Ever since it opened in 1914, the Panama Canal has offered ships a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, saving them the time and expense of sailing around Cape Horn at the southern tip of Chile. But if an unusual plan by a Florida startup bears fruit, that time-tested route could eventually have some competition.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Zergratran SA wants to shuttle shipping containers through a tunnel that would be dug beneath land in Colombia, about 100 miles south of the Panama Canal. The company is seeking funding for its initial step toward the project, which it calls the Puerto Internacional Las Americas (PILA).
Zergratran (short for “zero gravity transportation”) says it would use fully automated ports on both sides of the Central American peninsula and magnetic levitation—the same technology that moves Japan’s bullet trains—to unload containers from ships and whisk them underground between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts in less than 30 minutes. That’s a fraction of the 10 hours or so it takes ships to traverse the Panama Canal’s 40-mile length. In addition to saving time, Zergratran says its project would cut greenhouse gas emissions by creating a “Green Shipping Corridor” featuring the first seaport to offer biofuels only.But Zergratran admits this grand vision will require some serious funding. The company hopes to raise $5 million for a “pre-feasibility” analysis, $500 million for a feasibility stage, and a whopping $15 billion for the six-year construction project. In the long run, Zergratran says, it will recoup those costs by generating $15 billion in annual revenue from container, port, and pipeline fees; mineral and water sales; and hydroelectric, solar, and wind electricity generation. We’ll keep you posted.