TransLink to study transition to electric-battery ferries for SeaBus

Jan 13 2021, 3:46 am

The electrification of the SeaBus fleet is being considered to help meet TransLink’s objective of achieving its 2050 targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% and utilizing 100% renewable energy for all vehicles and facilities across the entire transit network.

The transit authority is currently seeking a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to determine the upgrades required to SeaBus infrastructure to handle future electric-battery ferry vessels. A request for proposals (RFP) seeking a contractor for the study was posted last week.

This forthcoming study will supplement the separate findings from the recently completed SeaBus vessel propulsion study initiated by a RFP in late 2019, which will be used to help determine potential next generation fleet design changes, starting with the future replacement of the Burrard Beaver — one of the remaining original SeaBus vessels.

TransLink states the completed SeaBus propulsion study recommended the electrification of the vessels as “the most effective, efficient, and eco-friendly strategy.” The existing four vessels on the fleet are near-identical catamaran models propelled by four diesel engines.

For the new study that directly examines electrification requirements, the considerations that will be analyzed include upgrades to current infrastructure to support maintenance and operation, determining with BC Hydro the feasibility to upgrade the electrical systems for the terminals, and assessing the impacts of the floating buoyancy of the terminals from infrastructure changes.

Cost estimates will be developed for future maintenance and storage requirements for each option identified. This feasibility study will be completed by August 2021.

SeaBus Burrard Chinook

The Burrard Chinook SeaBus ferry vessel’s christening at Damen Shipyards in the Netherlands in January 2019. (TransLink)

The SeaBus fleet is currently comprised of the 1976-built Burrard Beaver, 2009-built Burrard Pacific Breeze, 2014-built Burrard Otter II, and 2019-built Burrard Chinook.

The newest vessel, the Netherlands-built Burrard Chinook, has yet to enter service, as it is currently in Singapore for modifications that add buoyancy. The vessel was slated to enter service in Summer 2020, but this process was delayed due to COVID-19’s impact on the shipyard in Singapore.

In recent years, a number of major retrofits and expansions have been made to the terminal facilities at both sides of the harbour, but they have focused mainly on accessibility, circulation capacity, infrastructure upgrades, and the exterior of the structures. Future major terminal upgrades will drastically upgrade the interior for an improved passenger experience, including the replacement of the existing turnstyle system with new passenger counting technologies.

seabus waterfront station

New expansion to the SeaBus terminal at Waterfront Station, August 2019. (TransLink)

As for TransLink’s other electrification efforts, the transit authority plans to only buy electric-battery buses for the conventional bus fleet starting in 2023. It already uses a handful of electric-battery buses for the No. 100 22nd Street Station/Marpole Loop, and more vehicles are on the way to completely electrify this route.

Towards the middle of this decade, a new major bus depot will be built in Vancouver, on a riverfront site immediately west of the Canada Line bridge over the Fraser River, to accommodate the storage, maintenance, and charging needs of up to 300 electric-battery buses. Electric capability upgrades are also planned for Port Coquitlam Transit Centre bus depot.

BC Ferries is also making a shift towards electric-battery vessels, starting with the small vessels for its minor routes. The provincial ferry corporation has ordered six Island Class hybrid-electric vessels from the Netherlands. The first vessels went into service in June 2020, and the last of the vessels will be operational by the end of 2022. All of these Island Class vessels will initially operate on their low-sulphur diesel hybrid systems, before eventually transitioning to electric charging when the technology matures.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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