New AEP towboats offer crew luxuries, fuel savings


American Electric Power’s 6,000-hp towboat Buckeye State pushes a 15-barge tow of coal on the Ohio River at Uniontown, Ky., toward its power plant in Rockport, Ind.

Capt. Mike Hays was standing in the canyon created by the split console in the pilothouse of AEP Buckeye State, commanding a huge view of the foredeck below him and the 15-barge tow of coal ahead of him.

“When I first got on this boat it actually scared me because I could see so much,†he said. “This boat is kind of unique with the split console. I can walk right out to the window and look down.â€

In a major fleet upgrade, American Electric Power (AEP) is building 10 new 166-foot, 6,000-hp towboats designed by Corning Townsend of Maine-based CT Marine. The first five, including Buckeye State, were built by and delivered from Quality Shipyards. The remaining five are under construction at Gulf Island Fabrication. Both yards are in Houma, La.

The vessels are powered by two General Motors EMD mains, Lufkin gears and five-bladed Kaplan-style propellers. The boats transport low-sulfur coal from the Western states to AEP’s power plants along the Ohio River.

“We’re running fuel economy, three-quarters ahead, to save on fuel, and making 6 miles an hour,†said Hays. “These boats burn a lot less fuel than the old ones. That’s one of the reasons they’re having them built.â€

Safety was instilled into Hays from the day he signed on with AEP 25 years ago. “AEP’s Golden Rule is safety,†said Hays. “I never jeopardize my people.â€

Another priority for AEP was to design crew comfort into the vessels, both for the quality of life of the 10 crewmembers on a 21-day turnaround and to enhance crew retention.

“The quarters are luxurious,†said Hays. “It’s a beautiful boat. It overwhelmed me when I came aboard.â€

Treatments such as sound baffling, lighting control, computer hookups and satellite television in the crew quarters enhance the endurance capability of the crew and helps retain them. All the exposed walls in the pilothouse, living quarters, galley and mess room have 6 inches of insulation to reduce the noise levels.

Looking out over the neat mountain ranges of coal running along the centerline in each barge, Hays commented on the “coal to Newcastle†irony of bringing coal from Wyoming to the rich Eastern coalfields along the Ohio.

“But it’s so clean burning. And just think about how many men a ton of coal keeps working.†•

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1. Capt. Mike Hays makes the Newburgh Locks and Dam with only 2.5 feet of clearance on each side of the tow. 2. The tow nears the William H. Natcher Bridge and the Rockport Generating Station. 3. Second Mate Matt Thomas and deck hand Josh Byer check the barges for leaks by lifting the hatch lids and looking inside for water. 4. Deck hand Ben Harbrecht lets go the face wires. 5. Chief Engineer Bill Null presides over two 3,000-hp EMD L12 710 turbo diesels through Lufkin 4.345:1 gears. 6. The 166-foot Buckeye State’s tow of coal barges approaches the Newburgh Locks and Dam.