Friday, September 12, 2014

Will the Bigger Panama Canal Eliminate the Land-Bridge Traffic?

Time-lapse video of the expansion. I recommend viewing it full-screen.
Update: has a more interesting posting about the canal expansion because it has pictures and video references. I found the container loading video to be particularly interesting. I couldn't help but wonder what happens on a windy day with those long cable reaches. The construction was supposed to be completed in 2014. But oil-electric reports that overall progress is 78% and the new locks project is 73%. The current estimate is that it will open late 2015.

Charles Gilbert Wright comment on SupplHi's posting
[The Chinese-owned container ship, Cosco Shipping Panama, became the first ship through the expansion on June 26, 2016. You can see the use of a tug in the lock with the ship rather than "mules" on rails alongside the lock to pull the ship through the locks.]

Because most container ships are currently too large to go through the Panama Canal, the notion of a "land bridge" has been developed. Specifically, the ships are unloaded at West Coast ports and the Union Pacific and BNSF compete to haul the containers to the Chicago area. And then Norfolk Southern and CSXT compete for the business to the East Coast cities. Shippers are experiencing delays because the railroads have not been able to keep up with the growth of traffic. For example, the increased oil shipments from North Dakota has disrupted intermodal and grain shipments.

But the railroads may not have to build anything to relieve the congestion because they may loose the land-bridge traffic when the larger Panama Canal opens. I've seen predictions that the Southern California ports will loose 30% of their business when the large container ships can go directly to the East Coast ports. The larger ships are 235 feet longer and 54 feet wider then the current Panamax class ships (600x110) and can carry 12,000 20-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) vs. 5,000 for a Panamax ship. And they require a port depth of 50 feet. Update: Popular Mechanics states that the new reinforced-concrete lock chambers will be 1400 ft. long, 180 ft. wide and 60 ft. deep. The reason why the ships are significantly smaller than the locks is that two tugboats are used to maneuver the ships rather than mules. But the article indicates the ships will be 1200-feet long, not 600+235=835 feet. It agrees with the figures of 12,000 vs. 5,000.

The East Coast ports are doing construction to accommodate the larger ships. Some ports are increasing the port depth from 42 feet to 50 feet. The Bayonne Bridge got rid of its old roadway under the arch in 2017, and it is supposed to be done in 2019. [DeBruler]

If the Panama Canal sets the rates too high, then all of the East Coast construction is for naught. If they are low enough, then the improvements the West Coast and railroads are finally doing will be a waste. It is too bad a new canal had to be built before the West Coast ports and railroads would bother to figure out how to reduce their rates.

Update: The eastern ports have not upgraded yet for the bigger ships, so the railroads may still have land-bridge container traffic for a while longer.
From the comments on a Facebook posting and my study of the Maumee River grain elevators, I learned the dimensions of a max St. Lawrence Seaway ship is 740 x 78 x 26.6. James Nobbe provided TEU numbers:
You can get an 8000 TEU into Montreal. West of there, a 2500 TEU tramp is biggest (aka Seaway Max). Biggest drawback is Seaway is seasonal. Lots of folks studying marine "container trains" to various inland ports. Idea is for 1250 to 5000 TEU (or larger) barges to handle containers inland.

From HellenicsShippingNews, Sept. 9, 2016:
The first ship transited the newly expanded canal on June 26. .... Right now, only Baltimore, Norfolk and Miami have channels deep enough to accommodate these ships. The first of these behemoth vessels, the Ever Lambent, called on Baltimore this July.
Evidently Illinois politicians do not have a monopoly on stupidity. I assume it took big bucks to dredge the port to 50 feet and install super-Panamax cranes, but they still have not got funding to raise the height of the Howard Street Tunnel by 18 inches so that double-stack container trains can be run to the port. And it will take four more years to fix the tunnel after they get funding. (Update: as of Nov 2019, the funding is committed to expand the Howard Street Tunnel and raise 22 bridges between Baltimore and Philiadelphia. [DeBruler]) I wonder how raising the bridge for the New Jersey and New York ports is coming.

From a video of the history of the original canal brought to you by Bucyrus. (Evidently, Bucyrus-Erie is one of the many big equipment companies that has been swallowed up by Caterpillar.)

Mike Breski shared
Construction of the steel gates of Gatun Lock, Panama Canal, circa 1912.

Joe Dockrill posted
Panama Canal

Carlos Ferran posted
Posted from a Panamanian group about a half an hour ago [June 23, 2020], the Panama Canal Railway mainline is effectively shutdown at Gamboa. I cant imagine how deep in trouble those people are in.
Chuck Withers Is that KCS?Chris Hennebry Chuck Withers the KCS owns it.

Carlos Ferran commented on his post
Another angle of the damage.
Jimmy Barlow Note that there's a roadway beside the rr track; 2 men standing on it at lower left.

Jimmy Barlow It appears that this bridge doesn't even have any provision for clearing a ship. And if that's true, the Bluebill had to have been either disabled or insanely off course. (Assuming of course that it wasn't intentional in some way.)
Michael T. Burkhart The bridge spans the Chagres River, not the canal itself. The road was closed a few years ago when a new highway span was built just to the east.

Aaron Byrant shared
Dennis DeBruler,-79.../data=!3m1!1e3

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