CTtransit takes electric bus fleet off road after bus fire in Hamden

CTtransit, in consultation with CTDOT, has taken its 12 electric buses off the road after one of the buses caught on fire in Hamden on Saturday morning.

“CTtransit removed the battery electric bus fleet from service out of an abundance of caution,” said CTtransit spokesperson Josh Rickman on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the Hamden Fire Department responded to the CTtransit New Haven Operations and Maintenance Facility on State Street around 7:30 am for a CTtransit electric bus on fire. The bus was destroyed by the fire, according to the Connecticut State Police.

Two employees suffered from smoke inhalation, and two firefighters dealt with heat exhaustion from the blaze, state police said. All four were taken to local hospitals to be treated and were released.

The Hamden Fire Department said it was difficult to extinguish the fire due to the type of battery in the bus.

“Lithium ion battery fires are difficult to extinguish due to the thermal chemical process that produces great heat and continually reignites,” the Hamden Fire Department wrote in a Facebook post following the fire.

This is the first battery electric bus fire the department has experienced, Rickman said.

State police said the cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit.

Rickman said any possible redeployment of the fleet will be informed by the ongoing investigation into the fire.

The Hamden garage for the electric buses was not fully outfitted with the fire suppression improvements described on the Department of Transportation’s website on the project, according to Rickman. He said the work on these improvements is ongoing and is expected to be completed in the fall.

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The total financial loss of this fire is still under investigation. Each bus costs around $900,000 to replace, Rickman said.

Connecticut introduced the Electric Bus Initiative as a way to transition bus operations away from fossil fuels and decrease air pollution, according to the Department of Transportation.

“Electric buses are at an efficiency advantage over diesel buses when stopping because they can recoup kinetic energy losses via regenerative braking,” the Department of Transportation said of the project. “They are also at an advantage when accelerating from a stop because electric motors operate optimally over a wide range of speeds vs. diesel engines that need to operate at higher RPMs.”

The state legislature passed the Connecticut Clean Air Act in April, with measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a release from Gov. Ned Lamont this past week.

Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation make up 37% of state emissions, according to the release. Transportation also accounts for 67% of emissions of nitrogen oxides, a component of smog.

Some of these provisions involve increasing the number of electric vehicles through government programs, eliminating the purchase of diesel-powered buses after Jan. 1, 2024, in favor of electric buses.

There is also a new requirement for new construction requiring a certain percentage of parking spaces to feature electric vehicle charging ports or infrastructure, according to Lamont’s release.

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