Amtran to seek funds for more CNG buses

Amtran plans to apply for about $3.1 million in federal and state grants for six new compressed natural gas buses — in addition to three it has ordered for delivery next year.

Success in obtaining the grants would give the authority 12 CNG buses among its 26-vehicle fleet to run on fuel provided by a CNG fueling station that workers will be building soon at Amtran’s terminal, according to General Manager Eric Wolf.

“There’s no guarantee” the authority will get the highly competitive grants from the Federal Transportation Admin­istration and PennDOT — the intention is to ask each agency to fund half — but PennDOT has said it’s a good idea to apply, and there’s momentum currently for the funding, Wolf said.

Amtran and 29 transit authorities throughout the state are transitioning to CNG as part of an $84.5 million public-private partnership between PennDOT and Trillium, the company that will build the filling stations.

Obtaining the first group of six CNG buses will allow the authority to get rid of the last six of its 40-year-old GMC buses — except one that will be kept as a “museum” piece, Wolf said.

Obtaining the second group in 2020 would allow the authority to get rid of some of its eight 2000 buses and some of its 2005 buses — which are equipped with wheelchair lifts, rather than more convenient, quicker-loading and less maintenance-intensive ramps.

After it gets rid of the GMCs, Amtran’s fleet will consist of nothing but Gilligs, Wolf said.

Used now only as school trippers, the iconic GMCs become difficult and expensive to find parts for, according to Maintenance Director Gary Williams.

A muffler now costs $1,000 — more than twice the cost of a muffler for a more current bus, he said.

His crew couldn’t find an original-style part for an air shifter and had to settle for a comparable substitute part for one of the old buses, he said.

Williams’ department has had to search for parts all over the country and even beyond the border, Wolf said.

The vehicles need to be operated periodically to remain in running condition, they said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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