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Cape Cod Railroad Resurgence: Was The Cape Cod Rail Trail Shortsighted?

Did Cape Cod make a mistake by tearing up the railroad tracks to build bicycle trails? As fuel prices continue to be unstable and the nation’s highways become more congested, transportation experts believe the United States is headed toward a railway resurgence. We all know the traffic congestion on the Cape has gotten worse over the years.

shortsighted - lacking foresight or scope; “a short view of the problem”; “shortsighted policies”; “shortsighted critics derided the plan”; “myopic thinking”—source

The former railroad tracks that ran 22 miles through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet, now known as the Cape Cod Rail Trail bicycle trail, could have eliminated a portion of the truck and freight traffic seen on the roads and highways of the Cape today. Over 40 percent of all American freight moves by rail, according to AAR (Association of American Railroads). Railroads can haul three times the freight as trucks for the same amount of fuel.

In addition to moving freight, the old rail lines could have taken a bite out of today’s commuter and vacationer traffic as well.

As the Cape’s popularity as a summer resort increased in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, the railroad was heavily used to transport visitors from New York, Connecticut and elsewhere. With the growing number of visitors came train loads of food and other provisions needed to meet their needs. But the Cape railroad’s importance was soon surpassed by the automobile and more recently the bicycle.

As demand for freight transportation increases, the Texas Transportation Institute predicts that the cost of highway congestion—lost hours of productivity and wasted fuel—in the United States’ urban areas will continue to worsen. It increased to $63.1 billion in 2003 from $39.4 billion a decade earlier, a 60.2 percent increase.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that as the roads become busier, demand for rail-freight transportation will increase to 37.2 billion tons in 2035 from 19.3 billion tons in 2007, a 93 percent increase.—(source)

I will say that the Cape Cod Rail Trail typically gets 400,000 users a year, which is alot of people on bikes not driving around, contributing to the traffic problems and burning fossil fuels. But if the trains were around today and alleviated some of the traffic on the roads, you might be able to ride your bike on the road like we did when I was a kid.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 11/18/08
Categories: Getting AroundIssuesOpinion
Keywords: railroad, trains, railroad tracks, Cape Cod Rail Trail, freight, commuter, transportation, shortsighted


Its a thoughtful question and it invites some great policy discussions - doesn’t it?

I love to read about the days where vacationers traveled out to the Cape by train; musicians taking a late train up to play; families gathering their luggage at the Harwich train station.

Even if we could justify a high-speed commuter rail, we would have to consider the impact of fostering commuting suburbs on the Cape.

Isn’t the best policy for the Cape to let the current infrastructure (bridges and highways) take care of the population and focus our efforts on reducing the impact for the population who is here. This means policies that enhance the use of the bike path (car-free Bay-to-Sound paths, easy bike rentals, car sharing suited to tourism).  Its also means innovation (policies and technology) in reducing our depletion/destruction of the Cape Cod water table.

Posted by Neil Henry from Harwich, MA on 11/26/08 at 06:10 PM | #

Railroads are great, but the population density on the Cape just doesn’t warrant a rail. 

They had trouble getting the Greenbush Line in, and that was a route that made sense. 

I think Cape Cod is better served by the land being used as a “rail trail”

Posted by Sherm from Clinton on 02/11/09 at 03:11 PM | #

To say that the trail was short sighted is probably going a bit far. The tracks were unused when they were converted to trail use and millions of riders have now had the chance to ride a right of way that would otherwise be a twisted overgrown mess. Even if the tracks had been left in place they would need such extensive rehab to place them back in service that they would likely have been removed and rebuilt.

The trail has provided a valuable piece of infrastructure and has preserved the right of way should rail make sense again. I for one would take a train to the cape as opposed to driving. Most of my favorite places to visit on the cape can be enjoyed car free. The topography of the cape makes it very bike friendly. The cars, not so much.

Returning rail to the outer cape would be a good thing for everybody, particularly for getting some of the over the road trucks off the roads. Having tourists arrive by train would certainly help with the traffic too.

Perhaps the right of way could be widened to accommodate trains and bikes like they have done in Augusta Maine.

Posted by Mark Shander-Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 04/29/09 at 12:06 PM | #

If it was a mistake to replace the railroad on the Cape with the Cape Cod Rail Trail, then it was very much a mistake to have done so in Falmouth (including perhaps Woods Hole) and perhaps even the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. But there are two things that seem to be preventing the widespread return of rail here: money and common sense.

First, in explaining the money part, a relative of mine told me that it could take as much as $10 million to restore the rails to Falmouth, at least. Only Barnstable seems to have enough money for paying for trains to come into Cape Cod.

Second, in regard to the common sense part, environmentalists today want pretty much no part in trains and think that clean and efficient motor vehicles will solve our problem, which is ridiculous because, it will NOT stop smog on our highways since they are congested enough as it is. Even Teddy Roosevelt would have agreed that a good train would cut smog pollution on all roads which have cars and trucks and he is an example of an early environmentalist. It’s not that I don’t like bike paths, but bike path activists put their agenda in front of removing the real problem, which is not right and the paths should be no closer than next to and not replacing the railroad-right-of-way. (No offense intended.) But for now, why not focus on the MMR to get a competitor for Cape Cod Central Railroad, since the main part of Falmouth is more increasingly uninterested for the moment? Isn’t Cape Cod Central an illegal monopoly?

