Tour of the M/V AEP Legacy
by, Capt. Eric Grubb
During the summer of 2012, my family had the opportunity to tour the AEP Legacy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. AEP, whose name came from the 1958 "American Electric Power," dates back to 1906, and supplies power to millions of customers in the states of Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Their eighty generating plants are powered by coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power.
Moving coal by barge is a huge part of AEP's operation. According to their website, AEP's transportation infrastructure includes approximately 7,500 rail cars, 3,200 barges and 87 towboats.
Why is this important to us? Barge tows are a very efficient form of transportation, and are here to stay. As a recreational boater, understanding their operations is not only interesting but is also important to our safe operations.
Upon arrival at the Legacy, we were first greeted by Capt. Terry Reavis, who brought the Legacy to Pittsburgh's North Shore earlier that morning as part of the 35th Pittsburgh Regatta. The Legacy was decorated for the July 4th holiday week. All of AEP's vessels proudly fly the American flag, honoring our military and the freedom for which they fight. (1)
As you will see from the pictures, the towboat, which has been in operation for two years now, was spotless both inside and out. Capt. Reavis was later interviewed by several news stations, where he and representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers made a case for river safety and funding for lock improvements.
We started our tour in the galley, where the attendant showed us the cooking facilities, dining area, lounge and workout room. These were at the forward end on the main deck of the 156' vessel. The beam is 48', making for a vast interior space.
Moving aft, we met Mike Allensworth, the Chief Enginner, who showed us his quarters and his area where he supervised the operations of the engine room.
From the chief engineer's station, all parameters from the engines, generators and other major systems could be monitored. Having served as a flight engineer on large turbine-powered aircraft years ago, I fully expected about ten times as much clutter with the gauges. In this case, a laptop computer was connected to the system, and the engineer could pull up any system to get more detailed information on parameters, faults or specific systems configurations.
Moving aft into the engine room, we first encountered the central air conditioning system. Further aft we found the engines and exhaust manifolds.
The boat is powered with twin EMD (formerly GE) 12-710 diesels, which are 45 degree V-12 two-stroke diesels similar to what you'd find in a locomotive. Those engines each put out 3,000 hp, and are connected to propellers that turn inside a fixed Kort nozzle system. Those nozzles accelerate the flow of water past the propellers, increasing their thrust and efficiency.
Moving further aft, we found one of the spare parts rooms and a separate room dedicated to the 440v John Deere diesel generators. Interestingly, the generators are operated one at a time, with the other serving as a spare. The operation is rotated between them every few weeks. The 440 volt service is stepped down to 220v and 110v for the household systems.
Moving toward the stern, Systems Engineer Ryan Hawthorne took us aft toward the "steering room." The room was approximately 20' x 35' in size, and consisted of two electrically-driven hydraulic pumps that powered the steering rams. The steering is accomplished by four sets of levels at the helm, which are connected to the main and flanking rudders positioned before and aft of the propeller nozzles.
The large red sign in the middle read "Pinching Hazard"--I'll bet!
We next moved up to the next deck, where there were crew quarters and a separate room for the pilot and guest. Moving up to the third level of the superstructure, we found the captain's quarters, which consisted of an office, a small living room, and a bedroom with it's own bath.
Above, the captain's quarters, and below, his adjacent office
Moving up to the bridge deck, we were met again by Capt. Reavis at the entrance to the pilothouse. He generously shared his experiences with us, and spent much more time than we expected showing us around.
Above, Capt. Reavis and your author at the helm
There were three VHF radios, which they typically tune in this area to ch. 13 (bridge to bridge and locks), ch. 16 (hailing) and their discrete company frequency. There were two large radar displays, which were in the 0.75 mile range in the pictures. We were later told by a friend in the industry that Capt. Reavis designed his own bridge during the construction of the Legacy, making it very user-friendly for the experienced captain.
The visibility from the pilothouse was incredible with the huge windows. If you were expecting to see a wheel, you'd be surprised that there isn't one, but rather the levers attached to the rudder control system.
