Elbląg Canal – Jelonki, Poland - Atlas Obscura

Elbląg Canal

Jelonki, Poland

Boats must transform into railroad cars to navigate this Polish canal. 


Thanks to steep variations in elevation, Poland’s Elbląg Canal is broken up into short strips of water that are separated by stretches of land that make the course traditionally unnavigable. However, undaunted by the very shape of the Earth local engineers solved the problem by creating a series of railroad tracks that let passing ships turn into railroad cars for the more troublesome portions of the journey. 

Stretching from Lake Drużno to Jeziorak Lake, the skinny canal was nearly unusable for commerce or recreation until the mid-1800s when the King of Prussia ordered a novel solution to be built. In many similar situations water locks were usually built (and a few were placed along the canal as well), but the course was too long for this solution so pairs of rail tracks were laid between stretches of the canal. Giant cradles would then pick up the boats on one end of the water and carry them overland to the next bit of sailing territory almost as though they are fully amphibious vehicles. The brilliant solution was universally hailed as one of Europe’s most impressive engineering wonders.

Today the canal is not often used for shipping or business but is a popular recreational spot. Visitors can take boat tours of the canal bringing them up out of the water and back again over a long 11-some hour journey. If the entire trip is too lengthy for guests, people can hop off about halfway through but the full impact of this clever bit of invention might not make the trip either.

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