Smoke-filled Red Line train causes panic
Riders, bystanders break windows for escape when doors don’t open
Frantic passengers kicked out the windows of a Red Line car at the Quincy Center station on Thursday morning to escape a smoking train when the doors failed to open.
A failure in the propulsion system caused a burst of smoke after the train pulled into the station, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Passengers were able to get off five of the six cars on the train. But as smoke wafted into the sixth car, emanating a smell so strong that one woman began gagging, its riders were unable to get out.
“People were trapped in a car, we could not get out, we could smell a burning smell, we had people looking underneath the car thinking there was a fire about the consume the car,” said Genevieve Davis, one of passengers.
When commuters on the packed platform saw the passengers trying to pry open the doors, several helped punch and kick out the windows.
The incident, which lasted just minutes but caused severe delays on Red Line trains Thursday morning, comes less than a month after a woman in Washington, D.C., died on a smoke-filled Metro train following an electrical malfunction.
But Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said the incident was “not an emergency situation,” adding there was no fire and no injuries. The smoke was not inside of the car, he said, and bystanders and passengers did not need to break the windows because an MBTA inspector was about to open the doors manually.
“There was no reason for this to happen,” he wrote. “It’s unclear why some acted in such a manner.”
Davis said the T’s characterization of events was “insensitive and wrong.”
“It was frightening,” said Davis, 65. “Almost all the lights were off, and everyone was looking at our car and I thought there was a fire under it, and I could not get out.”
Riders, including Davis, immediately climbed onto the platform through the broken windows, while others escaped through emergency doors on the edges of the car, according to several witnesses.
The Quincy Fire Department had been called but by the time firefighters arrived, the train had left the station, said Deputy Chief Edward Fenby. He said he wished the T had allowed the train to stay in the station so firefighters could make sure that any fire had been extinguished and did not reignite.
Tom Sweeney left the train car he was in after hearing the conductor order everyone to get off the train. He said passengers stuck on the car with the malfunctioning doors “absolutely” made the right decisions.
“At that point, you err on the side of caution and you have to get off the train,” said Sweeney,
David West, who helped break the windows to help trapped passengers, also said the situation looked dire. “Eventually, there was so much smoke it was becoming hard to breathe,” he said.
Kristin Bello, a nurse at Fisher College who began helping people through the emergency doors, said the situation developed so rapidly she didn’t think T workers could’ve done anything more.
“It was pretty scary,” she said. “I’m just glad nobody was hurt.”
Stephanie Pollack, the new transportation secretary, said she believed the Red Line riders were owed an apology.
“I’ve looked into it and I’m confident that they were never in danger, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was scary,” she said.
She said aging equipment such as the Red Line cars is a constant challenge for the T, and officials need to be doubly sure they continue to run safe trains.
Pesaturo said the T does daily inspections to make sure train doors work. Inspectors had checked the doors of the malfunctioning car Thursday morning, and the doors were working, he said.
He said the “doors functioned correctly for today’s incident” because they are not supposed to open when the train is still moving. Because of the propulsion failure, some of the car’s wheels were still spinning during the stop, which caused the doors to stay closed, according to Pesaturo.