The Canal Plateway Incident was an abortive attempt in Kinilan
to enhance the country's canal system by replacing the horses used to tow barges with a plateway, an arcanomechanical curiosity that moves a self-propelled cart back and forth along a rail that had previously only been used in very small scale applications.
A Plateway runs on a modified version of a Runic Engine
. The standard Runic Engine allows an operator precision control of a device designed to operate similarly to a human limb; this is useful for a number of activities, but continuous operation of them is quite taxing. This is particularly limiting in rotational applications; as natural human limbs don't spin, it produces a sense of discomfort in the user. Even experienced Runic Engineers find they need to stop using the device after a few hours.
The modified version, however, uses a runic engine to drive a series of levers that turns a mechanical crank, and then uses purely mechanical means to transfer that rotation to the wheels of the plateway cart. This results in a much simpler device, but provides the operator far less of a sense of what the vehicle is doing, which in turn necessitates guide rails and a mechanical braking system to keep it moving in the right direction and bring it to a stop safely. In turn, the mental link between operator and engine was reduced to a simple on-off state, as this would allow the cart to move as fast as the provided heat would allow, regardless of the skill or limitations of its operator.
The Canal Plateway Plan
Kinilan's network of canals is very efficient for transporting large amounts of cargo, but can only do so at the speed of a walking horse or man pulling the tow ropes. During the The Great War
, some thought was put into how goods might be transported from the capitol city, Antius
, to the front in the Iron Hills
One proposed solution was to build a plateway, laying track down on the towpaths and using a series of plateway carts to tow the barges instead of horses. It was well known that the carts could go quite fast, though with the longest one ever built being less than a kilometer, their true top speed could only be guessed at. However, since the Rethis Canal
was of too great importance to mount such a project without surety of success, the designers opted to use the canal between Antius and the port city of Jera
, as improving the link between the capitol and the nearest port would also be beneficial for trade.
Thirty kilometers of track was laid, and a single barge was sent from Jera to Antius laden with grain as a test. The result was disaster of remarkable proportions.
Barely five kilometers up the canal, test barge encountered its first mishap: an oncoming barge carrying a shipment of House Andraste
's finest wines in defiance of the order that the canal be closed for the test. Horses towing the barge panicked at the sight of the oncoming plateway carts - already travelling faster than a horse at full gallop, and tried to scatter to the sides. Only the quick thinking of one of the handlers with the horses prevented a direct collision - she drew her knife and quickly cut the ties on one side - freeing the horse team and allowing the panicking horses on the far side to pull their barge to one side. Still, the barges clipped corners with enough force that fully half of the bottles of wine being transported were shattered despite their padding; fortunately the impact was above the water line so both barges stayed afloat. Several of the horses still tied to the barge were also injured, thanks to the cart on that side ploughing through their tow lines.
About seven minutes and seven kilometers later, disaster struck. The broad faced nose of the barge dug deeply into the water and the entire barge flipped and hit the water hard, upside down, pulling both plateway carts (and a section of the platway) into the canal and breaking up into fragments of timber. Both cart operators were killed in the crash. It took three days for the waiting crews in Antius to realize something had gone wrong and reach the crash site, and another week to work out what had happened.
Word got out about the utter disaster of this test (likely with the help of agents of the Abizin Loyalists
, as the hauling teams from House Andraste were in the best position to find out about the incident), and quickly spread across the land. Some versions tell it as a sign of progress - of the remarkable technologies being developed in Kinilan...even if they're not always successful; others tell it as a haphazard scheme that was destined to end in failure; most just enjoy the story.
Naturally, the canal plateway project was scrapped. Its designers have worked out solutions to some of the problems, such as using a rail built along the side of the canal and a wheel rig built into the side of the barges to allow the barge to be pulled by a cart on only one side (thus allowing oncoming barges to pass without collision), designing the barges to have a prow similar to a sea-going vessel, in order to part the water rather than digging into it, and even redesigning the plateway carts themselves so that their engineer can directly control their speed rather than going as fast as the available heat in the runic engine allows. But even with these proposed changes, they have thus far met with stiff opposition to another test.
And the canal plateway itself has since been torn up. With metal shortages due to the war in the Iron Hills becoming acutely problematic in the last few years of the war, the thirty kilometer long strips of cast iron were seen as an easy source of scrap metal to put to a more productive use.