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February 21, 2014

State to fund CamTran’s compressed gas station

JOHNSTOWN — CamTran buses will be the first vehicles to fill up with compressed natural gas at the authority’s soon-to-open garage in Johnstown.

Privately owned shipping trucks will probably quickly follow.

And, then, eventually, people such as state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, will be in line with their personal vehicles.

Those plans are in the future.

For now, CamTran is preparing to build the filling station.

On Friday, a big step in the process was taken when state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch visited the facility, located in the Woodvale neighborhood, to announce the state’s plan to fund the construction of the pumps.

Barbin enthusiastically spoke about the development as both an elected official and consumer.

“As soon as that pump comes up, my truck’s going to be filled up with compressed natural gas,” Barbin said.

State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, envisioned the possibilities, too.

“We’re showing that one of the synergistic relationships with the transportation issue and with our natural gas fields is the use of natural gas in motorized vehicles,” said Wozniak.

“It’s always been the concept that we would begin with Pennsylvania fleets, our buses, our PennDOT trucks, etcetera, and then start working with the private sector, typically the freight haulers that have the day trips when they come back and refuel, and then eventually with the private sectors and start creating the stations along our highway systems.”

Schoch estimates installing the pumps might cost $2 million. That amount could be less, depending on what kind of contracts are structured and if public-private partnerships are developed for the construction of multiple compressed natural gas stations.

CamTran expects to benefit from the investment by being able to purchase CNG, which is cheaper than diesel.

The authority’s first compressed natural gas bus is scheduled to arrive sometime within the next 18 months.

“When you put the CNG filling station in, it’s going to mean that they’re going to be able to provide service at either lower costs – future estimates say that they can save as much as $600,000 a year for their operating budget – or they can provide more services for the same dollars, so you are either going to see more service for the same budget or you’re going to see less in cost to deliver that service,” said Schoch.

“That’s what you make these kind of investments for. It’s to improve the long-term operating efficiency of an agency.”

The station, located on Maple Avenue, was designed to be CNG compliant.

“The CNG project was always a part of this, but we didn’t know if we had the funding. But we proceeded forward, always with that in place,” said CamTran board Chairman Ed Cernic Jr.

The authority’s executive director, Rose Lucey-Noll, added, “It’s extremely exciting, especially that this was part of the puzzle we didn’t have money for.”

Grant money for the compressed natural gas pumping station was made available thanks to the comprehensive transportation bill passed by the state late last year, according to Schoch.

“It was already built into the project,” said Barbin. “It wasn’t funded, but it was in there because we knew if we could put it in we would save money for transit. Because it was already in, we were able to get the commitment to fund it because it was already up and running, kind of like a shovel-ready construction project.”

The pumps are not expected to be in place when the rest of the CamTran garage and headquarters is scheduled to open this summer.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Dave_Sutor.

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