Amtran getting new CNG buses

By the end of next week, Amtran will have finished receiving its latest batch of new Compressed Natural Gas buses — 10 of them, to add to the six that it received early this summer.

These are the first CNG buses acquired by the authority, but the organization’s mechanics will be familiar with the new vehicles, as five members of the maintenance department spent at least one work week each watching them being built at the Gillig factory in Livermore, Calif., near San Francisco, officials said Wednesday.

The mechanics got to see the buses constructed “from the ground up,” Amtran Maintenance Director Gary Williams said. That meant seeing the engine and transmission placed on a set of rails and the frame and then the body assembled around them, he said.

During their time at the factory, the mechanics functioned as inspectors for Amtran, checking to see that the 40-page table of specifications was being met, according to Williams and Amtran General Manager Eric Wolf.

The mechanics could ask questions of Gillig employees and ultimately come to understand how the buses were put to­gether, “as they slowly gathered more parts,” according to Wolf and Williams.

Knowing that gives them a better idea of how to make repairs when it’s time, Williams said.

Knowing how the windows are set will make it easier to replace them when necessary, Williams said.

Knowing the location of all the hidden wiring will enable them to troubleshoot electrical problems and determine where not to drill when installing additional equipment like cameras, Williams said.

Knowing how the roof and side panels are bonded to the frame will help make fixes more easily after crashes, he said.

And seeing how the finish flooring is glued onto the plywood subfloor will help them reconstruct the floors if they deteriorate, he said.

The cost of travel, meals and lodging for four days for the five mechanics totaled about $13,500, ac­cord­ing to information provided by Wolf.

The last of the current batch has been painted and should be departing on the four or five day cross-country trip by the end of this week, Wolf said.

The buses are being delivered by drivers employed by Gillig, he said.

The drivers have been coming by a narrowly prescribed route to ensure there are strategically located CNG filling stations available when necessary, Wolf told the board Wednesday.

One driver passed up a station and had to retrace his route to fill up, to ensure he didn’t run out, Wolf said.

The cross-country trips serve as a good “shakedown” cruise, Wolf said, adding that if the buses do well on the 3,000-mile trip, “they ought to last a week or two in Altoona.”

When the Gillig drivers arrive at night, they’ve been staying at a local hotel, parking in the hotel parking lot and delivering the buses to Amtran the next morning for a final inspection by Williams, Wolf said.

Amtran employees have been taking the Gillig drivers to the airport for their trips home, Wolf said.

The current batch of buses is arriving about a month early; Gillig increased production because of a new factory, Wolf said.

Amtran expects to receive seven additional CNG buses in 2021.

The state and federal governments are paying for the buses in connection with a PennDOT initiative to boost the market for state-produced natural gas.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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