Panama Canal Maintenance to Extend Life Another 100 years
The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel. Often referred to as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the canal significantly reduces the time, distance, and cost to ship goods between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. More than 1 million vessels have traversed the canal since construction was completed in 1914.
The original locks have been in constant use since their completion over one hundred years ago. The Panama Canal has strict maintenance schedules in place to ensure the reliability of the canal as forty ships pass through daily. Nearly every 5 years each chamber is refurbished and every 25-30 years the gates are reconditioned.
For one week in May 2023, the west chamber of the Pedro Miguel locks were drained to allow four-hundred workers access to the inner workings of the chamber. The maintenance team took advantage of the halt in traffic to recondition the concrete walls and massive gates. During the scheduled maintenance, workers constantly monitored valves, the 65-foot-high walls, and the massive pipes that pump water in and out of the locks to raise and lower ships.
Operators were able to examine the walls once the chamber was completely drained. They sealed fissures and cracks in the walls, addressed other damages, and had access to the electrical components and equipment. The goal was to recondition the walls and components contained therein to extend operational life.
In addition to working on the walls of the chamber, two seven hundred ton gates were removed from Pedro Miguel to be reconditioned. The steel on the gates was repaired, the rubber fittings and seals were replaced, and the gates were painted to prevent corrosion.
While the planned maintenance only lasted one week the entire project was budgeted for $2.5 million. Each year the canal authority spends more than $400 million on maintenance projects, proving the importance of planned and scheduled maintenance to the operation of the canal.
Maintenance efforts are always of the utmost importance, especially this year as Panama is currently experiencing a drought. The locks raise and lower ships using rainwater, but in recent months the canal has been forced to reduce traffic as the lack of water is expected to have a profound impact on the future of the canal. The recently completed maintenance work will ensure valves are in proper working condition to help prevent leaks from one chamber to the next and conserve water.
According to Miguel Lorenzo, the VP of Infrastructure and Engineering for the Canal Authority, their maintenance plan is designed to extend the Panama Canal’s life for another 100 years.