WORK IS under way to replace tracks used by locomotives to tow ships through the Panama Canal's three sets of locks.
Dramatic increases in the volume of shipping and the size of vessels means the existing rails and rack and pinion driven track are well below the specification needed for a new generation of 'tugs' The Panama Canal's three sets of twin lane locks raises it through 26m across South America's Continental Divide. Each lock is flanked by tracks which enable up to eight locomotives to guide vessels, pulling or restraining from each corner.
The original track was designed for loads of 41t on the waterside rail, which, because it is nearest the edge of the locks, is subject to the highest forces. Forces on the waterside rail have exceeded 92t since 1996.
The tow track system is believed to be unique, consisting of twin rails and a central raised rack which engages with the locomotives' pinion drives. These are supported on steel crossties and embedded in concrete.
The Autoridad Del Canal De Panama (ACP) - the Panama Canal Authority - is removing 16,188m of worn out tow track and replacing it with a new stronger system.
Work involves cutting out old concrete between the waterside rail and edge of the locks and between the twin rail's supporting steel crossties, prior to taking out sections of the track. This is being carried out using a pair of Conjet Jetframe 122 hydrodemolition machines, which have helped achieve a 20-fold increase in output. Replacement is taking place in 30m stretches during normal lock maintenance posessions.
ACP's Locks Track & Structural Maintenance Unit is supervising operations.