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Wednesday, April 4, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Production Of Tunnel Buses Behind Schedule

The Metro bus tunnel won't be as busy as expected when it opens for business in September, thanks to some sharp scrutiny by bus inspectors.

Metro had hoped to have between 90 and 120 specially designed buses ready by the tunnel opening Sept. 15, enough to serve 10 of the busiest routes.

But because it took so long for the agency to accept the manufacturer's first production-line bus, only about 60 of the large bending buses will be available for opening day - enough to serve only eight Metro routes.

The routes are Nos. 41, 71, 72, 73, 106, 107, 301 and 355.

Metro has been testing three prototype buses for nearly two years, and the first eight unfinished production models reached a final assembly plant in Issaquah in September.

But Metro inspectors found so many things to be fixed on the first completed bus that the agency didn't accept it until late last week, months behind schedule.

Inspectors found 449 problems, said Emmett Heath, manager of vehicle maintenance for Metro.

``We discussed with Breda that our first bus would set the standard and that we were really picky,'' Heath said.

The shell is assembled in Pistoia, Italy, by Breda Construzioni Ferroviarie, an experienced manufacturer of rail vehicles and buses. The body is shipped to Issaquah for installation of diesel and electric motors, seating and finish work.

U.S. law requires that half the value of a foreign bus be added in this country. As a result, the tunnel buses have American diesel and electric motors, seating and other parts that are installed at the Issaquah factory.

The problems mostly involved ``fit and finish,'' Heath said: scratches, glue showing, rust on metal that wasn't supposed to rust.

So far Breda has delivered 67 unfinished buses to Issaquah. Metro has ordered 236 of the 60-foot coaches at a cost of $137 million (including spare parts and two tow trucks for use in the tunnel).

The three prototype buses were tested in simulated service to shake out problems. The most serious found by Metro was in the differential gears in the buses' drive axles: They failed frequently, often after only a few thousand miles of service.

Breda and the gear manufacturer are making temporary modifications that will keep the buses operating until permanent corrections can be installed.

The builder also is adding stiffening material to the bus shell after cracks were found in framing on some of the unfinished production-line buses.

Metro has also asked Breda to improve soundproofing. Material installed by the builder met specifications, but Metro decided noise levels would be annoying and asked for improvements.

Although Breda transferred production managers to Issaquah, most of the labor force was locally hired.

Heath said some of the problems in the first production bus were the result of that new labor.

The 1.3 mile-long, $450 million tunnel is more than 99 percent complete.

Dan Williams, a Metro spokesman, said the tunnel is expected to be available in June for the beginning of integrated testing of tunnel operating systems and training of drivers.

Jim Jacobson, service development manager, said other routes will go underground during regular schedule changes in February and June 1991, as more Breda buses are delivered.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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