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Ohio River locks on coal shipping route closed again due to hydraulic failure

Key locks on a major coal shipping route on the Ohio River are closed again due to a hydraulic failure.

Rising river stages forced the closure of Locks and Dam No. 52 near Brookport, Ill., on Oct. 9, and flows are expected to rise past Smithland Locks and Dam about 20.5 miles upriver through Oct. 13, according to a press release from the Waterways Council Inc.

The Waterways Council said discharges from Kentucky and Barkley lakes are being coordinated with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Nashville District to try to reduce discharges as the Ohio River flows decrease.

The release said the upper section of Lock 52 is projected to fall within navigable limits either late Oct. 15 or early Oct. 16.

The same locks were closed for several days in September due to damaged wickets, which are paddles in the bottom of a canal gate that allow water to flow through.

The hydraulics that open and close the lower gate at nearby Locks and Dam No. 53 were down earlier in October due to a hydraulic failure in the lower gates, according to the Waterways Council.

Locks 52 and 53 have both been in service since the 1920s, and the Waterways Council said it continues to advocate for improved infrastructure on inland waterways.

"Our locks are aging and they are doing so rather ungracefully," Waterways Council Senior Vice President Debra Calhoun said in a speech Sept. 19 at the annual conference of the National Coal Transportation Association in Denver.

The Olmsted Locks and Dam project, a long-term fix to replace the aging locks, is scheduled to come online in 2018.