Anniston-based bus manufacturer North American Bus Industries recently won a $210 million contract to build hundreds of natural gas-fueled buses for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, or DART. The deal means cheaper, more energy-efficient transportation for Dallas commuters and steady employment for hundreds of area workers for the next few years, according to officials on both sides of the deal.
Bill Coryell, vice president of sales for the NABI western region, said while the company will not be hiring more people to make the buses, the order will keep employees quite busy through 2015, when the contract is complete. NABI employs more than 600 people.
“We’re proud to have that business,” Coryell said.
The contract is welcome news to a company that, like many industries, has struggled amid a sluggish economy in recent years.
“It hasn’t been horrible for us, but it’s been a little on the slow side,” Coryell said.
The contract calls for the construction of 459 30-foot and 40-foot buses fueled by compressed natural gas. Unlike DART’s current fleet, the new 40-foot models will provide a low-floor design, larger windows and wider aisles. The features make the vehicle more convenient for people who use wheelchairs and mobility devices.
DART, which provides transit services for Dallas and 12 surrounding cities, plans to replace its diesel fleet with the new buses, said Mark Ball, spokesman for the transit department. The first five of the new buses were put into operation in Dallas Monday.
“Averaging five new buses a week placed into service, it’ll take a few years until the existing fleet is completely replaced,” Ball said. “Meanwhile, customers are already requesting that the new buses be put on their route as soon as possible.”
Ball said DART wanted to replace its old diesel fleet with the natural gas-fueled models, which create less greenhouse-gas emissions.
“These high-tech buses continue our commitment to environmental stewardship,” Ball said.
Coryell added that the natural gas buses, which NABI has been manufacturing for the last 10 years, are more economical than their diesel counterparts.
“They get approximately the same gas mileage as diesel but natural gas costs a little less than diesel,” Coryell said. “Plus, they get a federal tax credit because the government is encouraging their use.”
Coryell noted that demand for natural gas-fueled buses has increased considerably in the past 10 years.
“Roughly half of whatever we produce now uses natural gas,” Coryell said.
John Blue, chairman of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said he was excited that NABI had obtained the new contract.
“This company is well positioned and they have a major economic impact on the county and the surrounding counties,” Blue said. “I think they are well placed here and the workforce is well prepared and efficient.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.