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Aging vessels moving slower as they make their way toward retirement

Two of the oldest ferries in the state system are experiencing drive-motor problems that require the vessels to operate at reduced power when they are in service, Washington State Ferries said today.

“But the good news is that, even at reduced speeds, we have been able to maintain our sailing schedules,” said David Moseley, assistant transportation secretary, Ferries Division.

The Klahowya and Tillikum ferries, built in the 1950s, serve what’s called the “Triangle” – routes between Fauntleroy (West Seattle), Vashon Island, and Southworth (Kitsap County). The Klahowya is currently back on the route after being out of service recently for drive-motor related repairs.

Moseley said the vessels are generally operating about 2 knots slower than the usual speed of 14 knots, but thanks to crew diligence the ferries have maintained the schedule. During the past weekend, only four departure times were outside WSF’s 10-minute on-time performance standard.

“These two ferries, plus the Evergreen State, are fragile because they are the oldest in the fleet,” Moseley said. “The fact that they serve customers today is a testament to our fleet employees and engineers who have done a remarkable job keeping the motors operational for nearly six decades.”

The Klahowya, Tillikum and Evergreen State are next on the list for retirement as WSF builds and brings into service new 144-car ferries, Moseley said. The first new vessel is now under construction at Vigor Industrial’s Harbor Island shipyard in Seattle, with completion expected in 2014. The state Legislature this year approved funding for a second 144-car ferry.

In the meantime, one of the spare drive motors will be sent to an expert motor shop for testing and engineering analysis. WSF will wait for a repair plan and cost proposal before doing a cost/benefit analysis on the options, Moseley said.

Washington State Ferries so far has avoided any immediate or severe impacts on the Triangle’s three routes, but Moseley acknowledges service disruptions are possible if one or more of the vessels experiences continuing drive-motor problems, particularly if repairs take an extended time.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and be as creative as we can in terms of scheduling,” Moseley said. “But there is simply no way of getting around the fact that these ferries are very old and are on borrowed time.”

For more information about Washington State Ferries, visit