A a southbound Sound Transit bus caught fire this morning, closing the express lanes near 85th St; everyone got off the bus safely. KING5 has details and photos. It looks to be one of the new-ish DE60LFs that have been coming in. There is still congestion in this area, which may impact your commute, if you go anywhere near it.

Please throw in other links and traffic updates in the comments.

40 Replies to “Bus Fire on I-5”

    1. This is the best link to keep re-checking. It features answers to questions such as route number, which lanes are open again, and quotes from an ST spokesperson. For up-to-the-minute, Bruce’s link is the best. Thanks, Jennifer Sullivan!

  1. Just got downtown on the 522. If you are going northbound, don’t try to avoid the mess on northbound I-5 by exiting at Lake City Way… you’ll just get plunged into a worse mess as everyone tries to turn left on 15th.

  2. From the photos @wsdot_traffic was posting, I couldn’t tell if it was a hybrid or not. I wonder how having massive battery packs on top of the bus affects firefighter’s response.

    1. Not a hybrid.

      It appears to me from the KING 5 photos that the fire originated in the left rear wheelwell. That could be an issue with a wheel bearing, a dragging brake, or a defective hub assembly or tire.

      I’m 90% sure that this bus was operated by First Transit under contract with CT. I will be very curious to see if any maintenance issues contributed to the fire.

    2. Not much, I’d guess. Fresh water is a poor conductor, and the odds of getting shocked by a non-ground-referenced electric system are just about nil unless you touch both a positive and negative terminal at once. The main concern is firefighters doing extractions on hybrids using “jaws of life” type tools, where arc flash might be a hazard if a battery cable shorted to the frame.

      1. Negative. Spraying water on a bursting LiIon battery is pretty much the worst thing you can do. The only way to put out those fires is to cover them with dirt or wait for them to burn out. I can guarantee this response was a lot simpler for the FFs because the bus wasn’t a hybrid.

      1. I strongly suspect they’re still NiMH on the buses, although I’m not 100% sure; don’t have the New Flyer specs at hand right now. Unless there’s a significant space constraint, lithium ion batteries aren’t usually worth the extra cost to automakers. The Prius only recently made the changeover mid-year to free up trunk space. With a rooftop battery rack, there’s plenty of room for NiMH.

  3. Thanks for the quick post! The biggest impact this could have today is the possiblity that all buses of the same model might get put out of service for a few days, as experts determine what caused the fire, and other buses are inspected for the same faulty part(s) and/or procedure(s). Having this happen on a Friday is fortunate in that regard.

    If this does impact bus runs this afternoon, I’m sure ST will put out a tweet about it.

      1. both king county metro and community transit operate that model of bus for sound transit. also its likely king county metro operates this model for its own routes. pierce transit would not be impacted because they don’t operate articulated buses.

    1. If this does turn out to be a wheel/axle/brake issue, there could be a need to perform inspections on all New Flyer low-floors in either the CT/First Transit fleet (if it was caused by improper maintenance or reassembly) or all recently built New Flyer low-floors in all the fleets (if it was caused by a manufacturing defect).

      This bus, about one year old, is at exactly the age where a manufacturing defect could still cause an issue but where there also could have been improper maintenance performed.

      1. According to the fleet roster in the SIP, this bus was acquired in 2010 along with 12 others. There were more in the series acquired more recently.

      2. When a coach gets its scheduled oil changes, the general practice is to give it an inspection at the same time. I’ll agree with beavis, More than likely it was a frozen brake that finally had a thermal event. Although with the couple we have had over the past few years i’m surprised this one is so severe, as the 3 prior incidents thtat come to mind did not severely damage the passenger cabin. It will be intresting to see if this coach gets rebuilt, or scrapped. Also glad that no one was hurt.

  4. It was #9563, a D60LFR (a picture over on the KOMO TV website showed the coach number on the roof).

    1. Good to know. Thanks for the update.

      Was the brake in question dragging, stuck, or suffering some other problem?

      New KOMO pictures show serious charring on both sides of the axle. Were both brakes involved?

      1. Stuck brake – air line failure. The brakes on these are designed to activate if air pressure is lost, but a stuck brake on just one wheel will often escape the driver’s notice.

        Only one brake was involved, but it ignited some grease, and fire spread through the whole engine compartment. That’s why you see serious charring on both sides, as well as on the rear.

