By Associated Press - Tuesday, March 2, 2021

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s commuter system linking metro Albuquerque with Santa Fe will resume service Monday after being shut down for nearly a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rail Runner system will initially provide limited service, resuming operations with fewer trains and weekday service only with each train limited to 25% capacity, or about 160 passengers per train, officials said Monday.

“It’s really good news to me,” said Ezequiel Montoya, a Santa Fe banker who lives in Albuquerque and has driven to work since the shutdown of the Rail Runner. “It’s been about a year since I’ve used it. It worked out perfect for my schedule.”

The limited capacity should satisfy initial demand in part because many of the system’s regular riders are still working from home.

“So it will probably be a gradual climb back. Plus we have to let everybody know hey we’re running again,” said Rail Runner spokeswoman Augusta Meyers.

The train system was shut down on March 17, 2020.

Many other commuter rail systems around the country restarted operations last year, but Meters said New Mexico’s restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus prohibited an earlier reopening.

Passengers will be required to wear masks and train cleaning protocols have been enhanced, officials said.

The system’s 65-mile (105-kilometer) route runs from Belen, south of Albuquerque, to Santa Fe.

Crews have operated occasional trains without passengers during the shutdown to avoid equipment and personnel from staying idle. The shutdown also allowed tryouts of a new federally required safety system to help avoid accidents.

Meyers said 10 trains will initially operate, compared to 22 during the system’s full service schedule. As the virus wanes, more trains will be added, she said.

“We’ll increase it as the state allows,” Meyers said.

The transit district received $55 million through the federal CARES Act, which helped avoid layoffs and furloughs of Rail Runner staff.

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