WSF: Walla Walla, Chimacum nearing return to service

Work on the MV Walla Walla is going well and Washington State Ferries expects the vessel to be back in service within the next month.

When the ferry is ready, it will return to the Seattle/Bremerton route, allowing the MV Kaleetan to move to the Kingston/Edmonds route to restore the two-boat service there, a WSF news release states.

A damaged propeller put Walla Walla out of commission in September and unplanned repairs took longer than expected as WSF found additional damage to a second propeller, along with encountering shipyard constraints and scheduling.

“However, we were able to combine the propeller work with scheduled maintenance in drydock that would have taken the ferry out of service for a couple months early next year,” per the release. “That is no longer needed.”

The MV Chimacum, WSF’s other ferry out for unplanned repairs, should also be back soon. That vessel was pulled from service in October after one of its main engines failed, requiring an overhaul. The return of these two boats will allow to have a ferry to fill in if another vessel requires unplanned repairs and gives the agency more breathing room to conduct much-needed scheduled maintenance on its fleet during the slower winter season.

“Please understand that these plans are the current snapshot in time and could change depending on several factors, like changes in time needed for the current repairs to these ferries or additional vessels needing unplanned maintenance,” the release states. “That is why we normally don’t provide such details on boats returning to service, but we know we’re in a difficult situation right now without enough ferries to operate our current schedules.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration recently awarded WSF with $4.8 million to revamp the passenger areas of its six Issaquah-class vessels. Cathlamet, Chelan, Issaquah, Kitsap, Kittitas, and Sealth were built from 1979 through 1982. The funding will extend the useful life of the aging boats for another five to ten years while new ferries are built.

The FTA recently announced 13 grants totaling more than $220 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to ferry systems across the country. WSF have received more than $50 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over the past two years.

Also, in the agency’s quest to build new vessels, WSF issued a request for information this week to the shipbuilding industry across the country as part of its effort to contract for five hybrid-electric Olympic-class ferries, per the release. Responses are due in January and will provide critical information for the invitation for bid that will be issued in spring of 2024. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a new law that allows WSF to solicit bids nationwide when building new boats.

“Transitioning to a hybrid-electric fleet is necessary to reduce emissions, ensure resiliency and reduce operations and maintenance costs.”