Posted by C. Porter from East Falmouth, MA on 06/05/09 at 07:19 PM | #

I think there are a couple of misconceptions here. First off I agree that the rails should have stayed to Falmouth as well as the other parts of the Cape. The important thing to consider here is that the right of way is owned by the state, not the Cape Cod Central or the Mass Coastal. The last railroad to own the right of way on the cape was either PennCentral or New Haven. It may have lasted into ConRail but I don’t know. Mass Coastal won the contract for freight service on the Cape replacing Bay Colony but as I said they do not own the tracks. It is up to the state (MBTA)  to repair or replace the rails.

As far as MMA coming to the Cape I don’t see the incentive. They only run as far south as Portland Maine and would be dependent on either CSX or Guilford to move things out of the state for them as   Mass Coastal is now. There is barely enough freight on the Cape as it is to run Mass Coastal so a second freight railroad would not help, they would starve each other off of the Cape and you would be back to square one.

What environmentalists are against trains? Even the cleanest rubber tired vehicles can not move freight or passengers as efficiently as rail. The only people who claim to be environmentalists and oppose rail are NIMBYs.

Posted by Mark Shander-Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 06/07/09 at 11:32 PM | #

To Mark: Isn’t railroad competition the reason why we have a democracy? The MMR (Mass Military Reservation), not MMA, as you have misspelled it, would be perfect for a second Cape Cod passenger rail company, since we already have several airports on Cape Cod and 2 steamship companies (Steamship Authority and Hyline). Think about it: all we need is for the towns of Falmouth, Bourne, Mashpee and Sandwich to pay for it. However, the state gov’t should not be allowed to own railway lines on Cape Cod, so let’s make them privately owned. The only way that I will cause me to look the other way on Cape Cod Central Railroad’s monopoly would be for them to buy up the Cataumet Train Station on the Bourne-Falmouth line. The Shining Sea and Cape Cod Rail Trail bike paths should be moved so rail lines can be reinstated on again on Cape Cod?

Posted by C. Porter on 07/16/09 at 01:36 AM | #

Since I’m not sure if or when my last message before this one will ever be published, here’s what needs to be said: I never said that Mass Coastal should have a competitor in the freight train business. I only said that Cape Cod Central Railroad should have a competitor for passenger services because lunch train tickets cost between $29 and $49.95 or something. That’s so ridiculous and to have a monopoly on scenic trains should not be tolerated by the Cape. The MMR Base could start by buying a useless old freight train and recycle it into a tour train that could around it, then it could be used when traveling off the Cape. A competitor could give lower prices for rides, especially if it could happen on the MMR. And the towns of Falmouth, Bourne, Mashpee, Sandwich and perhaps Barnstable could pay at least the first year’s expenses in a combined effort between towns. That is at least an idea worth looking into.

Posted by C. Porter on 07/16/09 at 06:49 PM | #

In the June 25, 2009 article entitled ‘Falmouth on track for safety gate’, it mentions that in the future, passenger trains will be back on the Bourne-Falmouth line, though a specific date has not been given. I hope they make Camp Edwards the starting point for this new service and I hope that people from Falmouth will ride the rails again once it’s up and running.

Posted by C. Porter on 07/20/09 at 11:41 PM | #

Even John Pearson, one of the men in charge of Mass Coastal Railroad wants to bring in bicycle trains. To me, this would seem perfect in resurrecting passenger train travel back to Falmouth and perhaps they could revive the Falmouth station with a new railroad route, so people can have both a bike path and train services once again under the Mass Coastal banner and re-extend services beyond the town of Dennis for the same purpose. It would be a great formula for a resurgent railroad.

Posted by C. Porter on 07/24/09 at 06:45 PM | #

What I would like to know is, when Mass Coastal finally decides to put a passenger service back in Falmouth, what part of Falmouth will it start in? I hope not on County Road in North Falmouth, because that distance is too close for a railroad and it would not be worth much of a hill of beans for the people in Falmouth. The Bourne-Falmouth line will eventually need to be reextended again. But according to some like Cahir, that won’t happen if people build houses near the right-of-way. And besides, no true citizen of Cape Cod really wants a monopoly that is Hyannis-based: I know I don’t.

Posted by C. Porter on 07/30/09 at 08:46 PM | #

Now, if transportation experts are right about an eventual railroad resurgence in the U.S., won’t this mean that Falmouth will re-extend it railroad tracks back down to Falmouth Station again? To do that would make it a true revival of Cape Cod travel, even if the tracks were re-extended to perhaps as far back as Harwich, or even Chatham. People need the rails more than bikepaths for the sake of cutting motor vehicle traffic. Only nimbys, bikepath activists and perhaps some motor vehicle corporate types (since they feel that traffic means music to their ears with regard to business) will oppose this. No offense to opponents of this message.

