Triangle Route back to normal — for now

The Southworth/Vashon/Fauntleroy route of the Washington State Ferries was back to a three-boat schedule Feb. 5 with the return of the Chelan. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
The Southworth/Vashon/Fauntleroy route of the Washington State Ferries was back to a three-boat schedule Feb. 5 with the return of the Chelan.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

After limping for three weeks on two, frequently delayed boats, the Triangle Route was back to full strength today, according to the Washington State Ferries.

On Friday, WSF Spokeswoman Susan Harris-Huether explained that the M/V Chelan — which went into dry dock last month and left the Southworth/Vashon/Fauntleroy route missing a boat — would be coming out of dry dock Friday night and be returning to service by Wednesday.

“We will get it out to the run as soon as we can, and if we can do it earlier (than Wednesday), we will,” Harris-Huether said.

Once the Chelan returns, she said the route will return to its normal, three-boat schedule. For how long, however, she could not say.

“I never make promises any more,” she said, explaining that she could not guarantee that perhaps the Issaquah or the Tillikum would not be needed to fill a gap on another route as other boats go in for inspections.

“I can only tell you a week at a time,” she added.

When asked why the route’s boats were consistently about 20 minutes behind schedule by the afternoon hours during the previous three weeks on the two-boat schedule, Harris-Huether said most of the delays were caused by simple mechanics.

“If you normally have an 87-car boat, and you replace it with a 130-car boat, it takes more cars, and it takes longer to load,” she said, explaining that the two-boat schedule was not written with a larger-capacity boat in mind.

“We will have to look at the whole schedule and (perhaps create one for the larger boats),” she said.

With only a weekend’s notice, the Triangle Route was knocked down to a two-boat schedule Jan. 14 following the discovery of hull problems with the fleet’s steel electric boats, then four other vessels being removed from service, said WSF Director of Communications Marta Coursey at the time.

“It was a ripple effect,” Coursey said, explaining that an increased need for vessel inspections, a shortage of dry dock space and, finally, a lack of back-up boats forced the WSF to implement system-wide changes.

For the Triangle Route, the changes meant a two-boat schedule would be in effect until the Chelan finished inspections at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle, since there was no vessel available to replace it.

Coursey said a more detailed estimate as to when the Chelan would return to service wasn’t available, but “the crews have a very strong sense of how long the annual work takes, which is about a month. If it is finished sooner, great.”

In the Chelan’s absence, the M/V Kitsap, which normally serves the Bremerton-Seattle route, began operating on the Triangle route with the M/V Issaquah. A larger vessel, the Kitsap holds 130 cars, while the car it switched places with, the Tillikum, holds 87.

When asked about the possibility of the Issaquah having to be used on the Bremerton route once the Kitsap goes in for inspections, thereby leaving the Triangle route on a two-boat schedule for another month, Coursey said she could not speak to that yet.

“I think it is safe to say to the WSF will do everything possible return service to its normal levels as soon as possible,” she said. “But riders should expect service changes and impacts across the entire system as we try and navigate through these issues.”

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