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Amtrak just rolled out an incredible new service: ‘A benefit to the entire industry’

Amtrak began operating its first intercity electric bus this August, making it the first electric vehicle in the company’s national network.

The bus runs from Seattle to Bellingham, Washington, almost a 200-mile journey round-trip. The Van Hool 45-foot motor coach can make the trip on a single charge and seats up to 60 passengers. This route complements two daily round-trip Amtrak trains.

Amtrak is more commonly known for its intercity passenger trains. Previously, intercity buses have faced challenges electrifying their routes due to a lack of bus-specific charging infrastructure.

MTR Western, a charter bus and shuttle transportation company based in Seattle, operates Amtrak’s Seattle-Bellingham service. The company installed bus-specific chargers in Seattle — and the Van Cool CX45e’s 260-mile range eliminates the need to recharge in Bellingham.

Orders for electric transit buses are climbing after the Federal Transit Administration awarded nearly $1.7 billion in grants for low- or no-emissions buses. Nonetheless, electrifying intercity bus travel is still in the beginning stages, as charging availability and route distances are still hurdles to greater adoption.

Implementing more sustainable travel like electric buses offers a host of benefits, according to UCLA Transportation.

Sustainable travel leads to improved air quality, which translates to health benefits. This might mean fewer cases of respiratory ailments like asthma or even cancer. It also helps reduce noise pollution, which can lead to stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lower productivity, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

More electric vehicles on the road also means less planet-warming pollution. Plus, using public transportation has its own set of environmental benefits. Compared with driving a gasoline-powered vehicle, public transit reduces harmful carbon pollution by 45 percent.

“By incorporating environmental considerations into our current operations and as we work with our partners to reach more of America, we continue to make Amtrak an even ‘greener’ mode of transportation,” Amtrak Sustainability Director Kara Oldhouser said in a statement.

Jeremy Butzlaff, president of MTRWestern, added that collaborations between bus operators and Amtrak will help raise the visibility and acceptance of bus travel.

“I think it’s just a benefit to the entire industry,” he told Smart Cities Dive.

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