Examining the Panama Canal expansion: increases in traffic and freight

On 18 May the ship Sun Rise sailed from Trieste (Italy) carrying four new gates for the third set of locks on the Panama Canal. The gates, the second set to be shipped to Panama, are scheduled to arrive in mid-June.

With just 26% of the expansion work left to be done, the Canal is on the point of completing its biggest infrastructure project since its inauguration a century ago.

An average of 14,000 vessels transit the Panama Canal per year, each carrying up to 5,000 TEU. The new locks will allow the passage of 12 to 14 vessels a day, doubling the annual transit rates. And additionally, the canal will be open to Post-Panamax vessels, which can transport a maximum of 13,000 TEUs.

The expansion works on the Canal started nearly seven years ago, on 13 September 2007, with a total budget of 5,250 million dollars and the creation of 30,000 jobs.

The main aim, according to the Panama Canal Authority (PCA), “is to increase capacity to meet demand growth, with enhanced customer service.”

The expansion, to construct a new lane of traffic along the Canal, through the construction of two new sets of locks, is made up of four projects.

The third set of locks is the most important component in the expansion. It involves the construction of two new lock complexes on the Pacific and Atlantic sides.

This will create a third lane of traffic for the largest vessels.

Each lock complex will have three levels or chambers, with a similar configuration to the existing Gatún Locks.

The new lane will have a lock on each side, providing the capacity to handle vessels up to 160 feet wide, 1,200 feet long and 50 feet deep, or with a cargo volume of up to 170,000 DWT and 12,000 TEU.

The new access channel to the new Pacific locks, known as PAC-4, is an excavation of more than 6 kilometres in length, parallel to Miraflores lake.

Dredging the navigation channels throughout the length of the waterway, together with improvements in the water supply, through an increase in the maximum operating level of Gatún Lake, complete this enormous undertaking.

For the PCA the expansion, which will double the Canal’s capacity, will have “a direct impact on economies of scale and international maritime trade” and thus “maintain the Canal’s competitiveness and the value of the maritime route through Panama.”

Canal de Panamá