Posted by C. Porter on 08/18/09 at 07:18 PM | #

If true passenger rail returns to the Cape the monopoly will be based in Boston not Hyannis. The MBTA runs passenger rail in MA. Tourist railroads are another thing entirely. The only other possibility is Amtrak but they would technically need to be coming from out of state because they are prohibited from operating commuter rail unless they are doing so as a contractor.

As far as the state being allowed or not allowed to own rails on the cape, do you realize that if the state did not take over those rights of way they would no longer exist? The railroad would simply have sold them of to private interests and they would now be part of people’s back yards. The sate owns most of the right’s of way from about 495 in due to bankruptcy of the former owners.

If you are interested in the resurgence of the railroads grab a copy of Rail Time by John Stilgoe. It is a great book that describes how we got where we are and how to fix it.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 08/20/09 at 03:25 PM | #

Government should take steps to get out of the railroad business. Let big business and not the state control rail lines. No offense, but big government is to blame for the reason why only government can run railroads now. If they had any sense left in them, then the Shining Sea Bikepath would be next to Falmouth railroad, not replacing it. The same goes for the Cape Cod Rail Trail in regard to the rest of the Cape.

Posted by C. Porter on 08/24/09 at 04:56 PM | #

I have to disagree. Big business did not want to run passenger rail, either commuter or intercity. Amtrak, MNR and MBCR did not come into existence because the government though they could do better but because they were the only ones willing to do it.

Private passenger rail existed in large part to move the business traveler and to show that traveller how efficient the lines were so that they would use them for freight, the big money maker. Additionally, passenger trains moved mail and express parcels. Once business travelers, mail and express freight moved to air transport the fate of passenger rail was sealed. The only reason private passenger rail survived as long as it did after WWII was because the government would not let the railroads off the hook until they started going belly up. The government took over these operations out of necessity.

Unfortunately the only way to make this work is through some sort of public/private partnership. In the case of MBTA commuter rail, the T owns the rail and the trains but the service is operated by a private contractor MBCR. If not for this arrangement there would be nothing left of the rail corridors from 495 into the city and the big business freight roads would end out there.

Get a copy of Train Time, you will like it (based on your interest in trains) and it will help you to understand what transpired to get us here. Yes the government is complicit but it was big business that drove the decisions.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 08/25/09 at 03:32 AM | #

Do you know what you’re saying? Amtrak is government-owed and losing money: do you think the government is better at running train corporations? If you’re right about big business being too chicken, then they’re missing out.

Posted by C. Porter on 08/29/09 at 08:38 PM | #

Part of the reason that Amtrak is losing money is that it depends on the good will of the freight railroads to use their rails. Amtrak trains are typically side tracked to let freight go ahead on these lines which never would have happened when the railroads ran their own passenger service. The North East corridor, on which Amtrak has priority, is not a money loser. Since we have already established that the private corporations will not run passenger rail, you are stuck with either government run passenger rail or none at all. I am a believer in passenger rail as being necessary to the future of the country. I am neither an advocate of corporate or government run service. Just service. If corporations wont do it, and right now they wont, then either we have govt. run transport or none.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 08/30/09 at 06:33 PM | #

Additionally, It is not that corporations are “too chicken” to run passenger service, it is simply a cost benefit analysis on their part. They don’t see enough profit in it to outweigh the liability they take on by moving passengers. Corporations will no more operate a break even business than a losing business unless their is some other benefit. If they did, their stockholders would dump the CEO for one that got them a better return on investment. The government has no such limitations which make it more reasonable for the government to run this than a corporation. Do you realize the extent to which the other forms of transportation in this country are subsidized? Buses are profitable but do they own their rights of way? Airlines are profitable (barely) but do they own the places where they land or the air traffic controllers? If these means of transport had the full responsibility of maintaining their support facilities and rights of way they would likely no longer be.

Finally, yes, I do know what I am saying, I have studied it extensively.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 08/30/09 at 06:49 PM | #

Okay then, how do we get corporations to pay attention again so gov’t won’t have to keep taking the tab? The gov’t won’t eventually abandon railroads too, or will they?

Posted by C. Porter on 09/14/09 at 06:48 PM | #

Do you think in this expected railroad revival that’s coming that Falmouth Railroad will be rebuilt? And if so, how far down?

Posted by C. Porter on 09/16/09 at 04:49 PM | #

First, I think who ever is running the railroad needs to find a way to make it a profitable operation. Conrail was run by the government at first but eventually it broke free and now has been bought by NS and CSX. The problem with passenger rail is that it is no where near as profitable as freight and carries much more liability. That said, the government may always have to be somewhat involved to keep the operation profitable. I’d like to see it operated by the freight railroads, because they know best how to do it, with financial help from the government as opposed to being run by some government authority as is done now. I doubt there is any possibility of it being strictly a private enterprise.

