The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said Friday that it has completed repairs on a section of the Downeaster track that forced passengers going through Saco to disembark and take shuttles around the work site.
Trains are still running 20 to 30 minutes late on average, and that is likely to continue through the coming weeks but will improve slowly, authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn said.
“Little by little, it will get better every day,” she said.
A damaged section of rail along the Downeaster line in Saco delayed a couple of hundred train passengers Thursday afternoon and sent crews scrambling to fix the problem before service resumed Friday morning. Downeaster passenger trains will continue to slow down through Saco until rail workers are certain the ground has settled underneath the tracks, Quinn said.
Those riding the Downeaster over the Memorial Day weekend should not experience delays beyond those of recent weeks, Quinn said.
The Memorial Day weekend usually has roughly the same passenger counts as a typical weekend, she said.
“It’s not a huge weekend for us,” she said. Last year, 42,218 passengers rode the train in May, which is roughly comparable to the 2013 monthly average of 42,624 passengers.
The Downeaster’s on-time performance typically drops in the spring and early summer as damage caused by winter’s alternating freezes and thaws is repaired.
In 2013, the percentage of trains that departed on time fell from 86 percent in January to 72 percent in June.
This year’s harsh winter wreaked unusually severe havoc on the rail line, Quinn has said.
As a result, passenger volumes and on-time performance are likely to suffer declines until the repairs are complete.
On Thursday, Pan Am Railways maintenance crews had more difficulty than expected removing the rail at the crossing with Main Street in Saco, Quinn told the Press Herald.
Working with sledgehammers and power equipment, workers struggled to remove concrete sections between the rails that allow cars to pass over them safely.
A midday train was canceled because of the problem. Passengers on runs leaving Boston at 5 and 5:40 p.m. bound for Brunswick, the line’s northern end, had to be bused from Wells to their final destinations.
For southbound travelers who encountered the delays, bus service was provided from Old Orchard Beach to Wells, where another train was waiting to take passengers on toward Boston. The problem with the rail caused delays for motorists, as well.
The stubborn rail section was finally removed about 7 p.m., and crews completed the replacement work late Thursday.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-791-6390 or: