Panama Canal: Rail freight adopted by shippers as ocean transit booking slots are slashed


Drastic cuts to transit booking slots have been announced by the Panama Canal authorities, the latest update has reduced the number of available slots from 30 to 24 per day, further exacerbating concerns for East Asia to NA East Coast trade.  

The reservation of booking slots is popular with container lines that need to offer guarantees of when they are transiting the waterway, and as the demand for them has increased with less availability, shippers have been forced to re-route around the South American peninsula increasing transit times by 19-21 days.  

Although the most recent holiday peak has concluded, a perfect storm nearly came to fruition, logistic experts expressed concerns that if the initial impact of the droughts occurred one or two months later, it would have created a critical situation for high-value goods. This would have led to significant delays pre-festive season for manufacturers and suppliers, a scenario that planners are keen to prevent at all costs. 

With no signs of the strain alleviating on the Panama Canal and Red Sea shipping routes, shippers are facing considerable pressure to find alternative transport solutions. Earlier this month, Maersk, a leading global shipping company, announced its strategy to utilise rail freight to bypass the drought-ridden waterway.  

“Pacific vessels will turn at the Port of Balboa in Panama, dropping off cargo heading for Latin America and North America, and picking up cargo heading for Australia and New Zealand,” Maersk announced in their latest news release. “Atlantic vessels will turn at Panama’s Port of Manzanillo, dropping off cargo heading for Australia and New Zealand and picking up cargo heading for Latin and North America.”

This shift towards a well-developed contingency plan underscores the importance of adaptability in supply chains, by enabling immediate implementation of alternative multi-modal transport solutions in response to challenges, manufacturers and suppliers simultaneously increase security for their production facilities, decreasing the risk of shutdown. 

Recognising the importance of supporting our clients in times like this, we have six strategically located control centres across the globe with a network of experts that can quickly implement bespoke transport solutions – specialised in handling the current logistics challenges. As our industry values supply chain certainty more so than before, our teams are available to respond within 30 minutes to you, if you need support or advice on the Panama Canal, please contact us on +44 (0)1332 814914 or

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