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Massachusetts train catches fire, forcing passengers to flee from windows

Riders evacuated after Boston train catches fire
Riders evacuated after Boston train catches fire 00:17

One passenger jumped into a river and several others climbed out of windows when a Boston-area public transit train caught fire during the Thursday morning commute, officials said. The fire is the latest in a string of dangerous problems with the troubled system.

No injuries were reported, and the person who jumped into the water declined medical attention, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said in a statement. 

"I was very scared for all of us," the woman, who did not want to be identified, told CBS Boston. "We had no idea what was happening. It was like pandemonium." 

"I think I'm safer in the water right now than walking down the tracks," she recalled thinking. 

The MBTA's inbound Orange Line train was crossing the Mystic River just north of Boston, approaching Assembly station in Somerville at about 6:45 a.m., when flames and smoke were spotted coming from the lead car, the MBTA statement said. About 200 passengers were on board, and most were walked off the train to a nearby station by MBTA personnel.

One passenger told CBS Boston that "people immediately jumped" and "freaked out" when the incident occurred. 

"There was a strong smell of burning," she said. "Then the dust kind of settled for a half a second. Then, there was a series of other explosions. And that's when people really lost it. At this point I'm thinking, 'This car is going to go up in a ball of flames.' Like, I thought we were going to be trapped in there and die. It was pretty harrowing."

After the power was turned off, the train was brought to a railyard for an investigation, and infrastructure is being inspected. The MBTA has notified the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak told reporters it appears that a piece of metal on the bottom of the Orange Line train came loose and hit the electrified third rail, causing the fire, according to CBS Boston.

"Our initial indication right now is that a metal sill which runs along the base of the vehicle, approximately one foot by six foot in dimension, came loose on car 1251. This sill came loose and then made contact with the third rail, resulting in the sparking, that if you've seen any of the video, is evident, there resulted in the sparking, the smoke and some limited ignition of materials on the underside of the train," Poftak said.

The train in question was 43 years old, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said, and not one of several new Orange Line cars that were temporarily pulled from service recently when one car experienced a failure in its battery compartment. They have since been returned to service.

The Federal Transit Administration launched a review of Boston's subway system in April following several accidents that led to injuries or death within the past year. The federal agency last month issued a series of directives to immediately address "longstanding issues" with the system's "overall safety program and safety culture."

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday that the fire "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 said. "I'll be reaching out to my colleagues across the region to more aggressively partner with the state on rapid systemwide upgrades." 

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