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Saying goodbye to the Orion V…

July 5, 2022, 11:15 AM

On Friday, July 1, Elyse and I went on a transit adventure, going down to Alexandria to attend the ceremonial final trip of the DASH Orion buses.  For those not familiar, DASH is one of the local transit agencies in the DC region, serving Alexandria, Virginia alongside Metrobus.  The Orion V is a model of high-floor transit bus manufactured by Orion Bus Industries from 1989 to 2009.  Orion itself went out of business in 2013 when parent company Daimler mostly exited the bus market in North America (save for selling Setra motorcoaches), and New Flyer, another bus manufacturer, bought Orion’s aftermarket parts business.  Long story short, Orion has been gone for a while, and even the newest high-floor buses are now reaching retirement age.  DASH, meanwhile, had been operating Orion buses since its founding in 1984, initially operating the Orion I model, and later the Orion V.  So this event marked the close of an era in DASH’s history, as these were their last Orion buses in service.  DASH’s fleet now consists mostly of Gillig and New Flyer vehicles.  DASH was also the last agency in the region that still operated the Orion V in service, which closes a chapter in the DC region in general as well.  Metro and Fairfax Connector still operate the later Orion VII model in revenue service, but that is a low-floor bus, and is a very different design than the Orion V.

As far as the Orion V itself goes, that is a pretty solid bus.  Most agencies in the area operated them at some point or other.  I’ve photographed Orion Vs operated by Metro, Ride On, DASH, and Fairfax Connector.  I’ve operated Orion Vs plenty of times, and they’re a lot of fun once you get the hang of them.  I found them to be very difficult to handle as a new operator in a training environment because they were a bit bouncier than the low-floor buses, as well as more sensitive in the steering, but once I was out of training and operating on my own, I was able to get the hang of driving them, and had tons of fun with them, to the point where I looked forward to being assigned one.  If the number started with a “21”, I was a happy guy.  I especially liked to take them on runs that had big deadheading (running without passengers) segments – especially on the freeway.  I remember doing a run a few times where the last revenue trip ended up at Prince George’s Plaza station, and I had to deadhead from there all the way back to Rockville, where the bus division was located.  I would take East-West Highway (MD 410) over to Baltimore Avenue (US 1), and then take that up to the Beltway.  Taking an Orion V on the Beltway late at night was a lot of fun.  I just had to remember to limit my enjoyment to about 60 mph in order to keep myself out of trouble.  After all, our buses had DriveCams on them, and those puppies were sensitive.  I was delighted when I got to take an Orion V out for a spin again in 2018 when a friend who helped run a bus museum was visiting.  I got settled in that seat, and it felt like old times again, after I had not operated an Orion V in a little more than two years at that point – ever since I left the bus in order to do trains.  I took my friend, along with Elyse, on a proper adventure in that bus, going over a few routes from my time as a bus operator, and showing it off a little bit.  A good time was definitely had by all.

So with all of that in mind, I was looking forward to going for a ride in an Orion V again.  The event was designed for the fans, but also was technically a revenue trip.  The event began at the Pentagon bus terminal at around 2:30.  Two Orion V buses, 96 and 97, rolled up, along with some other DASH support vehicles.  This was clearly a trip by the fans for the fans, as the folks representing DASH had been active in transit enthusiast circles for many years.  And the riders were all longtime transit fans coming out for a good time with buses.  Pentagon was a fairly quick affair, as we all quickly got our hellos and then got on the bus, since there is a blanket prohibition on photography on Pentagon property – even in the Metro station or outside.  Elyse and I boarded bus 97, which followed DASH’s 104 route to Braddock Road station.  Bus 96 followed DASH’s 103 route to Braddock Road.  Our operator took full advantage of the fact that this was a fan trip, and got the engine screaming for all of the folks in the back, who were sitting on top of the engine.  Me, I sat in the “interview seat”, which is the first seat up front, next to the door.  I like the view, and don’t like the engine noise as much as some folks did (I like hearing it, but it doesn’t need to be super loud).  In any event, you could tell that everyone operating these trips was having a huge amount of fun, and they were enjoying providing the fanservice as much as we enjoyed experiencing it.

The group on bus 97, going on a final ride with the Orion Vs.
The group on bus 97, going on a final ride with the Orion Vs.

The operator of bus 97 takes the crowd down the 104 route.
The operator of bus 97 takes the crowd down the 104 route.

At Braddock Road, the operators of both buses parked on the side of the bus loop, in order for everyone to get their photos.

Buses 96 and 97 parked at Braddock Road station.

Buses 96 and 97 parked at Braddock Road station.

Buses 96 and 97 parked at Braddock Road station.

The signage on the buses was done specially for the occasion, with normal route signage plus Orion-specific signage:

Regular route 104 signage on bus 97.

Regular route 104 signage on bus 97.
Regular route 104 signage on bus 97.

Some of the special signage for this trip, talking about how long DASH has operated Orion buses, and noting that it is truly the end of an era.

Some of the special signage for this trip, talking about how long DASH has operated Orion buses, and noting that it is truly the end of an era.

Some of the special signage for this trip, talking about how long DASH has operated Orion buses, and noting that it is truly the end of an era.
Some of the special signage for this trip, talking about how long DASH has operated Orion buses, and noting that it is truly the end of an era.

This sign made Elyse and me cringe a little bit, because they misspelled "Au Revoir".  They meant well, though.
This sign made Elyse and me cringe a little bit, because they misspelled “Au Revoir”.  They meant well, though.

