The global news headlines in March were dominated by three events - Oprah Winfrey’s interview, the vaccine rollout and a ship stuck in a canal.
We’ll brush over the first two and instead focus on the canal, as it bears some parallels with the rail industry.
Canals in the UK were part of the Industrial Revolution, like railways. They were built to transport goods between towns and cities in England to such an extent that Birmingham has allegedly got more canals than Venice. Perhaps not the same tourist appeal but it has more waterways.
International Trade literally stopped here, Source: Daily Sabah
A canal nowadays is used less for manufacturing and haulage and more for leisure pursuits - angling and boating, but Suez in March reminded us all again of the importance of transport infrastructures.
The Suez Crisis originally happened in 1956 when President Nasser nationalised the water that was mainly owned by France and Britain. 40 ships were sank to block the canal and global chaos ensued. It was a major arterial route for transporting oil.
Fast forward to 2021 and a similar crisis unfolded.
We’re all (over) familiar with the internet images and memes of the giant cargo ship stuck diagonally with a lone digger on the banks, but, like 1956, this blockage caused serious economic repercussions.
This modern ship, built in 2018 in Panama, is still there - freed but held captive in a compensation struggle.
You see the blockage caused major disruption for a week. When the 1300 foot long container vessel ran aground, sideways, nothing could get past it. The Suez Canal Authority are demanding $1 billion in compensation which cost $95 million in lost transit fees.
I think what i’s brought home to so many is the importance of reducing risks in the transport infrastructure. The closure of such a key transport route led to $9.6 billion of goods held up per day for 7 days. This is $400 million per hour!
We’re seeing that the UK are investing in the HS2 and in recent decades road projects like the M6 relief road, M25 and M60 orbital near our Raildiary base in Manchester, have meant that the equivalent of Ever Given on road or rail is unlikely.
Perhaps now there needs to be another route along the Suez Canal to prevent a similar economic catastrophe in future? There is clearly a need for it as an alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope can take two weeks longer. A waterway built in 1869 needs a newer option?
Aptly the vessel remains impounded in a broader area of the Suez Canal called the Great Bitter Lake.
Perhaps now, our team safely ensconced back at desks in our rejuvenated offices in Manchester city centre, can brainstorm alternative routes for Suez freight and perhaps invent another groundbreaking app - Canaldiary.