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The back story on NABI articulated buses pulled off CTA routes

The 7500 series articulated buses from North American Bus Industries have had a checkered "career" at the CTA. And now all 226 of the 60-foot buses first introduced in 2003 to serve high-volume express routes have been pulled from service pending inspection for cracks in the articulation joints and bus axles.

Mayor Daley and other CTA officials in a 2003 press release heaped much praise on these NABI buses, remarking on their "increased reliability and comfort." But as ChicagoBus.org reports, it didn't take long to see signs of trouble in the buses:

"Shortly after the 7500-series went into service, the CTA noticed several manufactural defects in the buses. Poor suspension systems often caused bumpy rides, the rear doors often malfunctioned, and cracks appeared in the articulation joint. This led the CTA to momentarily stop payment to NABI in 2004. In May 2007, CTA Chairman Carole Brown stated on her blog that the CTA was still working with NABI to correct ongoing suspension problems, calling it a “serious issue” that “must be fixed.”

ChicagoBus.org also reminds us that the CTA has started to receive up to 150 hybrid articulated buses from New Flyer, with almost 100 in service. But that's not enough to take the pressure off losing these 226 buses.

If you use one of the routes affected, let us know your commute stories.

Comments

I frequent the #1 Indiana/Hyde Park and I think these buses might be on that route. The suspension is terrible if I'm on a #1 articulated and I sit in the back.

The NABI articultated were always pretty bad as far as ride comfort was concerned. The stories are accurate saying that it literally hurt when hitting bumps. They seemed pretty realiable as far as not breaking down though, and were pretty speedy.
Today I noticed on bus tracker that there were no 156 North of Fullerton. The buses were pulling out of cannon drive onto Fullerton and then Stockton. I am assuming this is supposed to help the bus from getting full to early. That being said by the time we got to North avenue the bus was pretty well packed. Oh and it was a New Flyer hybrid that was servicing route 156 this morning.

The 147 seems to be humming along normally, although there are way too many ghost buses that aren't showing up on the Tracker. The CTA's also running a lot of the regular buses on the route in the evening; I haven't seen any in the morning, but see note about ghost buses.

Why are CTA workers stationed at or near so many bus stops? The guy at Hollywood this morning wasn't actually near the bus stop; he was hanging out up near the high-rise's entryway. But I don't see why they're there. It would be easy enough to post signs like the CTA usually does, and it isn't like the situation's changing from minute to minute making a person with up-to-date information necessary.

I rode one of the New Flyer buses on the 147 routes this weekend. Very smooth. I recall some moments on the Drive in an NABI bus when we hit a pothole, those of us in back were lifted off our seats, and I thought I might have had either an injury to my nether regions, or a concussion from the shaking. Fortunately neither, but OMG to say the least.

I ride the 136 and 147 regularly. I always enjoyed the seat layout on the buses, but they are right in saying the suspension was bad. If you hit a pot hole, you could jump out of your seat. Also, I'd been on rides bad enough that if you were bumping around, it was too loud to talk to someone right next to you.

As for the breaks/cracks, I never noticed anything like this, but not sure it would be visible.

I haven't noticed too much of a delay on the 136 since they recently rolled out hybrids on the route that took over for some of the smaller buses during rush hour. Probably less buses going right now, but similar capacity.

I haven't ridden the buses much over the last few days, but anecdotally the 147 seems to be running more or less normally. I have spotted a few more non-articulateds on the route than normal, so I imagine capacity has taken something of a hit.

I am surprised that there hasn't been more of a problem, at least from a PR standpoint. Since the initial story broke, I've seen very little on the news about significant delays, and even on this site the uproar has been minimal in those terms.

[I'd been on rides bad enough that if you were bumping around, it was too loud to talk to someone right next to you.]

I had noticed this also, especially when sitting near the joint holding the two ends together. That plate on the floor would rattle loud enough to leave your ears ringing.

There's very little to hold on to in the flexible part of the new flexible buses. I noticed that about a week ago.

I took a 148 to work today out of curiousity--I thought about the train, but where I get on the LSD buses is fairly close to the end of the line. It got insanely crowded by the time we got on the Drive, and I think I'll switch to the train for the time being.

