Monday, 22 February 2010

Amfibus runs into rough weather.

 Scotland’s new amphibious bus service has run into a series of glitches during ‘sea trials’; the latest one being a mini crash into a ramp when one of the suspension airbags worked loose. The two day trial on the River Clyde was axed in just half an hour after engineers were unable to fix the damage.

The amphibus, a unique floating bus concept, is designed to run on roads as well as in the water. The Dutch made vehicle combines a bus chassis with a boat like hull. ‘Stagecoach’, the huge bus and rail company that intends to roll out the £700,000 vehicle as a ferry between Renfrew and Yoker in Glasgow, was left embarrassed at the trials when the rear suspension was damaged as the vehicle drove up a slipway at Renfrew; the bus apparently came up the ramp too fast. Crowds that had gathered to watch the trial run of the yellow coach heard a thud and scraping sounds as the amfibus ascended onto land; it was later taken away for repairs.

Stagecoach intends to have the fifty seater amfibus replace the 500 year old Renfrew ferry service in March; the company thinks that the uniqueness of the concept will guarantee its commercial success. The Amfibus runs like a normal bus on the road, but in water twin jets come into play and the Amfibus cruises at a stately speed of about eight knots.

Stagecoach spokesman Steve Stewart explained the accident at the trial: "When we came back on one of the journeys part of the suspension which involves an airbag popped out. But it's all part of the challenges that you face when you have a technical trial and that will go back into the evaluation process."

The venture is expensive and somewhat risky; the amfibus costs thrice as much as a standard passenger coach. Stagecoach intends to run the service between a shopping centre at Braehead on the south side of the river and the town of Clydebank on the north bank. Money will have to be spent on the construction of slipways on both banks that will extend deep into the water to allow the service to operate at low tide. Although the bus complies with European regulations, Stagecoach has still to get a final clearance from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the UK.

The company has been testing the amfibus in Rotterdam harbour and claims it is satisfied with its behaviour and general seaworthiness, having tested it in the backwash from tugs and cargo ships. The bus has been borrowed from the Dutch tour operator Splashtours; they intend to run a similar service on the Maas River in Rotterdam. Stewart says that a voyage on the amfibus is safe: "I was on the journey this morning. It was a very, very smooth journey. You hardly felt any different from the sensation you would get on a normal stretch of road. You don't get buffeted about," he said.

But just in case, there is a lifejacket under every bus seat.


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