Saturday, February 16, 2013

Returning to Cape Cod (By Rail)

This summer will bring the return of regularly scheduled train service between Boston and Cape Cod.   Branded as the CapeFlyer, it provides a new modal option for a trip measured in "miles of backup before the bridge." 

There are only two motor vehicle bridges across the Cape Cod Canal, and both experience major backups on summer weekends.  The only ways to avoid the bridges are the ferry to Provincetown or flying into Hyannis.  And the under-utilized rail bridge. (See photo on right.)

NYNY&H RR "The Cranbury" was
painted in ths special color for the
Hyannis-bound trains from Boston
There was a time when rail service was once the way to travel to the Cape.  Before the dominance of the auto, vacationers from New York, Connecticut and Boston traveled by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H RR) to reach destinations such as Hyannis (with ferries to Nantucket) and Woods Hole (with ferries to Martha's Vineyards).  An age of auto-free intermodal travel!

 Service and ridership dwindled over time with the Boston service ending by 1959 while service from New York continued until 1964.   A fire on the rail bridge over  the Neponset River in 1960 made restoration of service from Boston daunting.

In 1965, the New Haven sold this rail line to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which will be operating the new service to the Cape some 48-year later.  First, the MBTA built the Red Line along this right-of-way (with a new rapid transit bridge over the Neponset River), first to Quincy (service beginning in 1971) and then to Braintree (opening in 1980). 

Cape Cod & Hyannis train at Buzzards
Bay Station with the iconic rail bridge
over Cape Cod Canal in the background.
The Braintree extension opened the door for a "two-seat" restoration of seasonal service from Boston to the Cape in 1982.  Passengers could change trains in Braintree and ride the Cape Cod & Hyannis  (CC&H)   Railroad to both Falmouth and Hyannis.  Then in 1987, Amtrak restored summer weekend service from New York, with an additional train transferring to the CC&H at Attleboro, Massachusetts. 

You know you've reached the Cape
when you cross the Cape Cod Canal
Railroad Bridge, which dates from
1935 and is the second longest
vertical lift rail bridge in the US.
I took this photo from the bike path
along the canal - see my other
blog post.
For a brief period, service was restored from both New York and Boston.  But nothing lasts forever.  The CC&H lost its state subsidy and ended service after 1986.  Amtrak stopped its service to the Cape after 1996 (by which time, the service was a shuttle from Providence).  Since then, passenger service on the Cape has been limited to a summer tourist train from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay.

Commuter rail servie was restored
in 1997 from Boston to
Middleborough, 2/3 of the way to the Cape.
A year after through service to Hyannis ended, commuter rail service was restored 2/3 of the way to the Cape, with the opening of the Middleborough Line from Boston, including a new rail bridge over the Neponset.  For the first time in 37 years, through rail service from South Station Boston to Hyannis was at least possible.  

It took another 16 years to get from the possible to the actual.   This summer, a few of the Middleborough trains on Fridays evenings and over the weekend will be extended to Hyannis.  The two-hour schedule is not indicative of a true "flyer," but it beats a 10-mile backup approaching the bridge.
Cape Flyer crossing the Cape Cod Canal


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