MBTA adjusts commuter rail morning schedules to better assist health care, essential workers

The T also announced that it's pausing some capital improvements for three weeks.

A man wears a mask while passing through South Station during his commute to work in Boston, MA  on March 11, 2020.
A man wears a mask while passing through South Station during his commute to work in Boston on March 11, 2020. –Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe

Commuter rail schedules are being adjusted to better accommodate health care workers, and other essential employees needing early morning transportation, during the COVID-19 crisis, according to officials.

Keolis, the company that operates the system, said in a news release that starting Wednesday, the Fitchburg, Haverhill, Lowell, and Needham lines will each have an extra early morning train to North or South station.

These changes include:

  • A Haverhill Line train departing Reading at 5:50 a.m. and arriving at North Station at 6:23 a.m.
  • A Lowell Line train leaving Lowell at 5:35 a.m. and arriving at North Station at 6:23 a.m.
  • A Fitchburg Line train leaving Wachusett at 4:50 a.m. and arriving at North Station at 6:30 a.m.
  • On the Newburyport/Rockport line, train 7150 from Newburyport is planned to leave at 5:35 a.m., instead of its prior departure time of 6:25 a.m., so that it will reach North Station before 7 a.m. For Rockport line passengers, this train arrives at Beverly Depot at 6:03 a.m.
  • A Needham Line train leaving Needham Heights at 5:45 a.m. and arriving at South Station at 6:24 a.m.

“While ridership has been very low, these adjustments help accommodate our community’s needs in these unprecedented circumstances,” David Scorey, Keolis’s CEO and general manager, said in the release. “By adding these options, we are providing public transit for those with essential travel needs and enabling as much social distancing as is possible on Commuter Rail.”

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The MBTA also announced that while it’s moving forward with work on its Green Line Extension and South Coast Rail projects, as well as some “safety-critical work,” it is “pausing a number of previously planned capital program activities for three weeks” so that it can free up the maintenance and engineering staff to focus on operating the system.

The commuter rail, as well as the rest of the MBTA system, is running on reduced schedules due to the coronavirus outbreak. The T, which is discouring all non-essential travel, has adjusted some subway and bus schedules, after some initial complaints of overcrowding. The T has also asked riders to board all buses and street-level trolleys on the Green and Mattapan lines using the back doors to protect drivers.

“Critical to our success in sustaining mobility is a combination of providing service that meets the needs of employees essential to combating COVID-19, keeping up our enhanced protocols for cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles and high-contact surfaces, and renewing our request to customers to minimize their travel to only what is absolutely necessary,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said in a news release about the commuter rail changes.

Poftak said last week that the T may seek some sort of bailout once the crisis is over.

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“I do think there is going to have to be some level of assistance,” he said at the time. “I also think, given the societal impact of this, there’s going to be plenty of entities that are going to need assistance as well, so I would say it’s early … for us to be doing that, but it is something we’re going to think about longer term.”


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