Potential Cape Cod Commuter Rail Study On Track

BOURNE – The Cape Rail Study Advisory Group met for its second meeting Wednesday to discuss the future of rail service on Cape Cod.

During the meeting, the Cape Cod Commission, the Cape Rail Advisory Group and officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation outlined the two proposed plans for a potential commuter rail connection.

MassDOT Regional Planning Coordinator and study manager Benjamin Muller said that a number of studies have looked into this subject over the past decade.

But with MassDOT on board in earnest and neighboring states such as Maine also investigating possibilities, there has been more interest in rail options recently. 

“This study, with its backing from MassDOT, is an opportunity to align the energy and enthusiasm behind passenger rail on this quarter, towards the Cape, with operating plans and orders of magnitude cost estimates and service alternatives that MassDOT believes are feasible, reasonable, and that we can stand behind,” said Muller.

He said that the study is only meant to propose possible plans that can then be whittled down to something more concrete. 

He also said that the study is not meant to identify a preferred plan, serve as an environmental impact report, or meant to alter South Coast Rail upgrade operations. 

“[The goals are] to provide safe and reliable public transportation options to, from and within the Cape and surrounding areas, to reduce automobile usage and greenhouse gas emissions, and support and strengthen economic growth, transit-oriented development and access to employment in the Boston region,” said Muller. 

MassDOT proposed two different Alternative Plans to meet these goals, the largest variation being the expected level of service. 

Alternative 1 provides service meeting the base level standards of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), with connections from Buzzards Bay to Middleborough and Wareham. 

Alternative 2 is more comprehensive, with more frequent departures and arrivals—especially northbound during morning peak hours—as well as factoring in more trips for recreational use. 

The second option would see a round trip in the middle of the day to Buzzards Bay from Boston and back again, as well as services that cross the canal to a station in Bourne.

Riders could expect to get to Boston from Buzzards Bay in 93 minutes, and to Middleborough in 31 minutes.  Traveling from a potential Bourne station would add another 8 minutes to the trip. 

Both options are year-round, weekday services that assume the current CapeFLYER service would be for weekend services.

In terms of ridership, Alternative 1 estimates 1,710 daily boardings, reducing over 800 vehicles trips per day. 

Alternative 2 estimates 2,540 daily boardings, reducing nearly 1,200 vehicle trips per day. The increase of over 800 daily boardings from the Alternative 1 plan is due to the addition of the Bourne station and higher frequency, said Muller. 

When it comes to costs, Alternative 1 would see track and right of way costs of $16.5 million, a new Middleborough station for $6.5 million and $56 million in installation of signal systems bring the total cost of the project to $79 million. 

Alternative 2 would be $87 million in total, $38 million more expensive due to more track segments, upgrades for interfacing the service with the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge and systems upgrades. 

Operating the service would cost the first plan $5 million per year and second $9.3 million per year, the increase due to extended services, increased frequency ,and the one-seat ride.

From an environmental standpoint, Alternative 1 saves 13,628 kg in yearly CO2 emissions, while Alternative 2 saves 20,952 kg. 

“I see a lot of good news here. I’m very excited about the emissions reductions. I think that’s a very positive thing for Cape Cod,” said Bourne Assistant Town Administrator Glenn Cannon.

“We certainly see a lot of climate impacts on our coastal beaches and our coastal community, so we’re very pleased to see that.” 

Possible electrification of the rail could come down the line, said Muller, however the study currently is just aimed at finding two concrete proposals that use mostly existing infrastructure and options. 

Bourne Town Administrator Tony Schiavi asked if recreational considerations factored in travel both ways—both heading to Cape and heading off-Cape. 

Muller said that they were undecided on the direction, and the commuting estimates do not assume either direction, but more research can be done on the ridership trends for the final study. 

Judith Froman, Cape Cod Metropolitan Planning Organization member and Bourne Select Board member said that she was pleased by the reduction in CO2 emissions as well.

“Just noticing how much emission is cut back is just tremendous. I think we have to go in those directions, I know Cape-wide there’s been a lot of conversation about that. So I applaud that number.”

Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority Administrator Tom Cahir said that the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne would likely benefit greatly from the potential rail service, which he said would also leverage recent upgrades and developments in Buzzards Bay. 

“The selectmen’s leadership with attracting more restaurants, hotels and senior facilities in the village of Buzzards Bay, it’s truly amazing the work that they’ve done and it’s the perfect example of a transit-oriented community,” said Cahir. 

“Buzzards Bay is small, but there’s a lot of facilities within walking distance of the rail station that folks can use to get to Boston and back.”

Muller said that next steps for the study will include considering future system-wide changes within the MBTA towards multi-functional systems rather than a focus on commuter rails as well as COVID-19’s impact on the popularity of working from home.

They are also planning for how operation and maintenance will be carried out, as it is unclear if the MBTA would be the operator or another entity, similar to the CapeFlyer service.

The Army Corps of Engineers would also need to be factored in, as new systems on the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge would be under their watch. 

Fare structure, parking, funding sources, potential grants and who will advocate for them are also being considered, said Muller. 

Muller said that a final report is expected in the summer.

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the CapeCod.com News Center in 2019.



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