Source: Notteboom, T. and J-P Rodrigue (2009) “The Future of Containerization: Perspectives from Maritime and Inland Freight Distribution”, Geojournal, Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 7-22.
The setting of a global “containerized highway” involving continuity between inland and maritime transport systems is expected as containerization continues to diffuse. For the northern hemisphere, where the bulk of economic activity occurs, this would involve three major rings or circulations; the equatorial ring, the middle ring, and the speculative Arctic ring.
The shortest path to circum-navigate the world is the so-called circum-equatorial route using the Panama Canal, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Malacca. Two of these shortcuts are artificial, implying that significant additional detours were imposed before their construction through the Cape of Good Hope (southern Africa) and the Strait of Magellan (southern America). In the age of globalization, this simple pattern remains a fundamental element shaping global maritime routes that are mostly composed of longitudinal and latitudinal connectors.
The circum-equatorial route can be perceived as a conveyor belt where high capacity and high-frequency containerships are assigned and can interface with the middle ring at specific high throughput transshipment hubs. The widening of the Panama Canal will improve the operational efficiency of the system, placing it close to parity with the capacity of the Suez Canal. Under such circumstances, the setting up of true bi-directional and high-frequency round-the-world services could finally take place.
The most important ring of circulation, the middle ring, comprises two large continental rail land bridges linked by transatlantic and transpacific connectors. The North American landbridge, is fully operational, while the other, the Eurasian landbridge, is still a concept. The middle ring requires a full-fledged maritime-land interface with major gateways and corridors. The arctic ring is problematic as a full ring of circulation, but specific maritime bridges could be established (e.g. Narvik – Churchill), which would complement the middle ring.