Deep in the Canadian Rockies, straddling two national parks, lies one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world – the Columbia Icefield. The Icefield is home to six major glaciers and located in the northwest corner of Banff National Park lies the most imposing one – the Athbasca Glacier, covering an area of roughly 2.5 square miles and standing between 300–980 feet thick.
Thanks to its accessibility, the Athbasca Glacier holds the distinction of being the most visited glacier in North America. To ensure safe tourism to Athbasca and the surrounding areas, local tour companies such as Columbia Icefield Adventure transport visitors on specialized coach vehicles called Ice Explorers, which provide all-terrain mobility and the ability to safely drive onto the glacier to provide an up-close experience to the majestic sights.
The Ice Explorer coaches are workhorses, transporting thousands of passengers daily during the glacier’s open season from mid-April to mid-October, running up to 16 hours a day. Originally equipped with Detroit Diesel engines, Columbia Icefield Adventure began upgrading the powertrain systems of several coaches in its fleet last year to meet Tier 4 Final exhaust emissions standards as required by Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Meeting the latest environmental regulations is top of mind for many organizations and even more so for those operating directly among a natural wonder such as the Athbasca and within protected national parks. Beginning in 2018, it was mandated that new diesel engines over 174 horsepower used in off-highway applications must meet the EPA Tier 4 standards, which are focused on reducing diesel engine exhaust emissions.
To upgrade select Ice Explorers, Columbia Icefield Adventure turned to a longtime trusted partner – Wajax Power Systems, an MTU distributor that operates 100 branches across Canada and has been one of the region’s leading industrial product and services providers for more than 160 years. Wajax provided a full ground-up rebuild for three initial coaches, including new powertrain systems featuring the current MTU Series 1000 engines with Tier 4 emissions trim.
“Every component in the powertrain of the coaches was replaced with new [ones],” says Rob Smith, customer account manager for Wajax. “The engine, transmission, cooling system, cabin heating system, drivelines, axles, suspension and more were all replaced. Not only did we handle the upgrades, we also provide continuing service support for the coaches from our locations in Calgary and Edmonton and on-site via our mobile field technicians.”
“To us, partnering with a company that can work with us regularly on maintenance and evolving our coaches is very important,” says Corey Donovan, general manager, Columbia Icefield. “Before the rebuilds, the Ice Explorer engines would idle on the glacier to maintain heat in the passenger cabin. By eliminating the need to idle, we minimize our impact on the environment and improve our guests’ experience on the glacier.”
The MTU Series 1000 engines used in the upgrade on the Ice Explorers not only meet Tier 4 standards but also deliver significantly lower fuel consumption than previous model engines and are built to ensure continuous operation.
The Series 1000 engines also do not require diesel particulate filters (DPF), which results in less operational downtime. They are equipped with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) that are capable of removing more than 90% of the nitrogen oxides from exhaust gas and significantly reduces particulate emissions.
The operators of the updated coaches are finding these much easier to drive and quieter in operation.
“The quieter engine and the new silent braking system add to the passenger experience by removing distracting noises,” says Donovan. “Without distracting noise from an idling engine and noisy brakes, our guests are free to soak in the magic of the glacier.”