While we were at Braddock Road, I grabbed a photo of the operator's compartment of bus 97.  Except for the shield, that's classic Orion V right there.  Note that the farebox has already been removed from the bus.
While we were at Braddock Road, I grabbed a photo of the operator’s compartment of bus 97.  Except for the shield, that’s classic Orion V right there.  Note that the farebox has already been removed from the bus.

Elyse and I got selfies in front of the bus.
Elyse and I got selfies in front of the bus.

Brian gets a photo of his Jibanyan plush, aka "Kitty", on the bike rack of bus 97.
Brian gets a photo of his Jibanyan plush, aka “Kitty”, on the bike rack of bus 97.

From here, we loaded onto the buses again, and followed the DASH 30 route to King Street station.  For that segment of the trip, our original operator sat with the rest of us, and another DASH employee, also a seasoned operator, took the wheel.  He was also more than happy to provide a little fanservice, making the bus lean a little bit, and really putting the bus through its paces, as many were cheering all around.  Then, since we were doing the 30 route, which went through Old Town, we picked up our first passengers, and the operator reminded us all to “keep it professional” with the arrival of non-foamers on our bus.  Some of the people that boarded along the route knew it was the final Orion trip and had picked it specifically for that, while some people were regular bus riders, going about their usual business, and this was the bus that happened to get them there.

Doing the 30 route in the Old Town part of Alexandria.
Doing the 30 route in the Old Town part of Alexandria.

Elyse holds up Fred's model DASH Orion V, along with a card describing what it is.  Both of these were destined for a display at DASH headquarters.
Elyse holds up Fred’s model DASH Orion V, along with a card describing what it is.  Both of these were destined for a display at DASH headquarters.

When we got to King Street, we got more photos:

Bus 97 at King Street station.

Bus 97 at King Street station.
Bus 97 at King Street station.

Looking towards the rear of bus 97, after completing its final revenue trip.
Looking towards the rear of bus 97, after completing its final revenue trip.

Overhead view of the operator's compartment on bus 97.
Overhead view of the operator’s compartment on bus 97.

Operators Jones, Magruder, and Cardona, who were our hosts for this adventure.  Jones operated 96, while Magruder and Cardona operated 97.
Operators Jones, Magruder, and Cardona, who were our hosts for this adventure.  Jones operated 96, while Magruder and Cardona operated 97.

Elyse poses for a photo in front of bus 97.
Elyse poses for a photo in front of bus 97.

Elyse and Minh pose for a photo in front of 97.
Elyse and Minh pose for a photo in front of 97.

Brian poses for a photo with Kitty in front of bus 97.
Brian poses for a photo with Kitty in front of bus 97.

After King Street, the official event was over.  However, the buses weren’t done just yet.  DASH had one more trick up their sleeve: a fan trip on the freeway, over the Wilson Bridge to Oxon Hill, just for the transit nuts.  That was fun, and it reminded me of my times taking an Orion V around the Beltway on various deadhead trips, though not for DASH.  Once we got into Maryland, though, we heard a popping sound and got a strange smell in the bus.  As it turned out, our bus had blown its turbo, and had gone into “limp mode”.  For those not familiar, “limp mode” is what happens when a bus has a transmission problem, and it limits the number of gears it will go into, and limits your speed to about 25 mph.  I’ve had buses in limp mode before, and when it happens, you generally want to get them back to the shop as soon as possible, i.e. it will limp its way home, but that’s about it.  We commented that it seemed fitting for the turbo to blow on that final trip, almost like it didn’t want to retire just yet.

Sergio poses for a photo while we were on the Beltway, while Brandon looks on.
Sergio poses for a photo while we were on the Beltway, while Brandon looks on.

In any event, we managed to get to Oxon Hill just fine, and we had another photo-taking session, as the buses officially went out of service for the last time.

Bus 96 at the park and ride in Oxon Hill.

Bus 96 at the park and ride in Oxon Hill.

Bus 96 at the park and ride in Oxon Hill.

Bus 96 at the park and ride in Oxon Hill.
Bus 96 at the park and ride in Oxon Hill.

Fred gets photos of the model bus with the full-size bus.

Fred gets photos of the model bus with the full-size bus.
Fred gets photos of the model bus with the full-size bus.

I got my own photos with the model, with the model in the foreground, while the real bus is standing in the background.

I got my own photos with the model, with the model in the foreground, while the real bus is standing in the background.
I got my own photos with the model, with the model in the foreground, while the real bus is standing in the background.

Brian gets his own photos of the model with the real bus.
Brian gets his own photos of the model with the real bus.

The Orions ride off into retirement.  As I understand it, bus 96 will be preserved by DASH itself, while bus 97 is going to a museum in Lakewood, New Jersey.
The Orions ride off into retirement.  As I understand it, bus 96 will be preserved by DASH itself, while bus 97 is going to a museum in Lakewood, New Jersey.

This was where our DASH adventure ended.  The buses needed to head back to DASH’s facility, as the operators still had full runs to complete later on in the day, and the rest of us took various other buses from there.  Elyse, Brian, and I took Metrobus on the D14 from Oxon Hill to Suitland station, and from there, we rode the Green Line back to Greenbelt, where we had parked.  All in all, I’d say that a fun time was had by everyone involved, giving the Orion V its last hurrah in the DC area.