Ferry service back to normal Saturday, officials say

SEATTLE — Puget Sound ferry service moved closer to normalcy Thursday afternoon with the resumption of two-boat service between Edmonds and Kingston.

And everything should be back on schedule by Saturday after a week of disruptions due to scheduled maintenance and unexpected breakdowns of vessels, the interim head of Washington State Ferries said Thursday.

The problems – which peaked with five of the fleet’s 22 vessels sidelined Wednesday afternoon — have left riders grumbling about long waits and cancellations during the peak summer tourism and travel season.

“It’s an unprecedented situation we find ourselves in,” interim ferries Director George Capacci told reporters in a conference call.

Two vessels required unplanned work at the same time two other ferries were out for scheduled maintenance. And for two hours Wednesday, the state’s newest boat, the Tokitae, was pulled from service while crews checked out a possible issue with the propulsion system.

Capacci apologized to riders and said the ferry system is fragile and vulnerable to disruptions due to an aging fleet and deferred maintenance.

Service has been troubled since Tuesday, when the ferry Tacoma lost power on the busy Seattle-Bainbridge Island route and a ferry was shifted from the Edmonds-Kingston route to cover the runs.

That resulted in cancellations and long delays all day Wednesday and up to noon Thursday, when the Chelan arrived to restore the use of two boats between Edmonds and Kingston.

The Chelan usually carries riders between Anacortes and Sidney, British Columbia. Its redeployment forced cancelation of that international service Thursday and Friday.

In all, 46 trips were cancelled from the time of the Tacoma’s breakdown through Thursday evening, according to Washington State Ferries.

No estimate was available for the return of the Tacoma, which has an electrical problem, Capacci said.

Service should return to normal this weekend with the return of the Wenatchee, which has been in dry dock in Vancouver, B.C., to repair a leak.

The system had little flexibility because the Yakima is out for motor maintenance and the Kitsap for painting, Capacci said.

Washington State Ferries operates 22 vessels — the largest such fleet in the U.S. — on 10 routes across Puget Sound. State ferries carry more than 23 million commuters, tourists and business passengers a year.

The state is in the process of adding three Olympic-class ferries. The Tokitae is already in service. Another vessel is under construction and third is planned.

The state Transportation Department also is in the process of finding a permanent ferry system director to replace David Moseley, who resigned in April.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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