Commercial barge traffic returns to Aire and Calder for first time since breach last December

Commercial barge traffic returns to the Aire and Calder Navigation on Monday after an absence of nine months after a section of canal wall gave way following heavy rainfall.

Fifth-generation barge operator John Branford, 76, who is due to be carrying freight on the Aire and Calder Navigation today for the first time since December Picture: James Hardisty

The breach at Newbridge was fixed by the Canal and River Trust at a cost previously estimated at about £3m, finally allowing fifth-generation operator John Branford to start carrying freight to Leeds again.

Mr Branford was due to leave Goole with a 350-tonne load of grit sand at 6am on Monday and arrive at Knostrop Wharf in Leeds at 2.30pm.

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The material, which is used in concrete, will then be taken to the Amazon site at Cross Green, less than a mile away. He will make a second trip later this week.

Farndale H should be heading to Knostrop in Leeds on Monday afternoon Picture: James Hardisty

The skipper, who captained his first barge aged 15, restarted freight deliveries from Hull to Leeds in September 2020 after a break of 19 years - only to be put out of action on December 20, 2020, when the breach occurred at Newbridge between Southfield Reservoir and Goole.

Mr Branford said he still could not carry a full load of 500 tonnes, as the canal still needs dredging below Ferrybridge, but the company he works with is keen to get him back on the canal, as “they are having a job getting wagon drivers”.

He is hoping that by October there will be three barges making regular deliveries to Knostrop - with his barges Farndale H and Fossdale H, joined by a third, Fusedale H, from Humber Barges.

Mr Branford said carrying freight on barges was a solution which is “staring everybody in the face”.

Farndale H passing through Pollington Lock in September 2020

He said: “They can’t get drivers and even with 350 tonnes, that’s still 11 or 12 wagons off the road.

“There are people ringing up asking will I do this or that - there’s a lot of interest.

“It is more environmentally friendly and it makes sense.”

As well as being a freight route, the 34-mile navigation is also popular for leisure boating as well as angling.