Cape Cod Rail Connection

Some transportation experts on the Cape have been advocating the re-establishment of full-time passenger rail service as one way of easing the problem of traffic congestion. The Cape hasn't seen a regular passenger rail line since 1959. John Kennedy is president of the Cape Cod Central Railroad. (He's not related to the noted political family.) As part of our transportation series, CAI-NAN's Dan Tritle spoke with John Kennedy about his company's plans to bring passenger trains back to the Cape. Kennedy says it would be very easy to resurrect rail service. According to Kennedy, the existing track and rail lines are, for the most part, in good shape.

Kennedy: "Over the last several decades there's been many millions of dollars poured into upgrade of the railroad right of way, including the railroad bridge which traverses the Cape Cod Canal. It's undergoing a 30 million dollar complete overhaul. So the right of way is there and it's in relatively good condition. Down towards Falmouth there's some brush and things, but other than that it's in really good condition."

Tritle: "It would be an easy way to get to and from Boston?"

Kennedy: "Travel times from Bourne for instance, would be a little over an hour and a half. The travel times to Falmouth could be under two hours, and about two hours to downtown Hyannis. There's a intermodal center being built as we speak in downtown Hyannis, right outside my offices. The plan is for the railroad to be part of that."

Tritle: "Trains would be running year round?"

Kennedy: "Demands of travel don't begin and end with the summer season. The amount of crossings that our two antiquated bridges experience during the normal day, any normal day, is actually what the peaks were two and three decades ago. So just twenty years ago on the worst days, is what we're doing now in an average day, and that's an incredible statistic."

Tritle: "How do you convince somebody to get out of their personal car and onto a train?"

Kennedy: "Well, there's a couple ways you do it and one of them is to provide a mode that they would find relaxing, peaceful, but is also convenient and cost effective for them. What we propose would be a service that allows them to travel to and from Boston at about the same price that you would on either a bus, or actually cheaper than if you had to provide your own parking in Boston. We would do so and provide the frequency enough so that you could get up there at a reasonable hour for work, you could also get there middle-day trips for cultural reasons, or even dinner reasons late in the evening. And would also provide a way to get back to the Cape in the evenings. Now the other demographic of the passenger we're looking to attract is naturally the visitor to the Cape, and people that want to actually do the reverse commute. It would allow visitors to get to the Cape without dealing with the traffic at the two bridges and the roads leading to it. Once they got to the Cape, though, the regional transit authority here, and some of the other modes and buses, would have to respond to that new demand and provide better service here as well."

Tritle: "Is it possible to get the ridership necessary to make this year-round effort and not lose money?"

Kennedy: "I think so. I'm absolutely certain that there's a market here. Some studies that were done in the past seem to lead to the conclusion that there& #39s an awful lot of potential passengers here on the Cape. If you look at the MBTA& #39s commuter rail, Old Colony, New Old Colony service out of either Kingston or Middleborough-Lakeville- Middleborough-Lakeville that would be the station we would hook up with- it's standing room only on most of those trains and that's really phenomenal. And they've expanded their parking area there as well, and those trains are enormously popular because it's convenient; it's relatively inexpensive, and it operates daily on a year-round basis."

Tritle: "Now, there is some opposition. You have some bicyclists that would like to pave over the tracks to extend the Shining-Sea bicycle path. Are there options for bicyclists if there are trains on the tracks?"

Kennedy: "The type of equipment we've proposed using are what they call Bud-cars. They're rail-diesel cars, don't have locomotives; they have self- propelled very quiet and environmentally sensitive type equipment. They have baggage compartments in them where you can actually take your bike from any location we stop at to the cape, and vice versa. We could even hook up the three world class bike paths: Shining Sea, Cape Cod Rail Trail, and the Cape Cod Canal bike paths with your bicycles, and with your luggage. So certainly we would think that coexistence between the railroad and the bike path would actually be a perfect marriage, putting the bike path right alongside the track and a you know, natural barrier in between would certainly keep it safe."

Tritle: "How about funding for the project? What's it likely to cost to get the tracks and cars in shape, and where's that money gonna come from?"

Kennedy: "There'd certainly be some sort of initial subsidy. And, the beauty though of this plan, is that out of that subsidy, fairbox recovery that is the revenue that's derived from the passengers, would go to paying down the subsidy. And if the state is the provider of that subsidy, whatever that amount is would be down dramatically by whatever revenues were derived."

Tritle: "So there would be no cost to taxpayers?"

Kennedy: "There would be no tax at all whatsoever. The state executive office of transportation we expect would have to fund this in some degree, but there are no transit, any sort of public type transit that's not subsidized in one degree or another. Although, whatever subsidy this would use would be quite small."

Tritle: "Any obstacles left for this service to be implemented, and when are we likely to see train service to the Cape?"

Kennedy: "I don't know when you're likely. What I'm hopeful for is 2002; that we'll see some sort of service begin in 2002. This is a trial demonstration project which we expect would last three years to gage adequately exactly what the potential of this is. We've done it in a four-phase type of a program, whereas the first stage would be Middleborough to Buzzard's Bay. We would only extend if the communities further down the line actually wanted to see it happen, and if the first stage is successful. And so on, and we wouldn't continue any of the phases until that happened. So I'd like to see this in 2002. I think it's entirely possible, but at the moment it's up to the state to issue a request for a proposal, and we would certainly be one of the respondents, but I think that's really the main obstacle. I& #39ve kind of embarked on a education process here with the towns and all the villages and civic associations and chambers of commerce, and talked with just about all the legislators, to let them know what we're attempting to try and do here for the Cape, and to gage and get their response and advice and counsel. So far, almost unanimously its been endorsed by newspapers and all the civic associations and chambers of commerce and that kind of thing, and there's been very very little opposition whatsoever. And usually any opposition would come from those who aren't really sure what the service that we're proposing is. It's certainly not commuter rail; it's not high speed. The train speed will be actually slower than most of the roadways on the Cape, but we think that's consistent with the Cape's character and charm and we wouldn't want it any other way."