The Diagonal Lock: moving towards a more productive, environmentally friendly canal system

On October 15th the writer visited the ‘Diagonal Lock Roadshow’ in Knowle, meeting Terry Fogarty, a design engineer, company director and canal enthusiast. Mr Fogarty was presenting a model of his invention: a diagonal lock , which works on the principle of a sloping tube, cutting out time spent by canal users negotiating flights of locks. 

“This is a radical alternative that could help to alleviate transport problems on the motorways,” he said. “You could install freezers in a wide-beam boat so you could even transport food.”  

The Diagonal Lock is a new technology devised as an alternative to traditional canal locks, enabling boats to ascend/descend an incline whilst floating securely inside a watertight, concrete chamber.

It has many other advantages: 

  1. The Diagonal Lock eliminates 100% of the pollution created by navigating traditional locks.
  2. The Diagonal Lock is calculated to be at least ten times faster than any other lock design.
  3. The Diagonal Lock can open up hitherto inaccessible areas
  4. Building costs are slashed: building one Diagonal Lock costs one-third of the traditional lock
  5. Safety is a fundamental part the design and safety precautions found in the Diagonal Lock are not found on any other waterway in the world.
  6. The Diagonal Lock recycles all water used.
  7. Much lower maintenance costs.
  8. Has other applications, including cliff top marinas and reservoirs.
  9. Increases the chances of freight returning to the canals reducing pressure on roads.

The Advisory Group 

Staunch support has been given by a number of people, in particular the advisory group: 

  • Terry Fogarty, inventor of the Diagonal Lock.
  • Phil Sharp of Battus Associates , a consulting engineering practice specialising in water and environmental Engineering. See their very interesting project list
  • Caroline Spelman: Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and MP for Meriden well-positioned to advise the Diagonal Lock team on how to advance the Diagonal Lock project within the political arena.
  • Roger Herrington, Managing Director: Roger Herrington & Associates, an experienced management consultant with specialist knowledge in canal regeneration and development. and productive partnership with Roger Herrington & Associates.
  • Roy Pulley, specialist product innovation advisor, Manufacturing Advisory Service (West Midlands), whose support and involvement of enabled Coventry University students to take up the concept as part of an engineering project, producing a 3d model and developing a feasibility study.
  • Earle Wightman, Managing Director: Sherborne Wharf in central Birmingham, whose support illustrates the appeal of the Diagonal Lock technology to the waterways leisure industry.
  • Mike Lewis, electronic engineer and senior lecturer at Coventry University, whose knowledge spans electronics, dynamics and statics, thermofluids and time reduction technologies. His initial involvement began as a project supervisor to a team of students studying the Diagonal Lock as part of their Masters degree.
  • Graham Freeman, technical head of the British Boating Federation & managing director: Tayman Services [marine surveyor and safety secialist], who has helped to identify some potential locations for the first Diagonal Lock.
  • Alasdair Crichton, web designer, has over 10 years experience in IT, developing software and websites across a range of industries. He has maintained and developed the website ensuring the Diagonal Lock technology is promoted to as wide an audience as possible. 

Mr Fogarty wrote to the compilers of the Big City Plan blueprint for Birmingham outlining his proposals for the ‘diagonal lock’ scheme, which he said would wipe out long delays at flights of locks:


 One of the Camp Hill locks from a website with many other excellent canal pictures 

“At the moment you can only get narrowboats along it. There has been years of neglect and the network cries out for improvement. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Camp Hill locks, where the 300-year-old narrow lock flight meets the Grand Union Canal. This offers the potential for wide beam boats to move down to London. The shame of it is that at present a wide-beam boat coming from London is prevented from entering the canals of Birmingham, which is a tragedy. The diagonal lock would create worldwide interest as it would be the first new canal lock of its kind anywhere in the world. I believe a new lock system for Camp Hill would cost £6-7m – a fraction of the cost of the £18bn high speed rail link.”  

In July the Birmingham Mail reported a vote of confidence from British Waterways Head of Engineering George Ballinger, after meeting Mr Fogarty. Although British Waterways is currently unable to contribute to any funding package, it is fully supportive of the initiative and will assist in any other way to further the creation of ‘such an iconic structure’ on the waterway network. Mr Ballinger expressed the need for the council to play a major part in taking things forward by looking at the overall development plan for the area. 

Mr Fogarty said: “It’s great news that British Waterways are backing the scheme. I believe a new lock system for Camp Hill would cost between £6 million and £7 million, a fraction of the cost of high-speed rail.” 

Reassurance for the non-technical reader 

At the exhibition the writer had the advantage of independent input from a visiting engineer.  He assured me that it would certainly work and recommended the animations on the website which explain all in five clear steps. 

Environmental advantages 

During a follow-up email exchange about upward journeys which are powered by pumping water into the tube once the bottom gate is closed, he added: 

“They could use side ponds to conserve water and then very little power is needed to pump it up, but it would be very slow. I think the simpler option – to let all the water out and pump it back – is better as they can generate electricity from it on the way down and use it on the way up. Essentially as the water runs out they pump it up to the top from where it came.The national grid uses pumped storage to smooth out the peaks and troughs of demand, see

“Apart from inefficiencies it will not use water or energy, and the inefficiencies and technology are well understood.” 

It would be cheering to see the work of Terry Fogarty and his colleagues come to fruition – perhaps substantially funded by the Brummie Bonds advocated by Councillor Clancy.


One response to “The Diagonal Lock: moving towards a more productive, environmentally friendly canal system

  1. By email from Surrey:

    What a brilliant idea!I am a great enthusiast of canals, having attended a small anti-nuclear think-tank organised by the late Gerard Morgan-Grenville on his converted Dutch barge on the Canal du Midi in the middle of winter.

    I well remember the time spent negotiating locks and the constant disruption.A revival of canal freight would be a great environmental asset as well as being energy efficient and cost effective.

    Hopefully The Transport Minister will see fit to investigate further and provide financial backing for next steps.

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