LEGO Education 2000451 Panama Canal is now available to the general public. Brick Fanatics started to wonder how close the model is to the real life landmark, so called upon our resident engineer to take a look
When I am not writing for Brick Fanatics, or playing with LEGO bricks with my children, I work as a civil engineer. Through the many years of schooling leading up to that certification I was tasked with studying the Panama Canal multiple times over. I never minded – the canal is a modern marvel and a truly fascinating part of civil engineering history. Even today, over 100 years after its completion, the canal remains one of mankind’s greatest engineering achievements in terms of both its physical scope and effectiveness in carrying out its mission. All that familiarity led me to wonder how closely the new LEGO Education model 2000451 Panama Canal is to the real thing.
Before diving into whether or not the set is accurate, a bit of a history and geography lesson is required. The Panama Canal was constructed in the Central American country of Panama in the early 1900s. A failed attempt to construct the passageway was undertaken by the French in the late 1800s, but eventually the project was taken up and completed by the USA in 1914. As ships have gotten a lot bigger in the last 100 years, a dramatic modernisation project was finished and opened for use just last year. Prior to the canal, ship routes took vessels much further south around the dangerous Cape of Good Hope. Even today this is considered dangerous territory so a safer, and shorter passage was the great accomplishment of the Panama Canal. The LEGO Group’s model is based on the renovated canal.
The modern Panama Canal is a 77km waterway. To save construction cost and time, it was decided by the original engineers to create a large lake, now known as Gatun Lake, by damming the natural Chagres River. Doing so created a 33km water body that did not have to be excavated. While this saved a lot of digging it also created a problem. While the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are at the same elevation, we call it sea level for a reason – damming the river at the optimal location meant Gatun Lake exits 26m above sea level. If she were directly connected, all of the water would drain right down into the ocean.
To circumvent this problem, ships are raised through a series of locks. Locks are essentially chambers with retractable dams at either end. A ship sails into the lock and, when it is safely in, the dams on each end close and water is pumped into the lock raising the ship. There are three sets of locks in the actual Panama Canal, two on the Pacific side and one on the Atlantic. The LEGO model is designed to represent the recently added third lane of Gatun Locks which consist of three chambers that are responsible for either raising or lowering ships to and from Gatun Lake on the Atlantic side of the canal. In almost every respect, the LEGO set is an accurate recreation of the expansion project.
Just like in the real world, the LEGO model has three sets of locks with sliding doors instead of the old hinged kind. These older locks remain in use on the old channels which were not decommissioned. The expansion is simply another, much larger lane bringing the total from two up to three. Even the spacing and length/width proportions seem to have been accurately captured.