The Panama Canal

an expansion programme delivers new potential

As a masterpiece of engineering, the Canal consisting of a 77-kilometer ship channel and the man made „Gatun Lake“ has connected the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through the center of Panama ever since 1914.  The vessels passing through the Canal (called „Panamax vessels“) enter the channels and are raised through locks up to the Gatun Lake.

Even though the Panamax vessels already allow for a capacity of up to 5000 TEUs and a maximum length of 965 feet, today´s technology pushes toward even bigger „Post-Panamax vessels“ of a weight of 9000 TEUs and a length of 1200 feet. Such new, larger vessels call for an expansion of the canal,  both in width and in depth.

Heart of the New Canal Expansion Plan is to connect new locks with the Canal channels by placing them in enlarged access channels on both the Atlantic and the Pacific side of the Canal. The existing channels must also be deepened, because they are currently not capable of supporting the size of the new larger Post-Panamax vessels.

On August 20, 2013, the first four new locks – weighing an average of 3100 tons each! – arrived at the Atlantic side of the Canal, thus completing 62% of the entire Expansion Program, which  is expected to be fully completed in 2014.  Through this expansion program, the Panama Canal`s capacity will be doubled. By unlocking the full potential of the Canal, the world maritime trade is expected to get an important impact that will affect world trade and transportation as a whole. Curiously enough 1914 and 2014 seem to be milestone years in the Canal’s history. It  is interesting to see how much the progress in technology and development in economy has changed the world in 100 years, and how much the effectiveness of transportation systems has an impact on economy and vice versa.