent essential maintenance required many periods of interruption
to its use and these breaks in availability increased over time.

In 1990, the operation of the water slope was changed to an “on
demand” service and it functioned like this for 68 days in 1990 but
for only 2 days in 1995. The last passage of boat goes back to 1999
and after taking into account the high costs of maintenance and
reduced reliability of the machine; it was decided to close the water
slope on 11 April 2001.

Despite the closure, the idea of a new start for the water slope has
not been abandoned. The locks are one of the busiest sites on the
Canal du Midi and the queues for the boats are rather long. Project
work on the feasibility of restoration of the water slope has been
defined and the technical solutions to make it possible to restart the
machine are known. It now remains to build a plan of financing based
on a partnership between VNF and the communities concerned.

Mike Ricketts
NB Kinsarvik
Canal de Garonne

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