Champion RideOn buses pulled from service after fire

The entire fleet of Champion buses used by RideOn have been pulled for good. Photo: Brad Bell

A fleet of buses with known fire problems used by Montgomery County's RideOn service has been pulled permanently from the roads Wednesday after one of them caught fire in Silver Spring.

One of the buses, which were made by Champion Bus, caught fire just after 9 a.m. Wednesday near the intersection of Bonifant Street and Ramsey Avenue in Silver Spring, police say. There were no passengers on the bus at the time of the fire and the driver escaped uninjured, officials say.

However, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett ordered after the fire that all of the Champion Navistar buses in the RideOn fleet to be pulled from service permanently. Officials say that this is the latest in a series of fires that have affected the 2007 models of these buses.

The fire problem in the Champion buses, though, had been known since 2009, officials say. Federal highway safety officials launched an investigation after a fire earlier this year, but the buses had still been in use up through Wednesday.

The fire started as the bus reached the end of its route, officials say. The driver of the bus said that he smelled smoke and saw his dashboard lights flicker, then called 911. Moments later, the flames grew and engulfed the bus.

"I think it's terrible (and) unsafe," RideOn bus driver Wayne Ellison said. "(It's) not only putting our lives in danger, it's the passengers."

Leggett said that many of the buses involved have been replaced and that all of the replacement buses would be in service by August.

"Removing the buses from service is the right thing to do to ensure the safety of the public and our bus drivers," Leggett said in a statement.

Thursday and Friday, the service will operate on a modified holiday schedule. Click here for a schedule.

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