A critical transportation link for commuters and commercial traffic, Washington State Ferries (WSF) is also widely considered one of the biggest tourism draws for the state. It is one of the world’s largest ferry systems, transporting more than 22 million passengers and 10 million vehicles a year through nine marine highway routes on Puget Sound.
Owned and operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), WSF serves eight counties within Washington and the province of British Columbia in Canada. The system consists of 10 routes and 20 terminals that are served by 23 vessels, 10 of which are between 40 and 60 years old and must be replaced in the next 20 years.
Heading WSF is director David Moseley, who took over in February 2008 – a matter of months after the decision to withdraw the aging Steel Electric ferries due to hull corrosion. Since then he has faced one challenge after another. In addition to heading the agency while it scrambled to build new boats, he had to answer to media reports alleging waste and abuse with labour contracts.
Moseley’s hands-on approach has paid off, however, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from the coal face. At the end of each working week he emails a report to staff, colleagues and stakeholders, which he also makes available on the WSDOT Ferries Division website.
Now he is looking forward to the introduction of two new 144-car ferries from the Vigor Seattle Shipyard to replace the Evergreen State-class vessels that are 60 years old. The design of the ferries is based on the Issaquah class, which, he says, has proved to be the most versatile vessel in the fleet with the most utility throughout the system.
“Building new ferries will improve the safety and efficiency of WSF’s fleet and will allow us to put a ferry on standby so that we can maintain service in case of unforeseen circumstances,” says Moseley. The new ferries will improve the safety and efficiency of WSF’s fleet and will allow the operation to provide additional capacity on several routes. “Construction of the two Olympic-class ferries, Tokitae and Samish, is proceeding very well and on schedule.” Launched on 19 July, the Tokitae is set for delivery in early 2014 and will begin service with the start of the summer 2014 sailing schedule. The Samish is scheduled for delivery in fall 2014, to begin service in spring 2015.
“The Tokitae and Samish will result in the retirement of our Evergreen State-class vessels,” says Moseley. “The new vessels will be capable of serving throughout the system, but we anticipate that they will spend most of the time on the Bremerton/Seattle, Mukilteo/Clinton and Anacortes/San Juan Island routes.”
The new vessels promise to provide many improvements over previous ferries and special attention has been given to enhancing passenger comfort with better heating and ventilation, more internal seating and flexible seating configurations.
“Nominally they increase capacity at minimal additional cost,” explains Moseley. “This allows us to prepare for future population growth or increased peak period ridership during the 60-year expected life span of the ferries.
“On the vehicle decks the improved design gives us room for a few more cars and trucks, and wider lanes for more efficient loading and improved passenger access to vehicles.”
Safety is of course paramount and the vessels come with new marine evacuation systems, advanced fire suppression, and two elevators for better deck accessibility. The four evacuation slides are installed in the passenger cabin (older vessels have slides installed on the vehicle deck) to accommodate all passengers quickly and safely.
“We have Improved Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access with both elevators serving all four deck levels and being ADA compliant,” he says. “Wider stair towers with a more gradual slope also improve matters. Additionally, extensive safety analysis was conducted, providing four watertight compartments to increase the stability of the vessels in the event of an emergency. Thinking ahead, the vessels are designed to accommodate additional safety equipment and systems over 60-year service life as regulations change.”
WSDOT has paid particular attention to minimising the environmental impact of each vessel with cleaner burning engines, low-emission fuels, quieter machinery and reduced risk of fuel spills. All engineering equipment is similar to the existing fleet to reduce logistics and repair costs and minimise specialised crew training.
The reduction in operating costs enabled by better fuel efficiency is of particular importance, says Moseley. “The propellers and hull form were designed to minimise hull wake to increase the efficiencies of the propellers and thereby conserve fuel. The fuel storage tanks are provided with an overflow tank to aid in preventing spills while fuelling.
“The engine spaces are larger with a wide passageway on the upper platform connecting all engineering spaces to facilitate moving of machinery during maintenance and repairs. The vessels have computer based heating and ventilation and are equipped with a waste heat recovery system to conserve fuel cost by heating the vessel with the energy from the main engine exhaust system.” In addition, he says, the diesel engines will meet the strict US Environmental Protection Agency 2007 Tier III emissions requirements.
The exacting demands for United States Coast Guard (USCG) regulatory compliance are reflected in the final design, completed by Vigor Industrial. All USCG comments on stairway widths for crew access and regulatory changes have been incorporated, including structural fire protection changes to the passenger assembly areas. These areas were made safer in the event of an emergency by changing the boundary designation and adding more insulation. The pricing of the modifications was included in the negotiations for the construction of the vessel.
The potential of LNG is also under consideration, adds Moseley. “We burn more than 17 million gallons of ultra-low-sulphur diesel each year – and it’s our fastest growing operating expense,” he says. “LNG has the potential to significantly reduce emissions and the cost of fuel. We continue to work on a proposal to save fuel costs by converting the Issaquah-class ferries to LNG. Using existing boats for this doesn’t hold up the production of 144-car ferries, and can use the existing engines. The Issaquah boats will have enough life left to pay off the conversion cost.”
This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2013 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.