The 3,000 tonne capacity shiplift at the Three Gorges Dam – the world's largest elevator – has completed testing and begun operations.
The massive lift carries vessels 370 feet up from the original river level of the Yangtze to the newly created lake behind the dam. The journey takes less than an hour each way, compared to a four hour trip through the adjacent set of staircase locks.
Officials say that the lift will be used primarily for passenger vessels and occasionally for handling small cargo ships. Its 15,000 tonne lifting chamber is essentially a mobile lake: it picks up both the ship and the water in which it floats.
The lift was originally designed with a wire hoist system, but this was abandoned in favor of a rack-and-pinion drive with massive counterweights.
The Three Gorges lift is the final component of the dam's construction, and it marks the end of more than two decades of work on the massive facility. Three Gorges' 32 hydroelectric turbines came online in 2012, and it now holds title as the largest power generating station ever built. The dam holds back a lake hundreds of feet deep and 370 miles long, reaching all the way to Chongqing. The lake allows access for deeper-draft ships further up the river than before, and officials say that it has boosted shipping volumes on the upper reaches by a factor of six.
The locks parallel to the shiplift have the capacity for ships up to 10,000 tonnes and 900 feet long. In addition, two portage railways are under construction to circumvent the dam, one on each bank of the river.
Other well-known shiplifts include the Peterborough Lift Lock in Canada, the Scharnebeck twin lift in Germany and the Krasnoyarsk Dam lift in Siberia (an inclined marine railway, complete with a bridge section).