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‘It was crazy,’ says MBTA commuter rail passenger who saw riders exiting train after it lost power

Commuter rail passengers climbed over a fence and left their train after a power issue brought the locomotive to a halt west of Boston Landing during the Monday evening commute on Aug. 1, 2022.Leo Ruiz

John Branagan was taking the commuter rail home from work Monday when the train suddenly stopped and lost power.

“All of a sudden there’s this noise on the track,” said Branagan, 27, who lives in Natick. “The train made a loud braking noise and then all the lights went out.”

With them went the air conditioning, and as the temperature rose Branagan and the other passengers aboard Train 595 on the Framingham-Worcester line grew frustrated. The conductor came by but only to say “we have no idea why,” the train had broken down shortly after leaving Boston Landing station, Branagan recalled Tuesday.

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As time passed, patience wore thin. Around 7 p.m., about an hour after the train stopped, Branagan saw one of his fellow passengers outside the train. She had reached her limit, it seemed.

“She puts her bag over on the other side of the fence, and she climbs over,” he said. “Then the whole train stands up, and we’re just watching. All of a sudden you see another person from the train [doing the same thing], then you see a flood of people coming down the center of the train cars, wanting to find the one door everyone was coming out of.”

Branagan chose to stay put, and watched as a man on the other side of the fence by the tracks pulled out a ladder from a van and began helping people climb over.

“The street was filling up with Ubers and people getting picked up,” he said. “It was crazy. I didn’t get out.”

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said Tuesday that Keolis, which operates the commuter rail, was working to determine the exact cause of the power failure. The train was taken back to Boston Landing, arriving at about 7:50 p.m., and passengers were allowed to transfer to another Worcester-bound train.

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Pesaturo said it was “very uncommon” to have a full train experience a power outage for that length of time. MBTA and Keolis officials “strongly discourage people from entering active railroad rights-of-way,” he added.

“Due to the location where Train 595 was stopped, it was determined that the safest option was for passengers to remain on board,” Pesaturo said. “Although urged by the Keolis train crew to not exit the train, some passengers decided to use the emergency door handles and exit the train. The MBTA and Keolis understand that passengers were frustrated while the train was stopped without electricity to enable air-conditioning or announcements, but the safest alternative in such a situation is to keep passengers on board.”

“The MBTA and Keolis apologize to customers for the extended delay and unpleasant conditions aboard the train,” he added. Keolis plans to “take whatever corrective actions are warranted.”

Stephen Linn was heading home to Newton from his job at a downtown law firm when the train ground to a halt, he said. At first, the conductors said it was a mechanical problem and that another train would arrive to push it to the next station, Linn recalled.

But as an hour ticked by, he started to worry.

”I’ve had delays before. This one was different because they kept promising there was going to be a train that was going to push us and then it never came,” said Linn, 43.

Without electricity, the heat was stifling. Linn eventually walked toward the back of the train, where a door had been propped open to let in some fresh air. It was a taste of freedom.

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“People were joking we should jump off — and then people did,” he said.

After about 20 people hopped off the train, Linn followed them onto the tracks. The fence was “harder than I thought,” and he got stuck briefly climbing over. But he made it, and like many others called for an Uber. He got home around 7:45 p.m., about two hours late.

”I feel like I have my Boston card now, crawling out of a broken-down train,” he said. Passengers would have been more patient if there had been more updates on board, he said.

After about a dozen people exited the train, Scott Garfield, 56, decided to do the same thing. He ended up hopping over the fence and calling his family for a ride.

“It was a little bit surreal, I have to say,” Garfield said. “I called my family in Wellesley and my daughter picked me up.”

Garfield described the scene as “mass confusion.”

“What was perhaps the most frustrating there was no announcements whatsoever,” said Garfield. “When you’re sitting there and an hour goes by, with no information, you start to get a bit restless.”

As for Branagan, who described himself as a “huge public transit supporter,” he said he hopes something like this never happens again.

“There were a lot of people talking about how they’re not going to take the train anymore,” he said. “I wish the T could get its act together.”

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Steve Annear of the Globe staff contributed to this report.




Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Elizabeth Koh can be reached at elizabeth.koh@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethrkoh.