Alaska Marine Highway System officials say they're confident they'll be able to repair the ferry Columbia's engines and return the flagship of the fleet to service by May.
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"That boat is going to be good to go," said Capt. John Falvey, director of the state ferry system.
Falvey said the repairs were expected to cost $600,000. But that will save what had been the estimated $25 million cost of new engines that the ferry system and Southeast legislators had feared.
The Columbia had been on a run from Bellingham, Wash., to Juneau last August when it threw a rod in one of its two engines. The ferry made it into Auke Bay on its remaining engine, but was taken out of service for repairs.
The Columbia "has a long history of connecting rod problems," Falvey said.
"The boat was throwing rods back in the '80s," he added.
It was sent first to Ketchikan, then to a Portland, Ore., shipyard for major repairs. The system brought in TransMarine, an expert subcontractor for an engine overhaul, Falvey said.
"These guys are good, and they're picking these engines apart piece by piece," he said.
What they found by doing magnetic X-rays was eight of 32 connecting rods were flawed.
"Most of these failures are internal; you can't even see them," he said.
Fortunately, replacement rods have been found and are on their way to the Portland shipyard. Falvey said the Columbia should be ready to return to service on May 7.
"We're feeling more and more confident," he said of the progress of the overhaul.
The vessel schedules are not set yet, but Falvey said he'd like to see the Columbia pick up a load of passengers in Bellingham to carry on its return trip to Alaska.
"Why not carry revenue if you can," he said.