WSF Chief on feasibility of new diesel ferries: ‘There isn’t a ferry dealership down the road’

Jun 18, 2024, 6:11 AM | Updated: 8:12 am


Washington State Ferries flying a 12th Man flag to celebrate the Seahawks during the NFL playoffs. (Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Transportation)

(Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Transportation)

The Washington State Ferries (WSF) only have 16 boats running right now, even though a fleet of 26 is considered full service. Getting new boats on the water is essential, so what about the idea of building or buying some diesel boats quickly while we wait for the electric-hybrids?

The quick building of a few new Olympic Class ferries is a campaign talking point in the gubernatorial race. The candidates have all said they would consider the idea if it would get boats on the water faster.

But is this feasible? Can the ferry service just grab the old plans for Olympic Class boats and start welding?

More on Washington State Ferries: Calmer waters ahead for Washington State Ferries?

I had the chance to speak with the head of Washington State Ferries, Steve Nevey, about this who said building diesel boats is not the solution.

“A lot of the manufacturers that are in the machinery space and the integrators are no longer in business,” Nevey said. “We couldn’t just pull an Olympic Class plan off the shelf and say ‘Here you go.’ We’d have to start designing the machinery from scratch, and that would put us back about a year from where we are now, maybe more.”

What about other options? Some people have suggested shopping for used ferries, just to get something on the water.

“There isn’t a ferry dealership down the road,” Nevey joked. “We did a worldwide search to see if there are any ferries that would be compatible. We found one, I think it was somewhere in Scandinavia. We looked at it. It was half built like two decades ago and then they stopped building it. It just wouldn’t have been feasible.”

Most ferry riders probably don’t realize just how unique our ferry boats are. Nevey said it’s hard to find anything compatible.

“Our boats are unique,” he said. “They’re double-ended. They have propellers on both ends. They have pilot houses on both ends so you don’t have to leave the dock and turn, which saves a lot of time. It’s not like all the other ferry operators in the world use the same system and the same docks.”

And fixing the existing Olympic Class boats is not an easy job either. Nevey said that’s why it takes a while to fix something when it goes wrong.

“They’re extremely technical machines, and the parts often are obsolete, some of them were built in the ’50s,” he said. “You can’t just go to a store and pick up a part you need. You need to kind of manufacture them at Eagle Harbor, and it’s a big challenge.”

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With the bidding for the five new electric-hybrid ferries now underway, Nevey said the agency is pulling out of the darkness.

“I think we’re on a good path to recovery,” he said. “It’s critical that we get new vessels as quickly as possible, which is my main priority.”

If the bidding goes according to plan, the state might have the two lowest bidders build the boats simultaneously. The target is for the first two to be in the water in 2028. Each boat is expected to cost more than $250 million.

The long-range plan is to have 16 new boats in the fleet by 2040.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris on X, formerly known as TwitterHead here to follow KIRO Newsradio Traffic’s profile on X.


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WSF Chief on feasibility of new diesel ferries: ‘There isn’t a ferry dealership down the road’