LANSDALE, Pa. — An innovative new machine targets the potentially dangerous problem of ice and snow buildup on school buses.
Ice on the roofs of vehicles can come loose in transit and cause damage, injury and even death to other motorists.
Frank Lambert, transportation director at Neshaminy School District in Langhorne, Pa., has firsthand experience with this issue. On Christmas in 2005, Lambert and his family were driving along a highway to visit relatives when a tractor-trailer going in the opposite direction threw a large chunk of ice from its roof into their windshield. Lambert’s wife, Christine, who was driving, was killed instantly.
In response to the tragedy, Lambert pursued the state Legislature to pass a bill to create fines for drivers who don’t clear snow and ice from their vehicles.
For pupil transportation operations without covered parking, clearing snow and ice from school buses can be an immensely time-consuming process, and it can also create risks for those who are assigned to the task.
Marianne Cleary, coordinator of transportation at North Penn School District in Lansdale and a colleague of Lambert’s, said that when the Pennsylvania law went into effect, there was no great way to clear buses. Some operations built scaffolding-type structures that their mechanics and drivers could climb to brush off snow and ice. Others opted for special rakes with handles long enough to do the task from the ground.
“I can’t tell you how many hours my shop supervisor and I spent making phone calls and searching the Internet to see if something was out there that would remove snow and ice from our roofs without risking the health and safety of my mechanics and drivers,” Cleary said.
Cleary’s shop supervisor, Ernie Kline, eventually came across J&D Trailer Protection in Waterford, Ontario, which manufactures a drive-through snow removal system for tractor-trailers.
J&D owner James Quinn traveled to Lansdale in December 2007 to meet Cleary and Kline and discuss their predicament. The company then began designing a system, with input from Cleary and Kline, that would remove snow and ice from school bus roofs without damaging equipment like emergency escape hatches, antennas and strobe lights (which is not an issue for trailer roofs).
The result was a system of blowers that are activated as the bus drives through the machine. A full-size bus can go through in about 45 seconds.
“The best part is that the driver never has to leave the bus, keeping them completely safe at all times,” Cleary said.
North Penn installed the prototype this January and has had plenty of snowfall since then with which to test it. They also held a demonstration for Lambert and other transportation directors in the area.
Cleary and Kline are continuing to work with J&D on fine-tuning the machine, which they believe has the potential to catch on in the school bus industry.
Quinn said that the initial machine cost $67,000 because of the substantial engineering costs behind it. But he said that he expects to get the base price down to the $40,000 to $50,000 range.
The machine “obviously has a price tag,” Cleary said, “but when measured against the cost of Christine Lambert’s life, there can be no comparison.”