As far as the state abandoning the rails, I wouldn’t worry about that, they went to too much trouble to acquire them and they recognize them as an economic asset.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 09/17/09 at 12:43 PM | #

As far as Falmouth is concerned, it may take a while.
If gasoline goes back to $4 a gallon that might change. If I had a summer home on the cape and my family was down there all summer I would certainly appreciate the availability of a train to get there on weekends. Similarly If I lived down there year around It might be nice to be able to take a train “off cape” rather than dealing with traffic particularly on summer weekends. That type of situation would certainly help with the traffic down there during the summer

I think initially you might need to settle for some form of tourist train, freight would be better but I don’t think the Mass Coastal has any business beyond the MMR. That would at least get the rails back in use and protect them from trail conversion.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 09/17/09 at 12:54 PM | #

To Mark: okay, let’s say that the gas prices go up to $4. Might they rebuild the rail lines back down to the Falmouth Train Station, or just have it in North Falmouth at only a length of 6 lousy miles? Hey, I believe in having a railroad and a bikepath side by side, but the Shining Sea Bikeway will have to be moved next to it to accommodate a restored railroad, instead of the other way around. As far as Mass Coastal is concerned, I once read the article entitled “Falmouth on track for Safety Gate”, which has established the fact that Mass Coastal has plans to bring dinner and tourist trains back onto the Falmouth line, something I can’t be wrong about. However, the Sagamore Bridge route is being blocked off and Rep. Delahunt wants to open up the MMR, which I know means more business for Mass Coastal in regard to railroad parking spaces if it’s opened up. Am I right?!

Posted by C. Porter on 10/05/09 at 04:42 PM | #

To me the best approach is to run the line all the way out to the Falmouth train station and even Woods Hole if the right of way goes that far. I would keep the trail running along side the tracks if it is feasible. The right of way is owned by the EOT (Executive Office of Transportation) and they can restore the line whenever they see fit. I think having the dinner train run down there would be a great start but I do not think that the rails will be restored just for that.
I don’t know much about what is going on down a the MMR but if it results in more rail oriented business I think it would be good for the Cape and the state in general. Anything that gets some rubber tired vehicles of the road while keeping business moving is a good thing.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 10/10/09 at 01:06 AM | #

To Mark:

Okay, Mark, if you think that the rails should return eventually to Woods Hole, then please answer me this: how can the railroad line be reextended with the bike path in the way? Wouldn’t that offend bicyclists?

Posted by C. Porter on 10/14/09 at 01:40 PM | #

I would look for a way to have both, but if the situation returns to where rail is needed the bike path will have to move. It was railroad right of way before it was a bike path. The fact that the EOT retains control of it means it can be railroad again when the state decides it is necessary. In the short term I don’t think the cyclists have anything to worry about. In my opinion, and this is as an avid cyclist, bicycles belong on the road with traffic.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 10/18/09 at 08:37 PM | #

To Mark:

There are others that might not see it that way with regard to bicycles on the road. After all, wasn’t the right-of-way once a Native American walking trail?

Posted by C. Porter on 10/19/09 at 08:12 PM | #

I certainly am aware of that sentiment, that said, it’s the law. Bicycles have the right to be on the road, cars are licensed to be on the road. A license can be revoked. By law, as vehicles, bicycles should be on the road. The only case where this is not true is on major highways for obvious reasons. In my experience bicycles are completely compatible with motor vehicle traffic as long as both operators cut the other some slack. Bicyclists are required to obey the same traffic rules as cars (not that they always do) and drivers are required to treat cyclists as other vehicles (not that they always do) Most of the time it works.

I don’t know about native trails but railroad right of way has a legal standing. Most right of way owned by the state is rail banked meaning it reverts to rail when and if the need arises. Even the extremely popular Minuteman Trail in Arlington is rail banked.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 10/29/09 at 11:47 AM | #

To Mark:
I remember in April that you think the right-of-way could be widened. Do you think they could widen the right-of-way near the Falmouth Hospital for trains and bikepath people?

Posted by C. Porter on 11/12/09 at 03:49 PM | #

I doubt that the right of way can be widened. If the line was double tracked at any time in it’s history then there would be room to have both the trail and the tracks. I have not been to Falmouth since 1986 so my recollection of how wide the ROW is is a bit foggy. The example that I cited in Maine was a double tracked ROW that left them with plenty of room for both when they took up one set of tracks. Actually widening a too narrow ROW requires neighbors willing to sell land to the EOT and I don’t see that as being likely for various reasons.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 11/16/09 at 02:46 PM | #

To Mark:

As of Saturday, Cape Cod Central rolled into Falmouth for the first time. Could this mean the eventual return of the route to the bus station, or will it take more time than that?

Posted by C. Porter on 11/24/09 at 09:34 PM | #

To Mark (again):

Will the Falmouth railroad ever go back down past the Falmouth Hospital again, or not? 6 miles is still not enough.

Posted by C. Porter on 11/30/09 at 08:48 PM | #

I use to live on the cape as my mother was a true cape codder.I lived there from 1960’s to 1975 when I moved to Texas. I use to stay at my grand parents & uncles for the whole summer since I was a toddler. I remember the cape before all the people came & took over.

My mother use to chase the troopp trains as that what you did alone time ago.I stayed in Orleans as my relatives still do & lived in Eastham. I walked to school each day past snow’s store.

