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Fleet Overhaul Series, Part 1 of 6: The body shop

Fleet Overhaul Series, Part 1 of 6: The body shop

An articulated bus getting a mid-life overhaul down at Fleet Overhaul, the conventional bus maintenance centre down at Burnaby Transit Centre.
An articulated bus getting a mid-life overhaul down at Fleet Overhaul, the conventional bus maintenance centre down at Burnaby Transit Centre.

So, this is the first in a six-part series about Fleet Overhaul, the vehicle maintenance centre down at Burnaby Transit Centre.

Let me be frank: Fleet Overhaul is pretty much mindblowing.

A huge team of incredibly talented mechanics and tradespeople work there to keep the articulated and conventional bus fleet in good working order. The phrase “vehicle maintenance” just barely hints at what they do, which includes the following:

  • mid-life overhauls on vehicles that are eight to 10 years old (that is, they restore the whole vehicle to good as new condition, so they will last another eight to 10 years)
  • repairs to articulated and conventional buses involved in major vehicle accidents
  • totally rebuilding engines and transmissions for vehicles that have done over 800,000-900,000 km
  • programming the destination signs so they display custom messages like “Go Canucks Go”
  • constructing almost all the body parts for conventional buses in the fleet
  • warehouse storage and inventory control for all vehicle parts
  • and even more, if you can believe that

(I should mention that Fleet Overhaul only takes care of articulated and conventional buses—community shuttle repairs are done elsewhere.)

I was really lucky to go on a tour of the facility a few weeks ago, so in this series, I’ll share lots of behind-the-scenes photos and video to let you see just what they do there.

We’ll start with the body shop!

Fleet Overhaul’s body shop

Here’s a video looking at the body shop floor at Fleet Overhaul. The panel fabrication area is in the foreground, and the buses up on the hoists are in the back, of course. (That’s overhaul manager Jeff Dow speaking in the video, by the way.)

You can’t see it that clearly in the video above, but there’s another row of service bays further back. In total, there are 10 service bays on the body shop floor, four spots for vehicles in the adjoining paint shop, and two more spots for vehicles in the aisles.

Here’s another video showing the body shop service bays from the ground level:

The body shop takes up just part of the large Fleet Overhaul building, but Jeff explained that this centre is actually too small for the size of our fleet.

A new maintenance facility is planned to open in Maple Ridge in 2012, doubling the space to about 230,000 square feet.

Fleet Overhaul moved to this building in 1986 – it was originally a Kenworth facility, where large trucks were built in the 1950s. Fleet Overhaul was initially located out at Cambie Garage at Cambie and 16th in Vancouver.

Mid-life overhauls

Another view of the articulated bus getting a mid-life overhaul. Notice that its lower body panels have been stripped off!
Another view of the articulated bus getting a mid-life overhaul. Notice that its lower body panels have been stripped off!

About 50 buses come through the body shop for rebuilds every year. As I’ve touched on, mid-life overhauls are one of the major reason buses come into Fleet Overhaul.

Basically, when buses reach eight to 10 years of age, Fleet Overhaul takes the vehicle in to do a mid-life overhaul, restoring the bus to basically new condition so that it can serve another eight to 10 years in the system.

The front of the articulated bus being overhauled -- the floor panels have been completely stripped out.
The front of the articulated bus being overhauled -- the floor panels have been completely stripped out.

Body, paint, and trim manager Jack McKenna explained that in Canada, buses tend last 17-18 years due to the mid-life overhauls that Canadian agencies perform on buses. In the U.S., vehicles last 12 years – instead of doing major mid-life overhauls, they tend to just buy new vehicles.

What happens in a mid-life overhaul? The vehicle is stripped down to its chassis and the body is reinforced and repaired. Flooring and lower body panels are replaced; rust is removed and rustproofing put on and seats reupholstered if needed.

It takes about five weeks to fully overhaul a conventional 40’ bus, and about 50 buses are overhauled every year. About 12 articulated buses are overhauled each year – articulated buses take about two months for a full overhaul, and as well, there’s only a few specialized lifts that can hoist the longer 60’ artics in the air.

Here’s a few more pictures of the articulated bus in the midst of its overhaul.

Looking into the first set of double doors.
Looking into the first set of double doors.
I got to stand inside the back of the articulated bus. Here’s a photo of the back seats – the engine sits underneath it!
I got to stand inside the back of the articulated bus. Here’s a photo of the back seats – the engine sits underneath it!
As I was standing inside the back of the bus, I also took a photo of the articulated joint interior and the empty floors up at the front of the vehicle.
As I was standing inside the back of the bus, I also took a photo of the articulated joint interior and the empty floors up at the front of the vehicle.
Here’s a conventional bus undergoing an overhaul. Welding is being done on the frame to repair a rusted-out element. The red colouring is existing rustproofing provided by the manufacturer.
Here’s a conventional bus undergoing an overhaul. Welding is being done on the frame to repair a rusted-out element. The red colouring is existing rustproofing provided by the manufacturer.

Major vehicle repairs

A Nova bus with left-rear damage, being repaired at Fleet Overhaul.
A Nova bus with left-rear damage, being repaired at Fleet Overhaul.

Another key reason buses come to Fleet Overhaul is for major repair work.

Jeff explained that while every outlying transit centre has a body and paint person to fix minor bus scrapes, major work like accident repairs are done at Fleet Overhaul.

For example, at left you can see a new Nova bus that has been rear-ended on the left side, now being repaired. This Nova was hit during the snowstorm over Christmas 2008—that snowstorm in fact tripled the volume of repair work for Fleet Overhaul.

(Rear-ending on the left side is apparently a common major vehicle repair – as body, paint, and trim manager Jack McKenna explained, that’s the side of the bus exposed to traffic as it pulls out of a stop.)

Side note: Jack said that the new Nova buses have a stainless steel frame that won’t rust, and other plastic body elements, meaning that the buses requires shorter mid-life overhauls to keep them in long-time service.

Here’s some more photos of bus repairs at Fleet Overhaul.

This articulated bus also got rear-ended, and had some big scrapes on the side.
This articulated bus also got rear-ended, and had some big scrapes on the side.
Here’s the scrapes on the side of the bus.
Here’s the scrapes on the side of the bus.
And here’s the back.
And here’s the back.
A bus having its windshield repaired. Over time, windshields can develop “smoke,” permanent white discolourations that require the glass to be replaced.
A bus having its windshield repaired. Over time, windshields can develop “smoke,” permanent white discolourations that require the glass to be replaced.

Plywood floors!

The plywood flooring on a bus
The plywood flooring on a bus

Also, here’s something very interesting I learned about the buses while at Fleet Overhaul: the buses have plywood panels under the rubber matting!

Fleet Overhaul has a carpentry shop across the street that provides the plywood floors. Plywood is in fact the industry standard, so basically any bus you travel on in North America has plywood panels as its flooring structure.

And Jack McKenna said that the buses ordered in 2009 are the first to have composite, non-plywood flooring.

Whew – so that is it for the body shop area of Fleet Overhaul! Watch out for part two in the near future, where we’ll talk about panel fabrication (a.k.a. how we make all of the body panels for vehicles on site)!