TransLink considering electric-hybrid vessels for future SeaBus fleet

Dec 3 2019, 12:59 pm

Metro Vancouver’s public transit authority is considering making what could be the biggest design change to its SeaBus vessels since the launch of the service in 1977.

To date, apart from slight variations, subsequent ordered catamaran vessels have been nearly identical to the ferry service’s original two vessels — the Burrard Beaver and the now-retired Burrard Otter.

Moving forward for future acquisitions, TransLink is exploring low-to-zero-emission vessels, including hybrid-electric vessels and other clean energy technology.

According to a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a contractor to conduct a feasibility study on alternative propulsion options, the findings from the forthcoming analysis will be used to determine potential next generation fleet design changes, beginning with the future replacement of the Burrard Beaver, which is now being used for regular service to achieve peak hour frequencies of every 10 minutes.

The replacement project for this vessel is currently in the early planning stages, and is anticipated to be completed over the next five to seven years.

The successful proponent’s study will examine not only the propulsion technology options but also the required infrastructure to support and maintain the vessel type.

SeaBus Burrard Chinook

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

“TransLink is constantly looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and operate in a more environmentally sustainable way,” said TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy in an emailed statement to Daily Hive.

“As such, we are exploring different options for powering the next generation of SeaBus vessels. All propulsion options will be considered as part of a comprehensive feasibility study.”

This also aligns with TransLink’s long-term strategy of reducing its systemwide greenhouse gas emissions by 80% and converting to 100% renewable energy in all operations by 2050.

The transition towards an electrified bus fleet is key to this new strategy, beginning with the launch of the first regular electric-battery bus service in September on Route 100 using two newly acquired buses. Depending on whether further funding is secured, TransLink is aiming to acquire six additional electric-battery buses next year to fully electrify Route 100.

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 Damen Shipyards Group of the Netherlands, with the first two vessels slated to arrive in early January 2020. 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.

BC Ferries Island Class

Artistic rendering of BC Ferries’ Island Class vessels. (BC Ferries)

Over the decades, TransLink’s SeaBus vessels were built by various shipyards around the world. The first three vessels were constructed by local shipyards, while the most recent vessels were built in Singapore and at Damen Shipyards’ facilities in the Netherlands.

The public transit authority’s new additional vessel, Burrard Chinook, arrived earlier this year from the Netherlands and was originally slated to enter regular service this fall, but the vessel is still in the possession of the shipyards as modifications are needed to add buoyancy.

Currently, the vessel floats lower because of its hull shape and the added weight from a significantly upgraded emission controls system — which decreases emissions by 75% — and a more powerful air conditioning system. The Burrard Chinook should be able to enter service in Summer 2020.