I miss the old times & riding our bikes to town doing all kinds of stuff. I really didn’t know how much I missed the trains until they were gone & I remember them taking up the tracks & seeing the last train from Roaches plant leave. Seeing the sand trains from Ptown & seeing the trains in town & on the wharf. You are right they need to go back in time & use trains for freight to all the towns. Good luck at 60 years old I don’t think I’ll see it.
I still visit family on the cape every few years.

Posted by Dennis Barnard from Lubbock Tx on 12/02/09 at 04:01 AM | #

To Mark:

If you say the right-of-way is owned by the EOT, tell me, why does it say on the website that they sold the Falmouth tracks to the town of Falmouth? You don’t think the town has no desire to restore the right-of-way, do you?

Posted by C. Porter on 12/02/09 at 03:48 PM | #

According to the Mass EOT website the Falmouth line is owned by the Federal Government. They show no right of way to Woods Hole so it is possible that that was sold to the town before the Penn, NYC, New Haven merger. Anything that was under PennCentral or Conrail management that was not retained by CSX is EOT or Federally owned. From the EOT map the Feds own from the bridge to Falmouth Center including the Camp Edwards spur. Everything else on the Cape is EOT owned. Unfortunately this map only includes stuff with track on it. The original map I cited included existing rail trails including the CC rail trail. Most of those are EOT or MBTA owned.

I doubt Falmouth has the money to restore the line but that does not mean it couldn’t happen if the need arose.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 12/04/09 at 06:51 PM | #

To Mark:

The only reason why Falmouth won’t spend the money for new rails to Falmouth Center is that their tax rates are too darn high. If they lowered them, they would slow the exodus of people like yourself from leaving Falmouth. Does that sound about right?

Posted by C. Porter on 12/07/09 at 07:05 PM | #

I have never lived in Falmouth, I have vacationed there several times as it is one of my favorite places on the Cape. Unfortunately rail infrastructure is expensive, a bit more expensive than the average town can spend, high taxes or not. I doubt that the rail companies on the Cape currently could swing it if the State wasn’t picking up some of the tab but, even with that, the costs are outside of what a town can afford. By the way, the town has apparently signed a long term lease with the State to pull up the tracks and make a trail so this is kind of a dead issue. Unfortunate from my point of view, but I guess the powers that be don’t see any call for rail right now. That could all change with another $4 a gallon summer which I believe is inevitable.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 12/07/09 at 11:13 PM | #

To Mark:

I thought you said you were from Falmouth, ah well. They won’t get rid of the dual tracks at County Road: that will never happen. There were 225 passengers on board that Mass Coastal train on the Bourne-Falmouth line last month. The bike path stops at County Road and it will extend no further, since I see no evidence of it doing so. I bet you didn’t know that the legislature is about to raise the gas tax by $.50. That is more than enough for me to believe that we need the rails reextended NOW. This is simple common sense and common sense will never be snuffed out. By the way, do you by any chance know if there are any petitions for the creation of a new Falmouth railroad, or do the people in my town have no stomach to create one? (Though no offense to my fellow Falmouthers.)

Posted by C. Porter on 12/09/09 at 10:07 PM | #

No, I’m from Ashland, just a bit more than a stones throw from the Boston and Albany main. I hope you are right about those tracks, I really have nothing against the rail trail crowd but I don’t like to see rail infrastructure removed. The one good thing about Rails to Trails is that they protect the right of way and keep it open for possible future use. Glad to hear about the big turnout for the train! I still think if you have a good clean convenient train there are plenty of people who would use it. I’d rather take the train into Boston than drive. It’s too bad some of that gas tax money can’t be used for rail, particularly since back in the 50’s they taxed the life out of the railroads to build the interstates and the airports. That’s right, the railroads were forced to fund the competition that nearly buried them. How’s that for a slap in the face? I have not heard anything about such a petition. Check out in their forums. That’s where all the people who are “in the know” are.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 12/10/09 at 01:39 AM | #

To Mark:

But does 225 people equal the beginning of a new movement in Falmouth for cries toward a reextension of the line back to Falmouth Station, or will the Board of Selectmen simply look at it as a backpage issue? It means to me that we should extend service to the MMR for now in order to pick up armed forces personel who want to use their liberty to travel on a dinner train, etc. Wouldn’t that be wise enough?

Posted by C. Porter on 12/14/09 at 06:26 PM | #

So, now that Scott Brown is the new Senator-elect of the U.S., will this mean a reextended railroad on Cape Cod? If so, what about Falmouth, including Woods Hole?

Posted by C. Porter on 01/27/10 at 03:58 PM | #

I’m not sure that Senator Brown has said anything one way or another as to his commitment to rail. As a general rule Republicans and conservatives have not been fans of mass transit. That said there is an excellent article written by the late Paul Weyrich about the need for a revival of wide spread mass transit. Mr. Weyrich was a pretty staunch conservative and his article is one of the best pro mass transit articles I have ever seen from either side. I think the website is streetcarsnow? Google Paul Weyrich and streetcars and you will probably find it.

