The Northwest Passage: A simulation

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america


Transportation economics, Transport economics, Trade off analysis, Speed, Simulation, Shipping, Panama Canal, Northwest Passage, Mathematical models, Ice navigation, Freight rates, Economics, Container shipping, Computer simulation, Comparison studies, Canada, Alternatives analysis


The authors model shipping through the Northwest Passage in northern Canada in order to see if reported recent ice thinning has made this route economic relative to the Panama Canal. Container shipping between Yokohama to New York and St. Johns, Newfoundland is simulated by VSLAM for the two routes using bluewater ships for the Panama Canal and identically sized Canadian Arctic Class 3 (CAC3) ships for the Northwest Passage. Each route is broken into a series of logical legs, and environmental conditions and wait times are assigned. Ice conditions are modeled from historical records. Average speed through the Northwest Passage shows little seasonal variation. Round trips per year are higher through the Northwest Passage. The required freight rate (RFR) to recover all costs including capital recovery is calculated. RFR is slightly lower for the St. Johns to Yokohama transit using the Northwest Passage, and higher for the New York to Yokohama route, as compared to the Panama Canal. Possible future thinning of Arctic ice would further improve the economics of the Northwest Passage.


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