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Young Ferries: Washington's Latest Transportation Disappointment

Aging vessels are frequently blamed for problems in Washington’s ferry system. But the latest performance report says new ferries are giving the state plenty of grief.

Washington State Ferries missed its goal of keeping vessel out-of-service time to an average of eight weeks a year in 2014, and young ferries were key players.

Among them were the vessels Salish and Chetzemoka, which needed improvements and repairs in 2014, though both are only around five years old.

The fleet of teenagers, the Jumbo Mark II class, were star performers in fiscal year 2014. Then came the calamity of July 2014, when the vessel Tacoma went adrift on the Seattle to Bainbridge route after a massive electrical system failure. Losing that single vessel caused a service collapse extending from Seattle to Sidney, BC.

Tacoma is still in the repair shop and is expected to be there until March -- a nightmare that will be reflected in 2015's performance report.

Despite the difficulties with the department of transportation's youngsters, they are not the worst worst performers of the year.

That distinction goes to some of the 40-somethings of the Washington fleet: the Super class. The bad news came from several vessels, particularly the Yakima, which was out of service for more than 18 weeks due to a propeller issue.

Washington State Ferries expects vessels to serve until their 60th birthday. Last summer it announced plans to retire the 60-year-old Evergreen State, the oldest ferry in the system.

But it had to keep Evergreen State running after the crisis last July.

The report says the vessel, which had already been mothballed once, needed a new rudder to stay in service. That alone cost the state an unexpected $209,000.