The only politician I know of that is a strong advocate of rail is Michael Dukakis and he is retired. The Lt. Governor is an advocate of commuter rail but his main interest seems to be Worcester (his home base) and the Fall River/ New Bedford Area. As far as the 225 people riding the train from the MMR, hey it’s a start. How many people were riding before that? I heard somewhere that CCR is considering a pilot commuter train this summer to see if their is interest. I think there might be.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 01/27/10 at 05:49 PM | #

To Mark:

You have the 225 confused. I did not say the MMR had the 225 passengers there. I only suggested that the MMR should add train services, since military personel have not traveled by train since the Korean War, and that would be something for them to do on their liberty.

Posted by C. Porter on 02/04/10 at 04:11 PM | #

When will the next railfan trip to Falmouth be? What about South Dennis? With Republicans starting to climb up the political ladder in Massachusetts again, it must mean that railroad travel will return to Cape Cod and other areas of Massachusetts and the end of the rail trail era, right?

Posted by C. Porter on 03/03/10 at 04:14 PM | #

As I said before, Republicans are not generally in support of passenger rail. Republicans typically support increased highway funding. There are some exceptions to that rule like the late Paul Weyrich and former Senator Trent Lott but normally passenger rail is more of a Democrat issue although that seems to be more lip service than reality. It takes public demand to push these developments and right now the average John Q Public likes highways and rail trails. That seems to be starting to change but it will take a long time to gather momentum. Remember, at least the rail trails preserve the right of way and the public gets some benefit from them.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 03/04/10 at 07:43 PM | #

That may be so about highways and rail trails, after all a relative of mine once knew a rail trail activist who lived in Woods Hole. I do think that if rail service is restored to the Cape, eventually, it WILL be restored to the Falmouth line again as well, and perhaps it will be rebuilt even to Woods Hole, with a new rail trail next to it. Then just like Hyannis, there can be railroad yard with several train sitting on it, waiting to be used. Hey, like you I’m not against highways and rail trails, but common sense dictates that even the town of Falmouth will want its railroad back with a few conditions. And I am completely opposed to commuter rail being just on the Hyannis line: that’s why I hope the South Coast project extends to Falmouth. Have a nice day.

Posted by C. Porter on 03/08/10 at 07:13 PM | #

To Mark:

I just glanced at a comment on what appeared to be a rail trail site two days ago, and it said that people who use the Shining Sea Bikeway don’t want to share the right-of-way and have a desire to have the rails removed. Surely they must know that we need the line for Otis, but is it possible that this could happen, and if so, when?

Posted by C. Porter on 03/25/10 at 02:22 PM | #

I wouldn’t worry too much. They might like to have the rails removed but the EOT makes that decision. My understanding is that those rails are relatively new in that the state spent some money some years back to rehab them. In any event, even if the rails were removed it is always a railroad right of way, not a bike path right of way. (Never will be either unless EOT sells it) The state is very interested in rail freight right now so I doubt they will be in a hurry to rip up tracks that are not redundant.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 03/25/10 at 05:41 PM | #

To Mark:

Okay, if we can have commuter rail to Hyannis and an eventual restoration of year-round passenger services there, just how long do you think it will take to rebuild the Woods Hole, Chatham and Provincetown branches once Hyannis is taken care of? Soon, I hope?

Posted by C. Porter on 04/01/10 at 01:23 PM | #

Gentlemen - I am seriously considering the purchase of a property abutting the Bourne- Falmouth line. The Realtor told me the rail is used only for the trash train; once in the morning and evening.
I am worried about the impact on the property with increased rail use.

How do I find out the exact schedule of these trains ? Thank you in advance. All the best, George

Posted by George Patterson from Southboro on 04/02/10 at 01:37 AM | #

Hi George,

Being a train guy I think the rails are an asset but I understand most people don’t think the way I do.

The realtor isn’t too far off from what I understand. The trains aren’t going all that fast either. I would imagine that any increased usage for freight would result in longer trains rather than more. If Mass Coaster gets the commuter rail project off the ground that may result in a few additional trains per day.

I would try to contact the folks at Mass Coastal R.R. first. They seem like a good operation and appear to be making an effort to be a good neighbor. After that you could try Mass EOT, they own the tracks but they might take a while to get back to you. You might also want to reach out to a couple of your prospective neighbors and get a first hand opinion as well.

Good luck!


Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 04/02/10 at 02:44 PM | #

Mark - Thank you very much for your insight. I will start the research tomorrow. Thanks again.
All the best,

Posted by George Patterson from Southboro on 04/04/10 at 11:01 PM | #

Hey fellows, how about an answer to my question from before: how long do you think it will take to rebuild the Woods Hole, Chatham and Provincetown branches once Hyannis is taken care of? Thank you.

