Information about the 106km long Seine-Nord Europe Canal (project)


The Seine-Nord Europe Canal, planned since the early 1960s, will replace the existing Canal du Nord, part of the Canal latéral à l’Oise and a short length of the river Oise. The plaisancier should be aware of this project, because the works – starting in 2017 and expected to last 6 years – will inevitably have an impact on conditions of navigation through the Canal du Nord and the Canal latéral à l’Oise. The new canal will provide a missing link of European importance, by connecting the Seine basin to the Rhine basin and the main inland waterway network of Europe via the Nord-Pas de Calais region. It will extend 106 km from Aubencheul-au-Bac on the Dunkerque-Escaut waterway to Compiègne on the river Oise. Its line was dramatically prefigured by the preventive archeological excavations which started in October 2008, although the summit level section has since been redesigned.

Why a new canal?
The existing waterways on this route are of limited capacity (barges of 250 to 650 tonnes). The new canal will remove this capacity bottleneck, to form a major high-capacity transport corridor for barges and push-tows up to 4400 tonnes, from Le Havre to Dunkirk, Benelux and the Rhine. The presence of this bottleneck on one of the Europe’s principal transport arteries is reflected in the current statistics: where the market share of inland water transport measured in tonne-kilometres reaches 18% in the Seine-Oise basin and 14% in Nord-Pas de Calais, and even more than 50% on the major waterways of Germany and Benelux, the constraints of carrying capacity on the North-South waterway route limit the waterway market share to between 3 and 4% (peaking at about 5 million tonnes). Traffic is projected to reach between 15 and 18 million tonnes per year a few years after the waterway has opened. Designs provide for a second lock chamber to be built at each of the six locks. The land is being acquired and reserved for this future extension of capacity.

Multimodal port platforms
A key to success of the new waterway is the simultaneous construction of four multimodal port platforms on the route, two of them given new railway connections to the existing rail freight network. Covering 360 ha, they are to become high-performance logistics hubs serving economic development of entire regions. The canal will be a source of industrial and drinking water supply, and is expected to be a powerful lever for the development of tourism and recreational activities throughout the corridor. In 2016 the financial package is practically complete, with 42% funding  from the EU. The consensus is that the project meets such a critical need that it will overcome the last hurdles.

SeineNordEurope projet region map

Only one link with the Somme?
The canal will have only one new link with the existing waterway network north of Allaines. Here a new lock will be built, dropping from the 72.50m level to that of lock No. 10 (Allaines) on the existing Canal du Nord, at 67.20m, or possibly one lock lower at 60.70m. Unfortunately, current plans do not provide for a similar link at Rouy-le-Petit at the southern end of the section paralleled by the Canal de la Somme; a second link, with a lock or lift 18.50 m high, would open up more possibilities for movements by passenger vessels and private boats, as well as contributing to safety of navigation by encouraging boats to take the parallel route through this central section. Examples in the Netherlands point to the value of separating flows on busy routes.

Gigantic works, and closure of most of the existing canal
The total volume of earthworks is 55 million m3, or 25 million m3 of cut and 30 million m3 of fill. Land acquisition totals 2450 ha, including surplus earth fill disposal areas and industrial port zones.
Transit time will be between 15 and 18 hours depending on traffic density. Boats will be allowed to use the waterway, giving priority to commercial traffic. Boat harbours and passenger vessel moorings are provisionally planned at five locations, but these have not been fixed and are not positioned in the route description.
Works are expected to start in 2017, for completion by 2023-24.


Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 12m
  • Max Height: 7m
  • Max Draught: 4.50m


Locks There will be six locks on the waterway, offering navigable dimensions of 195 by 12m. All except Montmacq lock in the Oise valley will be provided with water-saving basins. The highest lock at Moislains will be 30 m deep, perhaps a little higher depending on the final design. (The engineers have found that earthworks could be minimised if the canal’s summit level were set just slightly higher than currently planned.)

Draught The canal will be 54m wide at the surface and 4.50m deep. The loading depth will be 4m (over a width of 38 m).

Headroom Bridges will offer a minimum headroom of 7m above the highest navigable water level.

Aqueducts There will be three aqueducts on the canal. The Somme aqueduct will be 1330 m long and 25 m high above the water level of the navigable river Somme. The other two aqueducts will cross over the A29 and A26 motorways respectively.

Planning – Land purchases are in progress in 2010, while the formal bidding by the two consortia preselected to build and operate the canal should take place in the course of the year.

Artist’s impression of the deepest lock at Moislains with its five levels of water-saving basins, to be reproduced in the foreground by about 2035 when the second chamber is expected to be required.
Artist’s impression of the deepest lock at Moislains with its five levels of water-saving basins, to be reproduced in the foreground by about 2035 when the second chamber is expected to be required.

The public-private partnership contract should be signed early in 2011. Preliminary works will start that year, while construction of the canal itself could start in 2012, for completion within four years. The projected cost is about €4 billion.

Watersupply – The volumes consumed in lockage will be limited by the water-saving basins, and the rest will be entirely recycled by back-pumping. Permanent losses through infiltration and evaporation will be made up by two reservoirs filled by pumping whenever there is surplus water available. The volume thus consumed, corresponding to a constant discharge of 1.2 m3/s, is met by the resources of the catchment area of the rivers Oise and Aisne. The system is illustrated by the diagram opposite.

Water supply Seine Nord Europe Canal
Schematic representation of water supply for the new canal

The discharge of 1.2 m3/s will only be abstracted if the flow in the river Oise is above a threshold defined as the sum of the current mean monthly low-flow discharge of five-year return period plus the increase in water requirements over the next 30 years (drinking water supply, industrial water and irrigation) throughout the catchment areas of the rivers Oise and Aisne. Under these conditions, the required discharge would be guaranteed 95% of the time on average. When abstraction from the Oise is impossible, the following measures will be implemented in succession: extraction from the Tarteron valley reservoir (5.2 Mm3), built alongside the summit level, then abstraction from the Louette valley reservoir (9.1 Mm3), built alongside the first pound down from the summit. When the capacity of these reservoirs has been used up, the final measure is lowering of the pounds themselves, first by 50 cm then by 1m below the normal navigation level. Vessels will then be required to programme their transits loading to less than full capacity, but this should not call into question the value or the use of water transport.

Artist’s impression of the multimodal port platform at Marquion-Cambrai. © VNF Mission Seine-Nord Europe
Artist’s impression of the multimodal port platform at Marquion-Cambrai. © VNF Mission Seine-Nord Europe

This system offers a high level of reliability, and the risk of interruption of navigation is limited to a return period of 65 years. Construction of the Seine-Nord Europe Canal will also bring modifications to the existing canals of northern France, with impacts on their management. Savings in water consumption may thus be envisaged, and the corresponding volumes returned to the natural hydrographic system to improve aquatic life.
The study summarised here was produced by consultants Sogreah with VNF. Such technical details would not normally find their place in an inland waterway guide, but water is such a critical issue in the modern world that it was thought useful to give this preview. Even on small canals, boaters will occasionally be affected by measures to reduce water consumption during periods of drought, and an understanding of how this new canal will work serves to illustrate the issue of water supply to all summit level canals.

Authority – VNF – Mission Seine-Nord Europe
– 156, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris

Click to enlarge

Seine Nord Europe waterway strip

Route description

PK 0.0     Junction with Oise and Aisne
PK 2.7     Junction with Oise branch to Janville (no through navigation on Canal latéral à l’Oise)
PK 8.2     Lock (Montmacq), lift 6.40m
PK 18.0     Junction with canal latéral à l’Oise
PK 20.5     Lock (Noyon), lift 19.57m
PK 22.8     Noyon multimodal port platform l/b
PK 30.3     Lock (Campagne), lift 15.50m
PK 43.0     Nesle multimodal port platform r/b
PK 51.4     Aqueduct (over A29 motorway)
PK 57.0     Péronne multimodal port platform l/b
PK 62.7     Beginning of Somme aqueduct
PK 64.0     End of Somme aqueduct
PK 69.0     Junction with branch to Somme via a section of the former Canal du Nord considered here as the Somme branch of the new canal
PK 70.4     Lock (Moislains), lift 22.00m
PK 96.6     Aqueduct (over A26 motorway)
PK 98.1     Lock (Marquion-Bourlon), lift 20.11m
PK 99.1     Marquion multimodal port platform r/b
PK 104.3     Lock (Oisy-le-Verger), lift 15m
PK 105.8     Junction with Dunkerque-Escaut waterway

Somme branch
PK 0.0     Junction with main line on the long pound
PK 0.2     New lock 9a (Allaines)
PK 0.5     Lock 10 (Allaines), VHF 10

A single lock 12m deep may replace these two locks 9a and 10

PK 0.8     Allaines bridge, small village 300m l/b