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Smoke prompts bus evacuation

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett Transit officials are investigating another mechanical failure in its buses, this time an MCI Diesel bus provided by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

Last week, the express bus was traveling east on Interstate 20, when the driver and passengers noticed smoke in the interior of the bus. The driver activated the fire suppression system and evacuated passengers. The passengers were transferred to another bus less than 30 minutes later, according to acting Transit Director Phil Boyd.

Last Thursday, a day after the smoke was detected, a maintenance manager and a field technician from Detroit Diesel inspected the engine and its components and found no evidence of fire damage or leaking fluid lines. Officials said the cooling system was intact, and the turbocharger was in normal condition.

The investigation found no abnormalities or defects in the engine, but a Carrier Air Conditioning technician discovered a burned blower motor from the evaporator assembly, according to a press release.

Replacement motors have been ordered, and after the air conditioning system has been repaired, Boyd said, a lone driver will simulate an afternoon trip on Route 418 to ensure that all systems on the bus are operating as designed.

"Because there was no obvious point of origin, we proceeded in a methodical manner to determine the cause of the smoke in the bus," Boyd said. "Rider safety is our No. 1 priority, and we will do everything in our power to ensure our buses are in excellent condition."

Veolia Transportation, the company that operates Gwinnett's bus system, has accelerated the annual air conditioning preventive maintenance inspections on this line of GRTA MCI buses to prevent another failure.

"These actions are consistent with Veolia's Transportation's commitment to ensure that all Gwinnett County Transit buses are properly maintained and that our riders enjoy a stress-free commute," said Boyd.

Gwinnett Transit has been plagued by problems over the past year.

Since last December, the county has encountered five fires in county buses, including a high-profile fire that shut down Interstate 85 for hours.

Earlier this year, the county's Performance Analysis Division released a negative report about Veolia's maintenance operations.

Boyd became acting transit director when Tim Collins resigned at Transportation Director Brian Allen's request earlier this month.