ART Bus Suffers Brake Malfunction, Rolls Down Hill

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) An Arlington Transit bus suffered an apparent brake malfunction and rolled down a steep hill on N. Barton Street this morning, coming to a stop half-way down the hill after it ran into a car.

The crash closed N. Barton Street between Fairfax Drive and 14th Street N. in the Courthouse area for more than an hour, as a heavy-duty tow truck was brought in to haul away the bus.

According the driver of one of the vehicles damaged in the crash, the natural gas-powered ART 45 bus started rolling back toward Fairfax Drive as it neared the crest of the hill. It rolled at least 10 feet before slamming into a black Lexus, which in turn rolled back into a Volkswagen minivan and a Reston Limousine bus.

The driver of the Lexus was transported to the hospital for evaluation, we’re told. The driver of the ART bus was shaken but not hurt. So far, no other injuries have been reported.

The crash may have prevented an even more catastrophic incident; had the other vehicles not stopped it, the bus could have gained speed as it rolled all the way down the steep hill.

Arlington County said late Monday afternoon that the bus “experienced a braking systems failure” and that it would pull three all three natural gas-powered ART buses from service while it investigates the cause of the malfunction. The county press release about the wreck, after the jump.

This morning, an Arlington Transit (ART) CNG electric hybrid bus experienced a braking systems failure while in service on the northbound 45 line, resulting in a three-vehicle accident. The bus was proceeding on a moderate-to-sharp incline on North Barton Street when all its braking systems failed, causing the bus to drift backward into other vehicles.

The driver of one of the vehicles was transported to Virginia Hospital for observation as a precautionary measure. No passengers on the bus were injured. Arlington County Police investigators described the damage to the vehicles as minor.

Safety is our priority. At this time, the cause of these failures has not been determined; therefore, Arlington County has removed all three of our CNG electric hybrid buses from service pending a complete and thorough investigation of the incident and the vehicle.

A representative of the vehicle manufacturer, DesignLine, is onsite, and Arlington has requested that a detailed forensic analysis be conducted in cooperation with Arlington County and our ART operations and maintenance contractor, National Express, to determine the cause and possible remedies.

The ART fleet consists of 44 vehicles, including 35 heavy-duty transit buses manufactured by North American Bus Industries (NABI), six smaller buses manufactured by the Arboc Corporation, and three electric hybrid buses from DesignLine USA, all powered by compressed natural gas. The bus involved in today’s incident is one of the three new DesignLine buses placed into service in September 2012. The bus is a serial-hybrid powered by electricity from batteries. The routes currently served by the CNG electric hybrid buses will continue to be served by our NABI buses.

ART takes the safety of our riders and others on the road very seriously. The ART program has one of the safest operating bus systems in an urban environment in the United States. ART operators are focused on safety with each operator undergoing annual recertification training to ensure they are performing at high safety performance levels.

In May 2011, ART received the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Gold Safety Award for outstanding safety record and reduction of customer safety complaints over the prior two years. In 2012, Arlington Transit (ART) was recognized by the state of Virginia with the Virginia Governor’s Safety Award for a pedestrian safety training program for bus operators.

Arlington Transit (ART) operates within Arlington County, Virginia, supplementing Metrobus with cross-County routes as well as neighborhood connections to Metrorail.