FWIW, strannix -- and this is 100% anecdotal as well -- I have to say capacity actually seems to have improved while I've been on the 147s since this happened. In the mornings, by the time the bus leaves Marine Drive, there have been only three or four standees. The evenings have been a little less consistent, but in general, those last two stops north of Chicago Ave. haven't been as badly off as they usually are either.

The joint of an articulated bus needs to be inspected often.

To get an articulated bus (and this is very simplified), you take a regular bus, chop-off the back, and hook it up to a trailer. Yep. It's basically a glorified, permanent trailer hitch holding the two halfs together. The rest just makes it functional for passengers to move between the bus and the trailer while the bus is moving without getting hurt.

If the glorified trailer hitch fails, the flexible faberic and some tie-bars on the top will keep the trailer from getting too far away from the main bus, but you don't want to be anywhere near that joint. You're bound to get something pinched-off.

So essentially, you've got one very important pivot point there holding the bus and the trailer together. Imagine standing on top of a trailer hitch between a pick-up truck and some trailer it's pulling. The same kind of up/down, back/forth forces apply.

Tractor-trailers (semi-trucks) are frequently disconnected and reconnected, each time being inspected. Same for pick-up trucks and trailers. The big problem with articulated buses is this trailer hitch isn't something you can see on top, and the bus and the trailer are (typically) never unhitched from each other, either.

So you've got to FREQUENTLY get someone under there, looking over this joint. There's a lot of stress focused on that one pivot point, and you can't just wait until the trailer comes apart from the bus in an accident. You have to inspect them.

That's why it's so shocking to me that 226 buses are pulled all at once so many years into their service life for an inspection.

Those inspections should have been a regular occurence all along. This is not a problem that just pops-up one Thursday afternoon.

This isn't like cracks in one of a few dozen welds on the frame of a bus. There's no redundency in the engineering. There's just that one pivot point where all the stress is focused. To not be inspecting it frequently enough to know at any given time whether the whole fleet is road worthy is inexcusable.

The question we should all be asking is why these inspections were not taking place. And if they were taking place, then how did everything just blow-up in one afternoon.

Who says the inspections aren't taking place all the time? Why must you jump to the illogical conclusion first?

The CTA is out to get you. Yeah...that's the ticket.

[To not be inspecting it frequently enough to know at any given time whether the whole fleet is road worthy is inexcusable.]

Before we start down this path, perhaps a good question to ask is what kind of inspection regime is legally required (or otherwise required by CTA policy). It's possible that it's not as "inexcusable" as it seems.

Beyond that, it's pretty clear, I think, that the buses weren't pulled because there was any particular reason to think they weren't road-worthy, but rather as a "better safe than sorry" type of PR move, with the added benefit of putting NABI on the spot in a big way.

After all, they've been able to pull them with *seemingly* minimal service disruptions ... it's perhaps not as drastic a measure as it appeared when first announced.

I'd like to see how a NABI would handle this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzZm94675bw&feature=player_embedded

lol

I don't think it is a coincidence that all of these buses were pulled from service the same week that the stimulus bill passed. A lot of agencies will be trying to get as much as they can from it, and this puts a large CTA need in the spotlight just as the money is being divvied up.

>>>
with the added benefit of putting NABI on the spot in a big way.
<<<

Yeah. I'm sure NABI's customers are running away fast just because of this.

Grandstanding might serve a purpose when you're trying to influence behavior of the masses, but there are no masses to be influenced here.

The reaction at NABI was probably a yawn, followed by a rather ordinary meeting at which they crafted statements for any reporters who call, and another one for their cusomters.

Attrill might be onto something with stimulus funding being out there, but if they're able to keep things running relatively smoothly without the NABI artics, that kind of undercuts that theory.

As for whether the necessary inspections (which is far different than the legally required inspections) where happening, if they were, then there would be no reason to pull the other 225 buses off the road because one broke. Either there was a huge question mark because they weren't being inspected, or they were being inspected, and they shouldn't have gone out in the first place.

