Port of Antwerp : world’s hugest lock

The world’s biggest lock is on schedule to open at the Port of Antwerp in the spring of 2016 at a cost of $39.7 million.

Building the world's biggest lock requires 740,000 m3 of reinforced concrete - the equivalent
of a football field piled 30 storeys high.

The new Deurganck lock will facilitate today’s much larger seagoing vessels along the left bank of the Scheldt River that originates in France and flows across northeast Belgium into the North Sea. This second lock on the left bank forms a key part of the strategic plan to expand the port’s logistical capacities.

“Container volume at our port expanded 140% between 1990 and 2010 and we expect strong growth to continue,” notes Marc Van Peel, the port alderman and Port Authority chairman. “The new lock will make the left bank accessible to current and future generations of ships.”

Measuring 68 metres across and 500 m in length, the Deurganck lock will be the size of a 19-lane highway with each lane able to park 28 articulated buses. The 28 m walls readily dwarf anyone standing inside the lock. The depth of 17.80 m will make it larger than the currently biggest lock – the Berendrecht – which is also at the Port of Antwerp with a depth of 13.5 m. (The Berendrecht construction informed the current lock building. The Port of Antwerp also shared that expertise with the engineers widening the Panama Canal.)

Marc Van Peel, the port alderman and
Antwerp Port Authority chairman.

Deurganck is part of the $2.3 billion that the port and the Flemish government are investing in new and more sustainable infrastructure between now and 2025. As one of Europe’s leading rail ports, Antwerp also expects to significantly increase the number of rail cars transporting goods to and from outlying areas daily when it opens the Liefkenshoek tunnel to rail traffic later this year. The 16.2-kilometre rail passage will link the western and eastern docks at the Port of Antwerp to alleviate road traffic as the port’s container and cargo volumes augment.

The port required 20,000 tonnes of structural steel – nearly triple the amount used for the Eiffel Tower – to build the lock, bridges and accessories. Despite its massive size, the project required what’s called a delicate manoeuvring construction approach. The lock gates, for example, must have a perfect seal to enable the rail tracks embedded into the bridge to connect properly after each lifting and lowering of a gate bridge.

Locks are necessary to compensate for the differences between the Scheldt – a tidal river – and the stable water levels in the port docks behind the locks. The Berendrecht already enables the Port of Antwerp to accommodate huge ships, including the Mary Maersk – the world’s largest shipping vessel able to carry 18,000 20-foot shipping containers. The Deurganck will enhance the port’s ability to accommodate the sea’s giants.

As massive as the project is, it involves a lot of delicate manoeuvering
construction to get the gates, bridges and rails all to line up perfectly.

“Having a second alternative to the existing Kallo lock on the left bank will definitely allow container traffic to flow more smoothly,” says An Damen, the Antwerp Port Authority’s marketing and communication coordinator.  “It won’t have a direct impact on containers arriving from Montreal since most of them are handled on the right bank, but the faster handling of more vessels on the left bank will mean that all ships will spend less time in port.”

Various nature compensation areas have been established within the port territory to make up for the land and water occupied by the Deurganck lock. New mudflats, brackish marshes, reed beds and freshwater ponds have been created elsewhere on the left bank as new habitat for birds and marine life.