Amtrak Downeaster service between Brunswick, Maine, and North Station in Boston partially resumed Monday for the first time since being shut down in mid-April due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A single train left Brunswick just after 4 a.m. and made its 11 stops before pulling into Boston just before 8 a.m.
According to Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the operation of the Downeaster, the train will operate at about 50% capacity for the foreseeable future.
"It's been really hard for all of us knowing that this service that we worked for nearly 20 years to building up wasn't running anymore," Quinn said.
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She added that shutting down the service back in April due to the virus was "the right thing at the right time."
There will be a number of apparent changes for passengers like socially distancing on trains and platforms, the number of passengers per train and mask wearing for both passengers and crew. Many station buildings will be closed for at least the near-term and the café car onboard is closed.
In addition, only one trip south to Boston and one trip north to Maine will operate daily, though a decision may be made as soon as next week to add service.
"I think we can really do a good job providing as safe an environment as possible for our passengers and crew," Quinn said. "You can't go anywhere and expect [an outbreak] isn't going to happen but I think our crews were and continue to be in a really good position [to respond]."
Among the other precautions being taken to keep passengers safe, there will be enhanced cleaning protocols for trains with sanitization between each trip and overnight.
There is also some good news, despite what could be a significant loss of revenue over an extended period. With light train traffic, NNEPRA has been working with Pan Am Railways to expedite track work along the Downeaster route and complete projects that had been scheduled for later in the year. That will allow future trains to travel faster, as service resumes.
Monday's passenger numbers also showed improvement from April even though they remained extremely low, with just 13 people getting on the train at all stops between Brunswick and Boston on the first run.
"Frankly, at the time we wound down our service in April, we didn't have 13 people a day, never mind on a train," Quinn said. "We think it's a good start and we know the people riding really need to go somewhere."