Panama Canal rail traffic hit by computer glitch

Thousands of containers have been stuck at Panamanian ports after a computer glitch hampered communication with the railway, causing significant delays, officials said on Friday.

The Panama Canal Railway Co transports about 1,500 containers daily between the only port on the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and three ports on the Atlantic, said Thomas Kenna, director of operations for the railway.

But a computer upgrade on Wednesday by Panama Ports Co, which manages two of those ports, caused severe lags, Kenna said.

Since then, the railway has moved only about 350 containers a day. Traffic picked up on Friday, and the system should be operating normally by Monday, Kenna added.

He did not have a dollar figure for damages incurred, but noted: "In this very intense, high-volume system, when any containers can't move, it starts building up and impacts customers. Transit times are very important."

A spokesman for Maersk Line, the world's largest container shipping company and biggest user of Panama's railroad, ports and canal, did not immediately return calls.

Traffic at the Panama Canal, which handles about 5 percent of world trade, was not impacted, a spokeswoman said. About 33,500 containers transit the waterway each day.

(Reporting by Lomi Kriel; Editing by Dale Hudson)