SEATTLE - A pleasant sight for ferry riders glided across the waters of Puget Sound this morning. The ferry Walla Walla, which has been out of service for nearly a year, is out for sea trials and Washington State Ferries (WSF) hopes to get the boat back in service on Thursday, April 18 on the Seattle-Bremerton run.
In July of 2012 the boat was taken out of service for routine maintenance, which included a new paint job.
But in November a potentially dangerous accident occured while the boat was moored that was anything but routine. The accident caused chunks of one of the boat's four drive to melt, which left the vesssel inoperable.
Soon after the electrical accident the KING 5 Investigators reported it was preventable due to ferry workers not completing legally mandated safety procedures.
Last month State Ferries confirmed that the accident was caused by human error. According to the report issued on March 11, 2013, engine room crew members did not understand the specific requirement needed for the complicated work they were attempting to complete.
The report found that ferry workers in the engine room and electricians at the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility on Bainbridge Island didn't communicate correctly wtih each other prior to starting the work. Ferry employees were attempting to clean portions of the one of the boat's drive motors just before the meltdown, which caused smoke to billow out of the room housing the motor.
Originally, ferry officials estimated the cost of reburbishing a spare motor for the Walla Walla would be $300,000. The ferry system now estimates the bill for the entire project-including removal of the damaged drive moter, refurbishment and installation of the of the spare motor- is $3,000,000.
The Walla Walla has been missed by ferry commuters. It typically serves the Seattle-Bremerton and Edmonds-Kingston runs and is one of the biggest boats in the fleet. It can carry 2,000 passengers and 188 vehicles. Smaller replacement boats have been filling in.
When asked if any employee would be held accountable for the accident, Ferries Director David Moseley said that decision had not yet been made.
"I believe there are some errors that we all need to be held accountable for," Moseley said in March. "You can't eliminate human error...but we need to take every step we can to minimize human error."
According to Marta Coursey, Director of Communications, WSF, people will most likely see the boat undergoing testing all week. Sea trials will run Tuesday through Thursday and possibly Friday. The trials involve speed runs at various levels, endurance runs at 100% for four hours and so-called “crash stops” which are all designed to demonstrate vessel reliability.