Ferry system electrification

Graphic of a ferry with a corded plug coming out of itWashington State Ferries burns more than 18 million gallons of diesel fuel a year, making the system Washington state’s largest consumer. Within the state transportation system, ferries generate the most carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. We are working on several projects to meet the goals of Executive Order 20-01 (pdf 208 kb), which directs WSF to move toward a zero emissions fleet. 

Our 2040 Long Range Plan, which was delivered to the Legislature in January 2019, recommends short-, medium- and long-term actions for WSF to pursue and focuses on a set of investments and service enhancements to be implemented over 20 years. One of the key recommendations is to move toward a “greener” ferry fleet with the goal of a reliable fleet that has a lighter footprint on the environment and outperforms carbon dioxide reduction targets.

New vessels

We have introduced four new vessels into the fleet since 2014. All are 144-car Olympic-class ferries. However, the new vessel construction program has not kept up with the needs of our aging fleet. Over half of our fleet, 11 of 21 vessels, are more than 30 years old. These ferries are approaching the end of their service lives and must be replaced with newer ones in the coming years. We will begin construction of our first hybrid-electric Olympic-class ferry in early 2022 and it’s expected to enter service in 2025. We must keep building additional hybrid-electric ferries to maintain reliable service. These greener ferries have the added benefit of reducing nitric oxide emissions by 146 metric tons/year and carbon dioxide emissions by 16,340 metric tons/year, reducing operating costs, virtually eliminating engine noise and vibration, and reducing maintenance costs.

Jumbo Mark II hybrid-electric propulsion conversion

We are moving forward with converting our three Jumbo Mark II-class ferries, the largest in the fleet, from diesel to hybrid-electric propulsion. In October 2019, the trustee administering the nationwide federal Volkswagen settlement approved up to $35 million to support retrofitting the first of the ferries from diesel to electric power. Planning and design will continue through 2020 and construction of the first Jumbo Mark II conversion will begin in late-2021. In addition to cost savings and reduced maintenance costs, converting the Jumbo Mark IIs will reduce carbon emissions by 48,565 metric tons/year – the equivalent of taking more than 10,000 cars off the road.

System Electrification Plan

We developed a System Electrification Plan (pdf 4.2 mb) that expands on the 2040 Long Range Plan to evaluate alternatives and propose an efficient strategy for using hybrid-electric vessels throughout the system. The plan was delivered to the legislature in January 2021.


Hadley Rodero