Two buses crash, cause: steering problems

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    Hickory, N.C.

    150 MBTA buses pulled after 2 crashes

    Both drivers cite difficulty steering

    Buses of this model, parked in Charlestown yesterday, will be inspected before resuming service. (Globe Photo / Michael Dwyer)
    By Lucas Wall and Mac Daniel, Globe Staff | July 16, 2005

    The MBTA yanked 150 buses -- 15 percent of its fleet -- off the road yesterday for emergency inspections after two crashes involving steering problems with the same model vehicle.

    All of the buses taken out of service, which delayed the trip home for thousands of commuters, are ''low floor" models that are designed to simplify boarding and exiting, especially for the disabled.

    In the two wrecked buses and 13 others examined by yesterday evening, inspectors found damage in the radius rods, which connect the axles to the body of the bus and are crucial in steering, T officials said. A preliminary examination indicates the rods might have been jarred out of alignment by hitting potholes, said Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

    No one was hurt in the first wreck; MBTA officials said they expect all the undamaged buses to be back on the road by Monday morning.

    The first incident occurred yesterday morning when one of the 40-foot-long, 38-seat buses grazed a wall in the Callahan Tunnel Pesaturo said. The mirror opposite the driver's side broke off and the side of the bus was scraped. The operator told supervisors it had been difficult to properly steer the bus.

    [​IMG] NECN: MBTA pulls buses following accidents

    It appeared to be a minor, isolated incident.

    But late yesterday afternoon, a second bus of the same model was involved in a collision with a car in Swampscott. The bus driver, who suffered minor injuries along with one bus passenger and one occupant of the car, also told investigators that something appeared to be wrong with the steering.

    ''As a precaution, acting in the best interest of our customers, we decided to pull all these Emission Control Diesel buses out of service for immediate inspection," Pesaturo said. ''Unfortunately, some riders have had to endure some long waits."

    About 4:30 p.m., dispatchers radioed all drivers of the Neoplan Transliner AN440LF to complete their routes and then go straight to a garage. As those 150 buses disappeared off the streets, the T began sending spare buses of other models to pick up some of the missed routes.

    ''It's been an uphill battle, considering it's rush hour on a Friday," Pesaturo said from the Charlestown bus barn about 6:20 p.m.

    Sharon Britton of Cambridge was riding a T bus home on Route 1 from Boston when the alert was broadcast on the radio. Britton said she overhead a dispatcher telling drivers of a certain model bus to return to the garage at 6 miles per hour with the hazard lights flashing.

    Britton said her driver told passengers the bus they were aboard was not affected by the recall, but she was still worried. ''Obviously in this time when the security on the transit system is heightened, you're wondering why they are calling buses back to the garage in an emergency situation," she said.

    Pesaturo said there is nothing to indicate any of the buses were sabotaged.

    The T had inspected about 120 of the 150 buses of that model by about 9:30 p.m. yesterday. The 150 buses operate from garages in Charlestown, Lynn, and Quincy. There are about 1,000 buses in the T's fleet, 717 of which were in use during yesterday's afternoon peak period before the recall.

    The MBTA acquired the buses, manufactured by Neoplan USA Corp., about a year ago and have not had any major problems until yesterday, Pesaturo said.

    ''As the number [of damaged buses] grows, it's clear there's a need for a thorough investigation," Pesaturo said.

    Local representatives of Neoplan were summoned to T garages last night. Officials at Neoplan's headquarters in Denver could not be reached for comment.

    A sales brochure on the company's website -- which prominently features a white-and-yellow T bus -- states the buses come equipped with a front-door wheelchair ramp. Across the industry, bus designs have been modified in the past decade or so to lower the floor so that it is easier for people using wheelchairs or disabled to board without assistance.

    The front entrance of the Transliner bus involved in yesterday's crashes is 14.5 inches off the ground, according to the brochure. The bus can ''kneel" another 3 inches to more easily accommodate boarding a disabled passenger.

    As the evening commute wound down yesterday, T bus service appeared to have returned to normal.

    Pesaturo said the remaining 80 Transliner buses will be inspected by tomorrow. Service today and tomorrow should not be disrupted because the T runs fewer buses on weekends, he said.

    Lucas Wall can be reached at Mac Daniel can be reached at [​IMG]

    © Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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