The Chicago Transit Authority announced this afternoon that it has pulled its entire fleet of 7500-series North American Bus Industries (NABI) model 60LFW articulated buses from service effective immediately. The decision was prompted by safety concerns after a NABI bus recently experienced a structural failure while pulling into a garage.
The NABI fleet was placed into service starting in 2003 and has been prone to a substantial amount of defects. Shortly after entering into service, cracks began to form in the articulation joint and axles of the buses. This, combined with other mechanical issues, often resulted in the buses having a failure rate higher than that of buses more than three times their age.
In 2004, the CTA stopped payment to NABI as a result of the ongoing issues with the buses. A lawsuit was also filed when NABI failed to make sufficient improvements under warranty. 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.”
An early retirement of the NABI fleet had been suspected recently, as over a dozen of the vehicles dropped off the active fleet roster in January. At last count, approximately 200 of the buses had remained in service.
The CTA says the buses will be inspected by a structural expert before making a decision regarding their future. While FTA regulations typically require that buses purchased with federal funds remain on the road for at least 12 years, exceptions could be made in the event of safety issues.
The disappearance of NABI buses on the streets will result in a major fleet shortage for the CTA. The agency is advising customers to expect “challenges” during rush hour periods. Additional rush hour rail service will be added to the Red, Blue, Brown, Green, and Pink lines.
Last fall, the CTA began accepting delivery of up to 150 articulated hybrid buses from New Flyer of America, Inc. Currently approximately 94 of those buses are in service, with more arriving each week. However, their arrival will not completely solve the fleet shortage problem. CTA has also placed additional orders for articulated hybrid buses from New Flyer, but has yet to give a notice to proceed while the agency awaits capital funding.