A Fast Ferry Tradition
On Thailand’s Chao Phraya River the tradition of ferries predates land transportation. This is especially true in the lower area where heavy forests dominated the landscape when the city was founded in the late 18th Century. Today the forests have been replaced by a city of eight million people whose traffic jams are legendary. Those fortunate enough to live close to the river have an excellent commuting option in the fleet of the Chao Phraya Express Boat Company.
Founded 70 years ago by the grandmother of present owner Khun Supapan, today’s firm includes cross river ferries and river cruise vessels as well as the fleet of 64 commuter ferries. These ferries, all 29 metres in length, include 15 twin-engined boats with 5.8-metre beams and 49 single-engined boats with 2.7-metre beams. This size of fleet results in huge maintenance costs especially on the slim wooden planked hulls that take quite a beating on the steel piers from which up to 60 people per stop are off loaded and boarded. The single engine boats can transport over 100 people and the twin screw boats over 150. Technology following the timeless formula for longevity is robust and simple. The twin screw boats have hydraulic steering but most of the single screw boats retain the tried and true chain and cable system. Similarly the controls to the 2:1 ZF gears are largely mechanical. With over eighty engines in operation maintenance costs are a major consideration given the standard eight baht fare equivalent to a US nickel. For reliability and economy, the company has standardized on Cummins mechanical NT855 engines turning 32-inch propellers.
With over 40,000 passengers carried on weekdays, the company is currently transporting around ten million people up and down the river per year. This is a lot of moves and Supatra explains the keeping to schedules is essential. The 18 kilometres of river that pass through the city centre include 34 city-maintained piers. These six by four metre pontoons are kept stable in the often turbulent wake-washed river by four steel pilings and nylon wheel-mounted guides. None-the-less as any tourist who has joined crowds of office workers, school children and shoppers, will attest jumping on and off the ferries adds an element of excitement to a river commute.
For more about Khun Supapan and her related businesses see: About Khun Supapan
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