By Justin Schmidt, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) -
Tuesday afternoon the weather was much nicer, but in the morning Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools couldn't start dozens of their buses and couldn't refuel dozens more.
"We were ready for Monday, but not ready for the subzero temperatures, which really knocked out a lot of our batteries and a lot of our diesel fuel," said Lenora Miller, director of transportation for KCK schools.
Miller is in charge of USD 500's bus fleet.
"It turned the diesel fuel from a liquid to like a gel. Also the oil, if you want to think of oil being more like honey as opposed to a water. It doesn't want to churn in that engine," Miller said.
The cold snap also hit at one of the worst possible times. The buses haven't run their usual routes in two weeks because of winter break. Crews did cold weather prep on Friday, but it didn't matter after temperatures got so low.
"We do a start of all buses, check to make sure they're up and running. If we have to do any jump starts, let them idle for a few hours, make sure they're fueled and have plenty of fuel," Miller said. "Our staff, garage staff, worked diligently preparing for the weather, and yesterday as well, and it was difficult to be in the cold as well. You couldn't be out more than 15 minutes to change a battery. When we have such big problems, you have to space that work out. They worked 12-hour days to prep for today. But then we experienced a second problem, the compressor, to refuel our buses, about a third of the fleet."
Nearly 50 of the district's buses run off natural gas. Both compressors used to fuel the buses blew seals.
"It basically couldn't handle the extreme temperature. You have seals up against steel, and it basically is frozen when it tries to run. We had it running clear through the weekend until 10 a.m. yesterday when it couldn't take no more," Miller said.
Kansas City wasn't the only district feeling the sting of winter. Olathe School District, which contracts bus service through First Student, had 50 buses that wouldn't start Tuesday morning, causing them to cancel classes. Independence Public School District canceled because of bus problems too. The district says there weren't enough working buses to keep to their schedule.
Miller said when it's as cold as it was Tuesday morning, staying on schedule is crucial.
"Our mission is to keep our kids safe. We don't want parents leaving kids at bus stops anticipating our arrival and we can't meet those requirements," she said. "Everyone wants to come back to school, back to work, but we just couldn't provide a safe service, and that's what our mission is, get those kids safely to and from school. If we experienced any delay, those kids would have been waiting at those bus stops with these temperatures. It's not reasonable, too risky."
All but two of the KCK buses are now running, and students will be back in school on Wednesday.
Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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