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Idaho National Laboratory

From the INEEL Archives
Feature Story

Innovative Transit Bus Focuses on the Future

Photo of the new yellow bus.

A little yellow futuristic bus is weaving its way across the United States and generating a lot of interest along the way.

The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory is collaborating with other government agencies and private automotive industry in developing the "new" yellow bus.

The new bus is designed to capture the nostalgia and appeal of the historic old buses which roamed Yellowstone National Park in the 1930s. The new yellow bus combines the historical look and feel with today’s safety standards. The new version is a 16- to 32- passenger vehicle that can use alternative fuel, features a low floor and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The new yellow bus recently visited INEEL facilities, where employees were allowed to look it over inside and out. Later, it moved to the Museum of Idaho in downtown Idaho Falls to give free rides. Kerry Klingler, the project manager at the INEEL, said reception to the bus has been great extremely positive.

Photo of Kerry Klingler, INEEL project manager.

Kerry Klingler, INEEL project manager.

Visitors commented on the curved back and the retro taillights designed to replicate the busses touring Yellowstone in the 1930s.

"We’ve had some fun with this," said Dick Reif, of Heart International, the driver of the bus during its cross-country journey and one of its developers.

The first prototype, built to test the bus’s new technology, looked boxy, just like the average transit bus. The engineers watched as tourists at Yellowstone Park passed it by straight for the older tour buses. Now they understand why, said Bob Jones, a DOE-Idaho engineer involved with the project.

"When you’re in Yellowstone, there’s a romanticism about the old yellow buses," Jones said. "For a touring bus, you have to draw on nostalgia."

For the Idaho Falls visit, crowds lined up for rides outside the Museum of Idaho. Passengers smiled as they stepped out of the bus. Reif even swung over to Idaho Falls Mayor Linda Milam’s office. She boarded the bus for a unique tour of the city.

Photo of the yellow bus on Tracks

Kids present spouted questions for the engineers. They were captivated when the engineers explained how the bus would ride optional snow tracks to get through deep snow in the winter. Those tracks will be tested this winter in Yellowstone National Park.

For a little contrast, he said, Richard Eagle, a hobby car restorer, brought his restored 1923 Yellowstone tour bus to the new bus’s visit at the museum. He spent 18 years restoring the White Co. vehicle to its original condition.

Eagle gave rides on his open-air bus as well. The ride was noisy and bumpy - an authentic trip back to the 1920s.

Moving to the innovative yellow bus, it looked like passengers would only be jumping ahead about a decade at first glance. But as soon as the new yellow bus’s doors opened, it was like a fast-forward to some time in the future. First, the bus dropped four inches. Then, a hydraulic ramp unfolded to rest on the ground. This new suspension system makes the bus accessible to those in wheelchairs, for people pushing strollers and rolling luggage. Once inside the bus, the wheelchair or stroller can be securely seat belted into a locked position.

Photo of the yellow bus with ramp deployed.

Developers say finding an authentic yellow color for the old Yellowstone National Park bus was tricky. The old paint on the remaining specimens had been worn and bleached - except in one place - the glove box. The engineers looked inside all the old glove boxes they could find, and found that at least 17 different yellows had been used, but BMW yellow was the most popular, so they went to the BMW store. The bus is built on a General Motors T-560 medium-duty chassis with a gross vehicle weight between 19,000 and 26,000 pounds.

The bus took three years to design and build. Klingler said they decided if they were going to build a new bus, they were going to do it right. It was finished only days before an official unveiling in late summer in Yellowstone National Park.

"The back seat is the best ride of the bus," Klingler said. Anyone who has ever been catapulted from the back of a bus by a speed bump understands how significant that is. Instead of conventional shocks, the bus rides on compressed air, which is released to lower the bus for boarding.

Reif demonstrated the ADA-compliant features of the bus with the help of a man and his wheelchair. Reif strapped the passenger’s chair to a hydraulic locking system. Although the bus is designed to run on natural gas, for this trip it has been using its gasoline system. Klingler said it has been difficult to find natural gas refueling stations on the open road. Eventually, they will be manufactured using several optional engines, to allow use of alternative fuels like natural gas, propane, ethanol and biodiesel. One purpose of the collaborative effort is protection of the national park’s pristine environment, combined with a drive to increase national security by reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy.

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