GLS: Seaway winter closures shortening as ports utilisation rises


Following the winter closure, Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway is set to reopen later this month. During the winter closure, the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (GLS) and St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) have coordinated to repair and upgrade canal infrastructure.

The repair of the infrastructure could help the seaway continue the rise in transit. In 2022, there was a 2 per cent increase in transit as compared to the year prior. In terms of volume, this translates to just over 32.6 million metric tons of cargo. The Montreal-Lake Ontario Section of the Seaway’s annual closure began on December 31, 2022, and the Welland Canal was closed on January 7, 2023.

Seaway reopens on March 22

The 2023 Navigation season opening for the Montreal – Lake Ontario Section and the Welland Canal will take place at St. Lambert Lock in Montreal, Canada on March 22, 2023. The ceremonial launch of the St. Lawrence Seaway’s 65th Navigation Season will take place on this date at the Saint-Lambert Lock, in Canada. The reopening has been unveiled in the Seaway Notice 1 of 2023. It is important to note that ship transits will be subject to weather and ice conditions and that some restrictions may apply in some areas until lighted navigation aids have been installed.

There will also be limitations on the maximum allowable draft in certain areas, due to the presence of ice. In the Montreal – Lake Ontario Section, the maximum allowable draft will be 8 metres. The maximum draft will be increased to 8.08 metres for all ships when the South Shore Canal is ice-free and when water levels are favourable.

In the Welland Canal, a maximum allowable draft of 8.08 metres will be in effect from the start of the navigation season for all ships. Ships equipped with an approved and operational draft information system will be permitted to transit at a draft of up to 7 centimetres above the maximum allowable draft.

Bridge 6 Rehabilitation in the Welland Canal (Photo: GLS)
Bridge 6 Rehabilitation in the Welland Canal (Photo: GLS)

GLS operational rhythm

Adam Tindall-Schlicht, administrator of the GLS explains, “The annual winter closure, which typically lasts around two months, is an important part of our operational rhythm. It allows all 15 American and Canadian locks to go through a process of rehabilitation, modernisation, and capital improvement. This is vital, as the lock system operates on a continual basis from around mid-March to early January each year.”

“By and large, depending on an array of factors, including weather, the locks will open towards the middle end of March. This has been relatively consistent over time. However, over the last 20 years, the winter lock closure time has actually decreased, as demand for utilising the U.S. and Great Lakes ports through the Seaway has remained stable if not increased,” Tindall-Schlicht tells Project Cargo Journal.

American and Canadian Great Lake ports, over years of working with and through the Seaway, have robust winter supply chains that can include interlake traffic via those vessels that operate solely within the Great Lakes,” states Tindall-Schlicht. “Many, if not all of our ports, are full multimodal ports, meaning that winter closure becomes a time in which service through rail and other surface transportation modes provide extra support for cargoes in the region as ports prepare for the start of the annual international shipping season,” he adds.

Adam Tindall-Schlicht, administrator of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation

Repairs completed during the closure

Since closing on January 1, GLS and St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) have been engaged in annual winter work. At the U.S. locks, GLS has worked on the Snell Lock Diffuser Replacement project. Three of the existing six diffusers were demolished, and three new diffuser structures were installed. The remaining three existing diffusers are scheduled for replacement next winter. Additionally, Eisenhower Lock had short concrete repairs completed throughout the lock.

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) is also continually investing in its infrastructure in both Québec and Ontario to assure that its important assets will remain in service for many more years. In 2022, more than $50M CAN was invested in major projects (more than $30M in the Welland Canal and more than $20M in the Maisonneuve region). Projects include bridge rehabilitation, basin dredging, and lock equipment maintenance, like gates.

The Seaway Corporations will also continue to work on key initiatives to further support expanding trade on the Great Lakes. These include facilitating the establishment of Green Shipping Corridors, expanding land development along SLSMC-owned canals, and developing innovative technologies, such as the Vessel Information System.

New Seaway Visitor Center Construction in in January and February 2023 (Photo: GLS)
New Seaway Visitor Center Construction in January and February 2023 (Photo: GLS)

Author: Emma Dailey

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GLS: Seaway winter closures shortening as ports utilisation rises | Project Cargo Journal