Portland schools will reopen Friday after being closed Thursday because of a balky compressed natural gas fueling station.

The fueling station was fixed Thursday afternoon, dashing Portland students’ hopes for a very long weekend.

School was canceled Thursday in the state’s largest school district because of concerns over fuel levels in the district’s buses, some of which run on compressed natural gas. The decision was initially attributed to frozen fuel lines on the district’s diesel buses because of the cold – the overnight low was -8.

The problem was actually with the CNG buses: The district has 13 diesel school buses and 13 CNG buses. Some of the CNG buses were unable to fuel up on Wednesday because a power surge unrelated to the cold knocked out the fueling station at Metro, which operates the region’s public buses. The CNG fueling station at Metro is the only one in the state.

Kevin Whittemore, the school district’s assistant director of transportation, said district officials were worried about sending some of the buses out on their routes, for fear of possibly running out of fuel and leaving dozens of students stranded on cold buses. The buses’ morning runs would have been in subzero temperatures and would have risen only into the single digits by the time the afternoon routes would have started.

Metro had arranged to have a CNG compressor truck, which is loaded with fuel and can pump it into CNG vehicles, come up from Boston to fuel the buses in time for Friday’s routes. But technicians were able to fix the damage caused by the power surge sooner than Metro officials anticipated and the fueling station was back in operation by 4 p.m.

Denise Beck, a spokeswoman for Metro, said all the school district and Metro CNG buses were expected to be refueled Thursday evening,

Whittemore said the school district had another back-up in case the fueling station was not fixed in time, and would have borrowed three buses from South Portland’s school district and three more from Custom Coach, a commercial bus operator in Gorham, if needed.

“All of the kids hoping to have another day off tomorrow will be disappointed,” Whittemore said.

Beck said Metro, which ran its buses as usual on Thursday, may have had fuel problems of its own by Friday if the fueling station had not been fixed.

She said the compressor truck would have been the bus system’s primary back-up plan had the fueling station not been fixed, but officials were looking at other options in case the fueling station remained out of order for longer than two or three days.

Beck also said the compressor truck was expected to stand by Thursday night, in case the fueling station encountered another problem.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:


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