They've been out there for half a decade. One breaks, and they pull 225 others off the road. What's the logical conclusion here?

If one bus has an engine fire, do they pull every other bus with that model engine off the road immediately? So far, that hasn't been the reaction.

So why does the failure of one 5-1/2 year old bus prompt the pulling of 225 other buses off the road? Just what is the logical conclusion here?

It's one of two: Either they are very unsure of the condition because they haven't been inspecting them as needed, or they have been inspecting them as needed, and they knew that a significant number really weren't road worthy.

The logical conclusion cannot be that they were inspecting the buses as necessary, and those out on the road were known to be fine. That's the most illogical possiblity of all!

[The logical conclusion cannot be that they were inspecting the buses as necessary, and those out on the road were known to be fine. That's the most illogical possiblity of all!]

I obviously have no idea if this is the case or not, and I won't pretend that I do. But I don't see why it's so illogical.

The CTA and NABI have been having a running dispute over these buses for years. Something comes up, and the CTA seizes on the issue as an opportunity to grandstand. That's a very simple scenario, and whether it's a good idea or not (who knows?), it's not illogical at all.

Let's face it, one way or the other, the official story seems a bit weird, and the CTA did go out of its way to point fingers at NABI in the press release.

Here are my questions: have any of the NABIs cleared inspection and been put back into service? Is there any timetable for this to start happening?

>>>
and the CTA did go out of its way to point fingers at NABI in the press release.
<<<

Because they wanted to make it clear that it wasn't all artics that were being pulled.

Even here, where most people who post are more aware of CTA details than the population at large, we've seen posts that infer the person doesn't know there's more than one kind of artic out there.

Grandstanding isn't going to help in any mediation with NABI. Not after 5+ years. Taking them out of service one-by-one, and keeping them out of service would be more effective.

Conditions didn't suddenly change Thursday afternoon after half a decade of being okay. ONE bus had a problem. It's illogical to apply that one problem to the other 225 buses just like that. Either they already knew a substantial number shouldn't have been out there, or they had no clue as to the condition of the other 225 because they hadn't been inspected recently enough. If they had been inspected recently enough, and had been found to be okay, the other 225 would have been left on the road.

[ Either they already knew a substantial number shouldn't have been out there, or they had no clue as to the condition of the other 225 because they hadn't been inspected recently enough.]

I think there are other possibilities. It could be that routine inspections would not catch a structural defect like the one at issue.

If this was the first time this was encountered - which seems probable - that could be a credit to the inspectors just as easily as it could be an indictment of them. After all, they found a potentially serious issue, and took action to keep the riding public safe.

It doesn't necessarily follow that all the other buses were fine, or not fine. That's why you decide to do emergency inspections, to determine the depth of an issue you haven't encountered before.

The way I see it: catching a problem *before* disaster strikes = good work, CTA.

At any rate, I think at this point, there's little to do but wait for the other shoe to drop. What becomes of these inspections? If they stay out of service, it's an obvious sign that action against NABI will be escalated. If the one problem bus turns out to be an anomaly, then things go back to normal and we all forget about this as soon as the next thing comes up.

Keep in mind that for years before the famous string of derailments, the system's rails were inspected daily. It's just that little to nothing was done to act upon those inspections.

Didnt the CTA say they had to bring in an outside contracted structural inspector?

I think that rules out that they had someone qualified in the passed even if inspections were taking place. Also, according to chicagobus.org the entire joining section collapsed as the "one" artic pulled into the bus garage. What?

Alex,

If you're going to sue someone you need an "independent" inspector/expert rather than your own guy to say things are bad. It doesn't matter that your guy is as qualified. He's tainted.

The real story is that CTA wanted to cut services and personell and needed to do so without all of the public opinion. One day I am reading a story about how CTA is considering raising rates already in 2009 and the very next month I hear that they are cutting all these bus service routes and rides will not be replaced. How about htye knew these buses were in poor condition on 2005 when they bought them. They even stopped payment on them. But they still used them for 3 year!!! Now that there is no money to get from anywhere else, and people are hurting, they cut service with no questions asked. Ask questions people!!!!!

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