A large stone culvert (1888–89) in Blackwater Canyon, West Virginia. The structure formerly supported a railroad.

A culvert is a device used to channel water. It may be used to allow water to pass underneath a road, railway, or embankment. Culverts can be made of many different materials; steel, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and concrete are the most common. Formerly, construction of stone culverts was common.



Precast concrete culvert segments

Culverts come in many shapes and sizes, including round, elliptical, flat-bottomed, pear-shaped, and box. They vary from the small drainage culverts found on highways and driveways to large diameter structures on significant waterways or supporting large water control works. The latter can comprise large engineering projects.

There are three primary materials that culverts are made out of: steel, precast concrete, and polymer (plastic).[1] They can also be built as a hybrid between steel and concrete, for example an open-bottom corrugated steel structure on concrete footings, or a corrugated steel structure with a concrete "collar" around the ends.

When boxes or pipes are placed side-by-side to create a width of greater than twenty feet, the culvert is defined as a bridge in the United States. This is a requirement of the federal bridge inspection standards and ensures that the culvert is inspected on a regular basis.[2]

Minimum energy loss culverts

In the coastal plains of Queensland (North-East Australia), torrential rains during the wet season place a heavy demand on culverts. Further, the natural slope of the flood plains is often very small and little fall (or head loss) is permissible in the culverts. G.R. McKay and C.J. Apelt developed and patented the design procedure of minimum energy loss culverts waterways which yield small afflux. Apelt presented an authoritative review of the topic (1983) and a well-documented documentary (1994).

A minimum energy loss culvert or waterway is a structure designed with the concept of minimum head loss. The flow in the approach channel is contracted through a streamlined inlet into the barrel where the channel width is minimum, and then it is expanded in a streamlined outlet before being finally released into the downstream natural channel. Both the inlet and outlet must be streamlined to avoid significant form losses. The barrel invert is often lowered to increase the discharge capacity.

The concept of minimum energy loss culverts was developed by Norman Cottman, shire engineer in Victoria (Australia) and by Professor Gordon McKay, University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) during the late 1960s.[citation needed] While a number of small-size structures were designed and built in Victoria, some major structures were designed, tested and built in South-East Queensland.


Winter treasure trove under the culvert on a sub zero morning
Polymer drainage culvert

In forestry, proper use of cross-drainage culverts can improve water quality while allowing forest operations to continue.


Accidents with a culvert can occur if a flood overwhelms it, such as with the Jacobs Creek Flood of 2003, or disrupts the road or railway above it, such as with the Bethungra accident of 1885, which killed seven people.

If a culvert made of steel is not properly galvanized, the culvert can eventually collapse, again disrupting the road or railway above it. This happened at a culvert near Gosford, New South Wales in 2007, killing five.[3]

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Culvert — Cul vert (k?l v?rt), n. [Prob. from OF. coulouere, F. couloir, channel, gutter, gallery, fr. couler to flow. See {Cullis}.] A transverse drain or waterway of masonry under a road, railroad, canal, etc.; a small bridge. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • culvert — (n.) 1773, origin unknown, perhaps, as Weekley suggests, the name of a long forgotten engineer or bridge builder …   Etymology dictionary

  • culvert — [n] ditch for flow of water canal, channel, conduit, drain, duct, gutter, pipe, watercourse; concept 509 …   New thesaurus

  • culvert — ► NOUN ▪ a tunnel carrying a stream or open drain under a road or railway. ORIGIN of unknown origin …   English terms dictionary

  • culvert — [kul′vərt] n. [late 18th c. < ?] a conduit, esp. a drain, as a pipelike construction of stone, concrete, or metal, that passes under a road, railroad track, footpath, etc. or through an embankment …   English World dictionary

  • culvert — noun Etymology: origin unknown Date: 1773 1. a transverse drain 2. a conduit for a culvert 3. a bridge over a culvert …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • culvert — UK [ˈkʌlvə(r)t] / US [ˈkʌlvərt] noun [countable] Word forms culvert : singular culvert plural culverts a very wide pipe that carries water under a road or railway line …   English dictionary

  • culvert — noun A transverse channel under a road or railway for the draining of water. A raft of twigs stayed upon a stone, suddenly detached itself, and floated towards the culvert …   Wiktionary

  • culvert — [[t]kʌ̱lvə(r)t[/t]] culverts N COUNT A culvert is a water pipe or sewer that crosses under a road or railway …   English dictionary

  • culvert — noun they were concerned with the foul smell from the water in the culvert Syn: channel, conduit, watercourse, trough; drain, gutter, ditch …   Thesaurus of popular words

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