Gov. Baker Calls Orange Line Fire ‘Unacceptable,' But Defends MBTA's Record

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker called Thursday's fire on the Orange Line "unacceptable," but continued to defend the MBTA's overall performance.

During an appearance on GBH News' "Boston Public Radio," he said it's "unfair" to say the MBTA is a total mess, as the show's co-host Jim Braude intimated, especially given that it is on time 88% of the time. He noted that the commuter rail's record is even better, with a 90% on time rate, while bus service is in the high 70% range.

"It's unfair to say it's a total mess," Baker said. "It's not unfair to say what happened today is unacceptable."

But he said a lot of work has bene done to dramatically improve the T's performance and modernize its infrastructure during the eight years he's been in office.

"Stuff like this makes people crazy -- it makes me crazy -- and I understand why," Baker said.

A disabled Orange Line train was emitting smoke on the bridge over the Mystic River Thursday morning, leaving passengers to walk across the tracks on foot, video footage shows.

A Boston-bound Orange Line train caught fire on the bridge over the Mystic River Thursday morning, putting passengers into such a panic that they smashed windows to get out. Those on board described the scene of the train car filling with smoke on a 90 degree day. The head train car caught fire and broke down just before 7 a.m. as it was approaching Assembly Station in Somerville from Medford. Video footage posted to social media showed passengers climbing off the train and walking across the tracks of the bridge on foot. Passengers posted photos and videos of the smoke coming from the tracks as well.

The governor said incidents like Thursday's train fire are why he has welcomed the Federal Transit Administration's investigation into the safety and operations of the MBTA.

"One of the reasons the FTA focused on the Orange Line and Red Line in particular was because of the age of the fleet on both of those lines," Baker said. "I talked to the T this morning. One of the things I said to them is 'I want to know what the FTA says about this.'"

Flames and smoke poured from an MBTA Orange Line train crossing the Mystic River in Somerville on Thursday, July 21, 2022. Passengers had to evacuate the train from windows and walk down the bridge to safety.

But he again pushed back on a statement that the T is not a reliable source of transportation, especially when Braude asked if that might be why more people aren't returning to the office post pandemic.

"Do I think that its performance needs to be better? Yes, I do," he said. "Do I think that is the reason people aren't coming to work? There's nothing in the data that supports that. A lot of people figured out (during the pandemic) that they could do their job without being in the office five days a week."

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