logo: Matthew Parker: Hell's Gorge

The new expansion plan

'Business is business. Every time you invest money you are taking a chance. There is always risk in any business. But we believe there is more risk in not doing anything'
ACP spokesperson, February 2007

Pictures from CZbrats
illustration of expansion

A megaproject, the most ambitious engineering work in Panama since the canal’s original construction. Budget is set at $5,200 million, in real terms similar to the cost of the original canal ($400m in 1914). No doubt this figure will rise and rise. Work is due to be completed by 2014.

The new plan aims to double the canal's capacity. Though in 1934 it was estimated that the maximum capacity of the canal would be around 80 million tons per year, canal traffic in 2005 consisted of 278.8 million tons of shipping (15000 vessels) The estimate is that it will be running at full capacity by 2009. Queues form out to sea of ships waiting to cross the Isthmus. In early 2007 a British ship captain with an urgent cargo paid $200,000 in an auction to jump the queue, on top of his toll of another $200,000.

The canal today

The canal today

new atlantic locks

The second aim is to allow it to take bigger vessels. The trend towards post-Panamax ships seems irreversible. Half of the orders for new container ships up to 2011 are post-Panamax monsters. Current Panamax container ships take 4,500 containers; new capacity is for ships with 12,000.

The key element is the construction of two new lock complexes at either end of the high lake, each with three chambers, which include water-saving basins. The new lock’s chambers will be 427m (1,400’) long, by 55m (180’) wide, and 18.3m (60’) deep. They are only a few feet smaller than the biggest lock in the world.

There is also to be widening of the Culebra Cut, and access channels need to be dug to the new locks, eight miles long at the Pacific end and three miles at the Atlantic end.

To increase the available water, the elevation of Gatún Lake is to be raised by about half a metre, requiring new spillway, adjustments to the locks and substantial relocation of roads and railway.

For the detailed plan see: http://www.pancanal.com/eng/plan/index.html

new pacific locks

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