Above, the radar looking up the Allegheny River from the North Shore. Visible on the 3/4-mile range are the Ft. Duquesne Bridge, the 6th Street Roberto Clemente Bridge, the 7th Street Bridge and the 9th Street Bridge. To the right, you can see Point State Park, the Fort Pitt Bridge, and up the Monongahela River.
There was a large chart plotter at the helm which would display pictures and details of items of interest when moused-over. For example, the captain moused over a local bridge, and a profile view of the bridge appeared in a large window with both graphic and textual information. There was also a set of USACE River Charts like those we find at the boating stores, which served as their USCG-approved source of information.
Behind the helm was what appeared to be a roll-top desk. When asked about it, we got an interesting explanation that is best saved for next time you see us at the docks.
Below, a few pictures from the decks of the Legacy:
The crew explained that Deckhand is the entry-level position, with opportunities to go to "Steering School" occurring after approximately five years.
Our Chief Engineer, Mike Allensworth, started as a Deckhand and worked his way up to Chief. We also had the pleasure of meeting Toni Jeffers, a female Deckhand who had been there a total of nine weeks. Her father is the captain of another boat in the company. She said she "grew up with it and loves it!"
Above, Chief Engineer Mike Allensworth
The towboat schedules are typically 21-days on and 21-days off. Their operation in New Orleans features a 2-week shift with 12-hour schedules, and has its own complex to house workers. Those schedules allow for their crewmembers to commute from distant locations.
Also at the regatta, we met a representative from the Texas Transportation Institute who was on-hand to explain some of the lobbying efforts and the importance of the inland waterways system.
Did you know that one 15-barge tow has the same capacity as 216 rail cars with six locomotives, or 1,050 large semi tractor-trailers? Did you know that the inland waterways are used to transport 60% of our grain exports, 22% of our domestic petroleum and 20% of the coal used in electricity generation? In 2009, the system moved 566 tons of freight valued at $180 billion. (2)
The cost to operate a boat such as the Legacy can be as high as $15,000 per day. When we mentioned Markland Locks, we were told that when you compound all the delays associated with the closures recently, the estimated cost to the industry is approaching $60 million. The industry is very concerned with the need for funding to upgrade our lock system, and is working hard to lobby for more federal money to make the needed improvements.
Parting Words on Safety
Capt. Reavis of the AEP Legacy mentioned that they typically stay close to the depicted sailing lines, but will maneuver as necessary to pass other vessels or safely navigate. As an example, a particularly challenging area would be the approach to downtown Louisville. They need to prepare to align themselves with the turning entrance to the Portland Canal, which is further complicated by Louisville's bridges, a narrowing channel, increasing current, occasional fast water and the occasional recreational boater who isn't aware of their complications.
Capt. Reavis has taught many a safe boating course, and asked me to pass on his "gorilla theory." That is, if you're in a room facing a big gorilla, "who's gonna win?" He by no means is trying to be threatening, but rather wants to point out that small boats that zip around in front of barge tows are placing themselves in danger. As we've pointed out in other parts of this site, it is best to leave lots of room between yourself and these large boats, as they have tons of momentum, can't stop on a dime, and could present a significant risk if you find yourself stopped in front of one.
My teenage daughters attended the tour, and I found it interesting talking to them about what they learned. Both explained that they never really knew how much room they should give the towboats until they talked to Capt. Reavis. It was interesting hearing that from two young boaters who have both been through safe boating classes and have been driving with us on the river for years.
In the end, we learned a lot from the tour, and really appreciate the time the crewmembers spent sharing their experiences with us.
It is my hope that at least some of that information will leave an impression on our local boaters, making the river safer for everybody as our recreational traffic shares the waterways with the commercial traffic that keeps our lights on and keeps the economy moving.
Above, one of our children made this after visiting the Legacy. She sent it to Capt. Reavis along with her thank-you note for the tour.
(1) AEP River Operations, "All Things River," July 5th, 2012
(2) Texas Transportation Institute, Center for Ports and Waterways
Founder, Port KY
Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.
As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.
Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.