Posted by C. Porter on 04/07/10 at 03:58 PM | #

It may never happen. The Woods Hole Branch was sold to Falmouth by the New Haven R.R. so it is no longer railroad right of way. The town could sell it back to MassDOT but I don’t see that happening. The Branch to Provincetown belongs to the State so that could revert to rail. Having said that I don’t think it will happen soon. I do not know the status of the Chatham branch. Right now I think it will be enough to just not have anymore track torn up.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 04/10/10 at 11:09 PM | #

To Mark:

Unfortunately, it seems more likely that more rail lines will be torn up. It has become clear to me that the Cape Cod Rail Trail will expand westward, which so far makes it more unlikely that the rail line will ever again go beyond Yarmouth, though you could be right. But since Falmouth now owns the right-of-way to Woods Hole, the same goes to Barnstable owning the Hyannis branch. Now doesn’t this mean that the Hyannis branch is in danger of being replaced by rail trail as well? I sure hope that Woods Hole rebuilds and that the right-of-way is widened for a new trail.

Posted by C. Porter on 04/12/10 at 05:37 PM | #

Besides, it is not our decision, sadly, when they will stop ripping up the rail lines on the Cape. Right?

Posted by C. Porter on 04/12/10 at 05:40 PM | #

And one more thing to add: if they make the Cape Cod National Seashore a national park, then the railroad will never go past Eastham again. This would mean that the Rail Trail wouldn’t end it, but the National Park Service would.

Posted by C. Porter on 04/12/10 at 05:52 PM | #

There are many cases of active rail lines passing through National Parks and even wildlife refuges.

I am not sure of the legality of rights of way owned by towns but those owned by the state are usually rail banked and so can revert to rail service even with an existing trail.

I would definitely like to see rails and trails where it can be done safely. Railroads are scrapping lines that they are not using but the State tends to leave them in place until the either rehab them or convert them to another use. Up this way the old Central Mass branch still has rails on it 25 years after the last train went over it and probably will until the MBTA decides they need commuter trains running on it.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 04/15/10 at 04:27 PM | #

To Mark:

But what about the old Falmouth line when not counting Woods Hole? Can that still be revived?

Posted by C. Porter on 04/18/10 at 05:40 PM | #

The Falmouth line is still owned by EOT or Mass DOT or whatever their name is this week. My understanding is that the state did a rehab on that line in the last ten years or so and so I don’t think they will be in a big hurry to let it be torn up. I also read some where that a group in Falmouth will lobby for its eventual return to service if trains start running to the MMA again. Their proposal is for rail with trail.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 04/20/10 at 12:34 PM | #

And I’ll bet that John Kennedy will be on hand for something like that. But a question: what does MMA stand for? Don’t you mean MMR?

Posted by C. Porter on 04/21/10 at 01:55 PM | #

But where will I find this story about this ‘group in Falmouth’ that ‘will lobby for its eventual return to service if trains start running to the MMA again’? And may it include the Woods Hole junction, if they can widen the right-of-way? For now though, I just want to know the story that ‘group’ and what web site I can find it on. Thanks.

Posted by C. Porter on 04/21/10 at 01:58 PM | #

And I’ll bet that this proposed return of Falmouth service, which I believe has a better chance of happening than what the rail-trail people believe, will be part of a possible reextension to Falmouth through the South Coast Rail Project, although I believe that the project should only concern commuter and freight service in order to avoid making the project just another government pork project (which comes when you add dinner, lunch, supper and scenic service to the mix). But how can the right-of-way be widened in order to never have this kind of problem again? Or can it be widened? And can a rail yard like the one in Hyannis be built to house trains on the Bourne-Falmouth line?

Posted by C. Porter on 04/21/10 at 02:10 PM | #

Just wanted to send a follow up from my previous message. I e-mailed Mr. Kennedy; he had Mr. Pearson call me.
Mr Pearson told me that the trash train runs to Otis 4-8 times week and will increase during the summer months. He went on to say that IF Otis is commercially developed, the traffic on the line will increase with the hauling of freight.
He said there was a remote chance that the tracks would be re-established to Woods Hole as a commuter line. He thought gas prices would need to reach 12 miles of bikes trail has been reclaimed in WI.I just don’t see the cost benefit of track reclamation to Woods Hole for them.

Posted by George Patterson from Southboro on 04/23/10 at 02:52 PM | #

But my question has not been answered yet: what article mentioned the group of Falmouth residents who wanted a restored rail service with trail? Thank you.

Posted by C. Porter on 04/26/10 at 03:48 PM | #

It was not an article, it was a position paper by some advocacy group from Falmouth but I don’t remember who it was and the PDF copy I had went with my last hard drive. In any event, to my knowledge the rails are still intact as far as Falmouth and as I recall the state rehabbed the line as far as Falmouth so I don’t see the DOT rushing to pull up those rails.

Thanks for the feedback George, I had a feeling those guys would get back to you.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 04/27/10 at 02:53 AM | #

To Mark:

But if they do tear up the Falmouth line entirely, won’t that mean the beginning of the end of the Cape Cod railroad sytem? After all, rails-to-trails would love to remove the remaining tracks and have on Cape Cod nothing but roads and trails. (Forgive me of my negative thinking right here.) I don’t think they like compromise very much, since I do believe that they are supposedly tearing up the South Dennis line as we speak in order to continue the Cape Cod Rail Trail into Yarmouth and eventually, into Barnstable itself and up to the Canal. Though, fortunately for us, I think, the last of the Falmouth line will only be torn up if all towns abandon the trash train, as well as if Otis decides to use trucks to transfer all military equipment.

