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Red Line fire disrupts morning commute

Debris in tunnel blamed for blaze

A smoky fire in a tunnel between the Downtown Crossing and Park Street stations disrupted service for more than an hour on the MBTA’s Red Line during the Wednesday morning commute.

The inconvenience for public transit riders came the same day that the MBTA board voted to raise most subway fares 30 cents, bus fares 25 cents, and commuter rail rides by $1.25 or more.

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Jack Burke, 26, of Quincy said he sat on a train for 30 minutes, then waited another 45 minutes at the JFK/UMass Station for alternative bus service to his work in Cambridge.

“I wouldn’t mind the fare increase if it’s going to make the service better,’’ Burke said, but he added that Wednesday’s disruption didn’t inspire confidence.

The MBTA shut down all service on the Red Line around 9 a.m. to allow firefighters to get inside the tunnel at the Downtown Crossing Station, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. The fire began at a switching gear on the northbound side of the tunnel, according to officials.

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“Trash blows around in the tunnels all the time, and once in a while it gets stuck around a switching gear, which are very hot,’’ said Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald. “It was a very small fire and was very quickly extinguished.’’

MacDonald said the only way to get to the fire, however, was to cut the power, which he said is an inconvenience to commuters.

“This does happen infrequently,’’ MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera said. “When trash gets into the right of way, that can happen with trains coming by, and sparks can ignite the debris.’’

Shuttle buses replaced service between the JFK/UMass and Harvard Square stations. No injuries or equipment damage were reported, Rivera said.

Firefighters returned control of the Red Line to the MBTA around 9:30 a.m.

Around 9:45 a.m. at Park Street Station, MBTA employees cleared the Red Line platform of passengers and directed them to street level, where about 150 people stood at the corner of Park and Tremont streets. Some boarded buses, but an MBTA inspector then told people that the Red Line would resume running shortly. Power was restored at 10 a.m.

By about 10:15 a.m., things had returned to normal at Downtown Crossing Station after most Red Line riders were able to board trains and continue their commute, though it remained somewhat smoky.

Burke said people at JFK/UMass were confused about what to do because only one or two MBTA buses arrived at a time and it was unclear where they would be going.

“I’m used to the long waits but this is an exception,’’ he said.

But some commuters took the delays in stride.

Alan Campbell of Marblehead said he relies on the MBTA to get to work in Cambridge, and that he encounters delays “infrequently.’’

“There has been one bus for Harvard and three or four southbound,’’ he said as he waited for a shuttle to the Harvard Square Station. “As long as I still have a job when I get there, it doesn’t matter to me too much.’’

Globe correspondent Derek J. Anderson contributed to this report.
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