North Dakota manufacturing team completes production of the first MCI D45 CRT LE Commuter Coach

Unit #81000, one of four going to Bow Valley’s Roam Transit, marks a milestone as the first new model manufactured at Pembina in nearly 30 years; All-electric MCI D45 CRT LE targeted for 2020

Motor Coach Industries (MCI), a U.S. subsidiary of NFI Group Inc., delivered the first of its all new MCI D45 CRT LE. The D45 CRT LE is MCI’s next-generation commuter coach, opening new opportunities in transit.

The game-changing coach offers modern styling and superior rider comfort with something very different: revolutionary passenger accessibility via a second door with a low-entry automatic ramp system. The Low-Entry Vestibule design provides comfortable seating for up to five passengers, including two with mobility devices plus an attendant.

Following rigorous in-service testing by public and private transportation organizations across the nation, the first full production unit, #81000, has rolled off the production line for delivery.

“We’re very proud of our team in Pembina and excited to begin delivering this amazing coach,” Ian Smart, MCI President, said. “We’re designing for a transit future where all passengers will have an easier, faster and more comfortable commute, and our North Dakota plant is making that a reality for operators everywhere.”

Revolutionary MCI D45 CRT LE design

Brent Maitland, MCI vice president of marketing and product planning, said everything about this MCI design project was new.

“Our research and customer feedback demonstrated a need for more efficient, well-designed options for mobility-challenged passengers,” Maitland said. “The D45 CRT LE entry simplifies the boarding process, matching low-floor transit dwell times, and as importantly improves the overall passenger experience.”

A conventional motor coach wheelchair lift takes an estimated 8 to 10 minutes to deploy, involving a multi-step process. Operating a wheelchair lift requires significant driver training. The lift elevates the passenger in the air to a slide-door entry and requires several driver maneuvers and interior seat adjustments. Boarding the D45 CRT LE is radically easier.

Over four years, MCI’s design team worked with Designworks on dozens of concepts. And then it called in the end-users. Representatives from accessibility groups including the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD) provided input into the final design.

“The important design element isn’t just about boarding efficiency, it’s caring about the users,” Maitland said. “We learned that all passengers, specifically the mobility challenged, desire a stress-free boarding experience. The vestibule allows passengers using mobility devices to board in the same manner as all other passengers, and it provides access to amenities for an enjoyable riding experience.”

In fact, passengers surveyed while riding the D45 CRT LE during test phase service gave it a 93 percent approval rating.

When the D45 CRT LE was unveiled to the industry, National Bus Trader Magazine’s industry critic wrote the following:

“One must spend some time inside this module [Vestibule] to grasp not only its extraordinary ingenuity, but a conceptual use of space, mechanics, movement and convertibility I had never before seen in any public transportation vehicle in my entire career. The D45 CRT LE represents new thinking; the solution to a capacity issue that had previously stumped the industry;  a breakthrough in the ability to capture a huge and growing, untapped market; and a vehicle capable of breaking through travel inequality for a deserving portion of our population whose travel by motorcoach had thus far been marginalized by a profound lack of innovation, if not an almost total absence of interest.”

More firsts

Alberta’s Bow Valley Regional Transit was the first operator to order the MCI D45 CRT LE. Delivery is scheduled to be completed by April 5, and the agency’s four new coaches will serve the longest, most scenic route for Bow Valley’s Roam Transit — a 45-minute commute connecting Banff and Lake Louise.

Later this year, SouthWest Transit in Eden Prairie, Minnesota will take delivery of two new MCI D45 CRT LE commuter coaches, citing that the coaches will allow for better vehicle scheduling and cost-savings by providing the right vehicle for both the load demand and accessibility needs.

At the United Motorcoach Association’s annual EXPO back in January, MCI also showcased a custom order for a Silicon Valley employer that features bike racks, flat-screen monitors and onboard workspace areas, also planned for 2019 delivery.

Pembina plant history of innovation

MCI’s Pembina plant, opened in 1962, helped establish MCI’s workhorse brand reputation and pioneered CNG and diesel electric systems. All-electric propulsion, backed by MCI’s sister company New Flyer, is now underway. New Flyer’s Xcelsior CHARGE™ branding will accompany MCI’s all-electric models, including a battery-powered D45 CRTe LE CHARGE targeted for production in 2020.

To handle the innovation, Pembina operations has adopted Quality-at-the-Source, a lean manufacturing principle that delivers heightened quality, efficiency and ergonomics at every work station. Zero-gravity lift equipment, a new coach delivery center and other improvements make this facility a model of QAS practices.

MCI’s Pembina plant is best known for installing powertrains, seats and other components to transform MCI D-Series shells built in Winnipeg, Canada, into fully operational models that meet Buy America and Altoona-tested requirements.

The plant has added new tooling, adopted several new work methods and began re-training over 240 employees in preparation for unit # 81000 build and additional new D45 CRT LE orders. The location employs over 300 people including members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (Pembina local lodge W384) in various functions to support coach operations. Pembina has added 75 employees since September 2018 to support the new coach build and will continue to add to its workforce in 2019.