Posted by C. Porter on 04/30/10 at 04:08 PM | #

Rails to Trails is an advocacy group. They have no authority over the right of way. Even the the most popular rail trail in the country, The Minuteman Trail on the old Lexington Branch, is rail banked. If the MBTA ever sees the need to restore service on that line it can be done with a simple decision by the MBTA. I can’t imagine what would have to happen to make the MBTA restore that line, since they were only to happy to get rid of it when the Red Line was extended, but legally they could do it. When $4 dollar per gallon gasoline returns, which is inevitable, you will start to see these rail to trail projects slow down

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 05/01/10 at 02:36 PM | #

And when that happens Mark, then the talk of restoring the railbanked Falmouth and South Dennis, etc. rail line will resume. And the gas prices are only starting to rise. A nice day to you.

Posted by C. Porter on 05/06/10 at 03:49 PM | #

In my humble opinion, i think it would be best to fight for rail service on the existing trackage first to Buzzards Bay and Hyannis.
  Once that service is established and running for awhile, only then should we ask the question of reclaming the rail line from North Falmouth to the wasted Falmouth station. As much as I’d like to see rail service to Falmouth, the important thing is to get it to the Cape first. I spoke with John Kennedy and he said as much. Also AFAIK, the proposed feeder rail service from Sandwich to Middleboro has been tabled for now. (Why am I not Surprised?)

Posted by Albert Pisani from Buzzards Bay on 06/11/10 at 11:38 PM | #

That would probably be the way to go due to the central location of Hyannis. I’ve heard the same thing about the feeder service. Something to do with cab signals or the like. I still think it is a great idea. I would really love to see Cape Cod service directly from South Station but that is probably a pipe dream. I could take a train from Ashland to South Station and then catch one to Falmouth. If only.

Posted by Mark Reynolds from Ashland, MA on 06/13/10 at 05:07 PM | #

Of course the Sandwich commuter route is tabled: reconstruction on Sagamore Bridge was only recently completed. They don’t feel they need it at this time.

Posted by C. Porter on 06/16/10 at 05:45 PM | #

I just mention that it’s no surprise because if you follow the state’s m.o. in relation to Cape Rail service, there is always the convenient excuse at the last minute to deny Cape cod Central the resources and the go-ahead to operate their low-cost proposal on the rail lines that our taxes upgraded. There are several theories as to why this is the case and these include but are not limited to: The protection of the bus monopoly, the idea that the state has a good thing going by limiting our transit choices thus compelling people to drive, more gasoline consumption is the result. Ergo, more gas tax collected. After all, why would the state spend millions to upgrade the Cape’s rail infrastructure and not be in a hurry to get a return on our investment? Other people have thought of these and other theories.

Massachusetts is always preaching how “green” it is, but hardly touches the subject of Cape rail.

Cape Cod Central has wanted to run this service for years but the state remains bull-headed. the cost required would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of road projects currently going on and certainly would not harm the bus business. The fact that repeated calls and e-mail appeals to the state have been met with no response kind of tells me something

Posted by Albert Pisani from Buzzards Bay on 06/25/10 at 11:34 PM | #

And they remain defiant because they don’t understand the real problem, which they must. Or perhaps they won’t until the routes of Falmouth, South Dennis, Yarmouth and Hyannis are all torn up someday and the debate becomes one on extending bikepaths and turning Cape Cod into a place unfriendly to rail travel. Am I right?

Posted by C. Porter on 07/26/10 at 04:27 PM | #

A little less than a year old article I know, but I’d thought I’d comment. Honestly, I think Massachusetts has especially gotten too “rail trail happy” and as much as I like riding my bike: Frankly I could do it anywhere and I’d rather see railroad service as it would be a lot less stressful going down to the Cape if there was an alternative to big traffic and if money is so called “a problem”, they can just get the money where they got it for the Sagamore flyover (not that I’m critzing them to do it, honestly rotaries do not belong at the ends of highways!

Posted by Patrick Holland on 05/30/11 at 03:26 AM | #

I believe that to have a viable commuter rail service to the Cape, a more direct line from Hyannis to Sagamore then over the Canal into Plymouth, joining the line from Kingston, would be necessary and I don’t see any agency, Federal, State, or private, having the resources to accomplish that. Ideally that line would also include Yarmouth and Dennis, at the very least.
In order for a commuter rail to remain viable, there must be an adequate population to support it, who are willing to use it.
The second line for viable rail service would have to be through Falmouth to Middleboro/Lakeville
A Postal contract might help defray the costs of a passenger railroad by adding revenue, also perhaps a passenger/light freight consist.

Posted by Richard Wayburn Sr from centerville, Ma on 09/05/11 at 07:47 PM | #

Related Posts: are tagged with railroad, trains, railroad tracks, Cape Cod Rail Trail, freight, commuter, transportation, shortsighted
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