        This is not the first example of this happening on a freeway-running ST bus. I remember another occurrence last year or the year before that a SR-520 express rolled into downtown Seattle with a brake fire flaming under a rear fender.

  5. Just a snippet from my commute this morning.

    I am a reverse commuter (south in the PM, north in the AM). I waited for the 41 at Westlake Station from 7:45. Two buses were a no-show. One finally came 35 minutes later. It took us another 30 minutes, via I-5, to reach Northgate. NB traffic was so distracted by the burnt bus in the SB lanes, there was a build-up from downtown (Metro’s “eye on your commute” is a poor communicator when it comes to this kind of stuff)

    Because the express lanes were closed, buses were using the mainline I-5. And due to the extent of the congestion, I saw CT commuter routes in the SB lanes that normally wouldn’t be there at that time of the morning.

    The front half of the bus was fine. However, the back half was predominately charred; leaving only a blackened frame. The coach looked like something one would see in news footage of a bombing in the Middle East.

  6. Way to go bus driver! Sounds like he/she was organized and effective in helping everyone off the bus safely.

  7. surprised it was one of the newer buses…the early 9500’s seem close to a fire everytime they pull away from a stop light. and whats up with the ebrake plus gas release from a stop on those anyway

    1. Miserable Detroit Series 50 engines.

      They take absolutely forever to respond from idle, so the drivers hit the gas a couple of seconds before the light turns and then let off the brake. It’s the only way to safely pull away from some intersections in those things.

      The newer batch are powered by Cummins ISLs, which are perfectly adequate (although much more satisfying with a hybrid system behind them).

  8. Wow, two in one day, and coming from the same place.

    I was on the 532 this morning from Everett to Bellevue. The driver had difficulty getting the bus to move when we left the 112th St S Everett Freeway station, and a couple miles later after a rear seat passenger reported smelling smoke pulled over and evacuated the bus on the side of the freeway.

    Looks like in this case it was caught in time to avoid a full fire.
    Again, this appears to be a case of frozen air brakes.

  9. Every other month, it seems that Sound Transit has a bus fire. This is completely unacceptable. They need to seriously step up their game with maintaining their newflyer and motor coach industries buses. Especially the MCIs, they are big and complicated and very difficult to evacuate. Why are they not being pushed harder for this kind of stuff?

    1. When was the last time ST had a bus fire?

      Also, ST doesn’t actually operate the buses, in this case it was First Transit under contract to CT.

      1. Does First Transit do the maintenance or do they just provide the drivers? I was under the impression that CT did all the maintenance along with the rest of their fleet.

      2. I think the last ST bus fire was early last year when an MCI caught fire in fife. One of the reasons why i think ST buses tend to catch fire more often, is if they get a stuck brake, its not a short hop to the next traffic light which will probally unstick it (like a local coach). If it gets stuck and the bus gets on the freeway, its next stop may be miles away, and by that time the enough heat will build up from the stuck brake to cause even more problems.

      3. We saw several ST bus fires last year. I think that with this kind of frequency, it may become a turn down for new passengers who might question the safety of riding Sound Transit.

      4. @AlexKven “We saw several ST bus fires last year.” Please describe each of these incidents with an approx. date.

  10. First transit does the maintenance, they are known not to do it well. CT had all their university buses get off at the county line and go down 15th to the U. Not sure how that worked out but probably better than sitting on I5.

    1. I will agree about First not doing maintenace well. This applies First Group in general (First Transit, Greyhound, etc.). I think the worst contractor maintenace i have seen is a few years ago in Denver, where i rode Laidlaw Flxible with poor or no heat at all. And saw a Gillig where the rear A/C panel had been duct taped on and the coach sent out in service that way. I’ve also seen more than a few banged up and poorly running Greyhound coaches over the years as well.

      1. Speaking as a former bus driver, First Group should be seriously looked at by the Feds for their poor maintenance. First Student facilities are absolutely terrible too. The First Student base in Tacoma (visible from I-5 right there by the SR16 interchange) got taken over by Durham School Services and they are MUCH better for taking care of their offices and equipment. Between what I have seen of Greyhound and First Student, I want nothing do to with First Group.

    2. I was among the many caught up in the 15th NE mess-I would figure it was about an hour to an hour and 15 from North City to the U-District-I saw many of the same busses that passed me by on 15th when I was waiting for the 77 (barely missed my 330) going through campus when the 373 I ended up getting on went through campus. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining.

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