The new Austal Auto Express 58 catamaran “Lake Express” entered service on June 1. Operating between Milwaukee, Wis., and Muskegon, Mich., “Lake Express” provides a crossing time of 2.5 hours slicing in half the time it would take to drive around the southern tip of the lake, through a congested Chicago.
Another Austal vessel, the Australian-built “Spirit of Ontario I”, is scheduled to begin service across Lake Ontario between Toronto and Rochester, New York, on June 18.
The establishment of the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala., in 1999, facilitated the supply of Austal’s fast ferry technology to U.S. operators.
“Austal’s Auto Express vehicle ferries provide a modern, efficient and proven solution to alleviate traffic congestion in coastal regions of the United States,” said Mr. Chris Pemberton, Austal USA’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
“The scope for further U.S. applications of this technology is very large indeed, and our position in the Austal Group gives us the best possible credentials in the design and construction of this type of ferry.” he said
“Lake Express” is the seventh vessel launched at Austal’s U.S. shipyard and holds the distinction of also being the largest built at that facility to date. Launched on March 20 the ferry marked a significant milestone in the company’s development as it rolled out of the purpose-built aluminum shipbuilding facility in Mobile.
The interior fitout of the vessel combines functionality and aesthetic appeal, featuring seating upholstered in a fabric designed for easy cleaning. The floors are a combination of Amtico and carpet with wide aisles providing ample space for ease of access to the kiosk and toilets and other amenities on board.
In the main passenger lounge four aisles separate the seating areas which provide for triple seating at the extremities and group configurations of four around centrepiece tables in the center. Some 200 Beurteaux Ocean Contour chairs, designed and installed strictly in accordance with the requirements of the US Coast Guard, ensure excellent comfort for passengers on the lake crossing.
At the adjacent service kiosk food is available with a variety of menu choices, offering a mix of sandwiches, salads and beverages, including Alterra Coffee Roasters. Alterra Coffee Roasters is something of an institution in Milwaukee where they not only serve some of the city’s best coffee, but they also roast it on their shoreside premises.
Comfort is a byword on all Austal-built vessels and “Lake Express” is no exception. Aft of the main lounge is a Business Class lounge equipped with wide Beurteaux Ocean Club chairs for 50 VIPs. This facility is also available for business groups wishing to try something a little different by holding their conference at sea.
Having taken the opportunity to ride on the vessel during sea trials, the Executive Director of the Port of Milwaukee, Mr. Ken Szallai, said passengers could look forward to quiet crossings.
“It’s like sitting in your living room, there is no sensation of the speed you are going, but then you look out and there are things just whipping by. Austal has a huge track record worldwide and although this is the first large high speed ferry they have built in the United States, they know aluminum-hulled car ferries,” Mr. Szallai continued.
Passenger entertainment and communication is provided through a public address system that can be operated from both the kiosk and the bridge, incorporating entertainment audio distribution and general alarm. Video and TV-stations are distributed through the passenger saloon via 14 color monitors and audio is distributed via ceiling mounted speakers from the VCR, compact disc player, cassette player and AM/FM tuner, which are all operated from an entertainment rack mounted in the kiosk.
Immediately forward of the service kiosk and toilets is the crew mess. The latter features upright seating for six crew, bench type seating around a table, sink with hot and cold water built into a counter top with cupboards below, an urn, microwave oven and TV. Crew lockers are also provided and the area has direct access through to the bridge.
The bridge onboard “Lake Express” is impressive and fully equipped with the latest in marine technology including two radars, DGPS, echo sounder, gyro compass and overhead magnetic compass.
The vehicle deck, designed to suit the requirements of the customer, has the capacity to carry 46 cars. Catering for the size of cars found on roads today, the vehicle lanes are larger than normal with bay sizes of 17 feet by 8 feet. The inner two lanes offer a clear height of 9.5 feet while the outer lanes are 8.5 feet high. The maximum axle load is up to 3.5 tonnes. The 9.5 feet high forward door slides open to facilitate drive-through loading, thus keeping turnaround times to a minimum.
Access to and from the passenger cabin from the vehicle deck could not be easier and for those who may require assistance, an elevator, compliant with all relevant ADA requirements, is provided. Foot passengers access the vessel through shell doors port and starboard on the forward end of the vehicle deck.
The catamaran is powered by four MTU 16V 4000 M70 diesel engines, each producing 2,320kW at 2,000rpm, which is sufficient for service speeds of 34 knots at 90% Maximum Continuous Rating.
“Speed trials showed “Lake Express” reached a maximum of 39 knots,” said Randy Naker, of Hornblower Marine Services, which is managing the vessel’s operation for Lake Express. “Thanks to the motion control system the ride was very comfortable” he said.
In this application, the state-of-the-art motion control system uses hydraulically actuated interceptors fitted aft to provide motion damping as well as control of running trim. The interceptors are controlled by commands from a central unit which receives motion data from an array of onboard sensors, computes the required damping forces, and then issues the command signals.
Speaking of Austal USA’s achievement with the ferry, Mr. David Lubar, President and Chairman of Lake Express, LLC commented, “The vessel is truly amazing. Our customers are awed by its size and imposing profile as well as its speed and comfort. The Austal team of architects and builders is world class. We are all impressed by the ship’s beauty and functionality.”
“The delivery of “Lake Express” marks a further step in building up capacity and capability at Austal USA which
will stabilize our efforts to be a major contender in larger contracts in both the commercial and military markets,” said Austal’s Greg Metcalf.
Austal is now one step from a construction contract for the United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) project after the US Department of Defense announced on May 28 that it has awarded a US$78.8 million contract for final design to prime contractor Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics (GD)
company which is teamed with Austal. The US Navy has identified a need for 60 vessels, with a total value of around US$14 billion, over a 15 year period.