Problems persist after ferry breakdown in Puget Sound

EDMONDS, Wash. - The state ferry system continues to grapple with backups and commuters' flaring tempers after one of its largest vessels lost power Tuesday in Puget Sound.

And then to top it off, another ferry had mechanical issues on Wednesday, leaving two ferry runs short-handed.

The breakdown of the jumbo ferry Tacoma caused major delays Tuesday on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry route, triggering huge backups that lasted for hours on end.

And now on Wednesday, it is causing backups on the Edmonds-Kingston route, after one of the two vessels on that route was pulled off to replace the broken-down Tacoma on the Bainbridge Island run.

A number of commuters on the Edmonds-Kingston route left early Wednesday after hearing that the route would be down to a one-boat schedule. Washington State Ferries had been advising of 2 1/2-hour wait for vehicles at both the Edmonds and Kingston terminals through much of Wednesday afternoon.

Then later Wednesday came word that the brand new Tokitae ferry had suffered a mechanical problem, leaving the Mukilteo-Clinton run down to one boat service as well. However, the Tokitae was repaired about an hour later and regular two-boat service resumed in Mukilteo.

The breakdown of the Tacoma could not have come at a worse time - because one of the state's other jumbo ferries, the Wenatchee, is also out of service for maintenance work.

George Capacci, interim director of the Washington State Ferries, said technicians are still investigating what caused the Tacoma to lose power. He did not provide an estimate of how long the vessel might remain out of service.

"We're investigating it fully (and) we do not think it initially looks like a maintenance problem," he said. "We'll have to look into it some more."

KOMO's Air 4 was overhead Tuesday afternoon when the Tacoma was towed back into Bainbridge Island's Eagle Harbor after losing power with hundreds of passengers and more than 100 vehicles aboard.

The breakdown created a huge backlog - with long lines of cars and passengers at the Colman Dock ferry terminal in Seattle. Combined with the sun and the heat, the mess created some tension as drivers honked their horns and passengers yelled.

"We're vanpool. We got here on time. We kept up our end of the bargain. What is the deal?" said one driver headed for Bainbridge Island.

"That's unbelievable. I just don't understand it," said George Dickinson, who was also headed for Bainbridge.

"It's hard to concentrate because there's a lot of yelling in the background," said commuter Kathy Brown as she waited in a line of more than 1,000 people.

Now on Wednesday it is the Edmonds-Kingston route's turn to suffer, with half as many sailings as normal and a reduced passenger capacity due to Coast Guard regulations.

Capacci said he could understand commuters' frustration.

"Trying to get home last night was a real challenge," he said. "I apologize for the wait that they had to go through, but we did not have extra vessels at the time to put in there."

"These are very complex systems - very, very complex systems - and I think that the fact that it happens so infrequently, and we almost take it for granted that these ships go back and forth 450 times a day providing great service. But when something like this does happen it's out of the ordinary," he added.