Bring on the big ships and the extra East Coast cargo — the completion of the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is set for June 26.

The Panama Canal Authority said that’s the day the major expansion of the canal the connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans will officially be inaugurated, as it also unveiled a state-of-the-art Scale Model Maneuvering Training Facility that will provide additional hands-on experience to pilots and tugboat captains to operate in what is being called the Expanded Panama Canal.

“The Scale Model Training Facility will allow us to continue providing world-class service to the global maritime industry, while guaranteeing safe and efficient transits through the soon-to-be inaugurated expanded Canal,” said Jorge L. Quijano, chief executive officer of the Panama Canal Authority. “The dream of expansion will become a reality when we inaugurate the biggest infrastructure project in the history of the canal and the country of Panama.”

The innovative 35.3-acre training facility features two lakes connected by a channel modeled after the Canal’s Culebra Cut. The new facility features docking bays, replicas of the new and existing locks, gates and chambers, all at a 1/25th scale.

The facility is equipped with a number of meticulously created scale model Panama Canal tugboats, as well as ships built in France at Port Revel, including bulk carriers modeled after the Nord Delphinus and a container ship modeled after the Maersk Edinburgh. In addition, a liquid natural gas ship will be delivered by September.

The facility features wave and wind generators to provide a realistic, hands-on training experience for Canal pilots and tugboat captains to prepare them for the opening of the expanded waterway. It complements the training already provided at the Center of Simulation, Research and Maritime Development through immersive, 360-degree training simulations and courses.

The Expansion Program is currently 97 percent complete. Final testing will be conducting in the following weeks, leading up to the official inauguration.

The main objective of the Expansion Program is to increase capacity to meet demand growth with enhanced customer service. The expansion will double the Canal’s capacity, having a direct impact on economies of scale and international maritime trade. It will help maintain the Canal’s competitiveness and the value of the maritime route through Panama.

It is also expected to ease congestion at West Coast ports that handle the bulk of Asia-Pacific cargo, allowing more direct travel by larger vessels directly to East Coast ports, many of which have completed or are in the process of finishing major dredging projects to allow for the larger drafts of the new mega vessels built and put on the water in recent years that are said to be more energy efficient and environmental safe.

The Panama Canal Expansion, which began in September 2007, is the largest project at the Canal since its original construction. The project will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal through the construction of a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity.

The program consists of several components and projects, including the third set of locks; the Pacific Access Channel, also known as PAC4, which is the excavation of an access channel for the new Pacific locks; dredging of the navigational channels along the waterway and improvements to water supply and draft.