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Orange Line train catches fire as it crosses Mystic River

No injuries were reported.

Sian Bernard

An MBTA Orange Line train caught fire early Thursday morning in Somerville as it crossed the bridge over the Mystic River.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told The Boston Globe that at approximately 6:45 a.m., the head car of a southbound train traveling into Assembly station was observed to have flames and smoke coming off of it. He said all passengers made it off the train and no injuries were reported.

“Assisted by MBTA personnel, approximately 200 passengers were walked off the train, but some people did evacuate through windows in the first car,” Pesaturo told the Globe.

One passenger even jumped into the Mystic River below after exiting the train, according to officials.

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“An unidentified female passenger jumped off the bridge into the river,” said Somerville Fire Chief Charles Breen in a phone interview with the Globe. “Our marine boat happened to be in the river for training and was on scene immediately. The woman refused to get into the boat. She was provided a life jacket and proceeded to swim to shore … then she walked away.”

The woman who jumped told WBZ’s Anna Meiler, “It was very scary for all of us.”

“We had no idea what was happening,” she said. “It was pandemonium. I think I’m safer in the water right now than walking down the tracks.”

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak gave an update at a livestreamed press conference Thursday afternoon.

“Our initial indication right now is that a metal sill, which runs along the base of the vehicle … came loose on Car 1251 and made contact with the third rail, resulting in the sparking and the smoke,” he said.

Poftak apologized to passengers who were on the train and other passengers who have faced inconveniences as a result, but maintained his faith in the MBTA.

“I remain confident in the safety of the MBTA. I took the Orange Line here, and I’ll take it back. I regularly take public transportation,” he said. “I think there’s a lot we can do to make it safer, and obviously the situation that happened this morning wasn’t safe, and we’re going to do everything we can to prevent it from happening again.”

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The train was eventually brought back to Wellington Station, where MBTA officials inspected a charred area of the head car, WCVB reported. Poftak shared that the vehicle in question had been put into service in January 1980.

The MBTA said on Twitter that shuttle buses would be replacing service between Oak Grove and Community College. A commenter on the post shared an image of hoards of passengers Thursday morning with a caption suggesting the number of buses being sent was not adequate.

The MBTA has been in hot water recently, with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) sending them a damning report in June, and though they reported Tuesday being on track to fix the safety issues the FTA laid out, this incident seems to make it clear there’s still a long road ahead.

Gov. Charlie Baker said on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” that he told the MBTA he thinks the FTA weighing in on this issue would be beneficial.

“One of the reasons the FTA (investigation) focused on the Orange and Red lines in particular was because of the age of the fleet on both of those lines,” he said. “The advice we’ve gotten from them so far, given the broad nature of their perspectives and their experiences, have been very helpful.”

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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu echoed this, saying she would be pushing for more aggressive “rapid systemwide upgrades.”

“Today’s incident on the Orange Line is more evidence of an aging transit system in crisis. A broken MBTA threatens the safety of our community and the future of our city and region,” she wrote on Twitter Thursday afternoon. “The City of Boston must do more to help the state lead this transformation, and we are ready to prioritize this work.”

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