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By Jack M. Turner

    Weekend traffic jams on the highways linking Cape Cod with mainland Massachusetts are legendary during the summer season.  Driving to the Cape on Friday afternoons is an endurance test and the return trip on Sunday afternoons can be a nightmare.  With the New Haven Railroad having exited the Boston to Cape Cod market in 1959 with a brief return two years later, there was little choice for several years other than driving.  The Cape Cod and Hyannis Railroad attempted to bridge the gap by running a seasonal train that originated in the Boston suburb of Braintree with a subway connection to the city between 1984 and 1988.  Amtrak also ran a seasonal train, The Cape Codder, between Washington and New York and Hyannis from 1986 to 1996 which did little to help Bostonians travel to the Cape unless they took a roundabout routing via Providence.  Summer 2013 brought a new, direct service connecting Boston with Hyannis and the train quickly became a popular way to travel.

    The Quincy Marriott was a convenient place to spend the night as its courtesy shuttle van provides an easy way to get to the MBTA Red Line Quincy Center subway station.  I could have taken the subway a couple stops south to Braintree and boarded the Cape Flyer at its first stop, however, I wanted the full experience so I grabbed an inbound Red Line train for the 25 minute ride to South Station.  Brief anxiety filled my senses as the “Smart Pass” I purchased the night before to travel to Quincy did not work in the automated entry gate.  With nobody present to help (no agent, no security officer, etc.) I was forced to purchase another $5.00 pass which left me feeling less than satisfied with the MBTA.  Though the Cape Flyer uses MBTA equipment, that train is actually operated by the Cape Cod Regional Transportation Authority so I wouldn’t have to deal with the MBTA again.


A Red Line subway train arrives at Quincy Center


Autumn colors seen from the Quincy Center platform

    The Red Line stop for South Station is located in the lower level of the station and within a couple minutes I was walking down the platform to the waiting Cape Flyer.  MBTA MP36 engine number 011 led a rather lengthy consist which would be sparsely patronized on this, the second Saturday of October 2013.  The Cape Flyer originally was scheduled to operate through Labor Day but service was extended to Columbus Day due to high ridership throughout the summer.  Patronage dropped off after Labor Day and it has not been determined whether next year’s service will again run into October.

    A single level car directly behind the locomotive contained a staffed snack bar counter, a few seats, and a large empty space for passengers’ bicycles.  This is a popular feature aboard the Cape Flyer as bicycling is popular on the Cape where miles of bike trails attract outdoor adventurers.  Trailing the single level car was a string of bilevel MBTA commuter coaches though only the first two were in use on this trip.


The head end of the Cape Flyer at Boston South Station


The Cape Flyer’s single level café car which also transports bicycles


The distinctive Cape Flyer logo on the side of the café car

    Boarding commenced at 7:45am as Amtrak’s overnight train from Newport News, VA pulled in across the platform.  About one minute before our 8:00am departure a trio of bicyclists sped down the platform just in time to stow their bikes in the cafe car.  Our route branched off from Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and assumed the most eastern route along lower Massachusetts.  At 8:10am we crossed the Neponset River with the MBTA Red Line paralleling through the southern Boston suburbs.  Back in the mid-1980s this bridge was out of service after a fire which necessitated Cape Cod service originating at Braintree during that period.  Three minutes later the Cape Flyer zipped past the Quincy Center Red Line stop where my ride to South Station had begun an hour earlier.


Crossing the Neponset River north of Quincy

    Our first stop, Braintree, came at 8:20am and a small group of passengers boarded.  We bid farewell to the Red Line which terminated at this point and soon passed the junction with the MBTA line to Plymouth.  The conductor soon announced there would be a delay as we held outside the Randolph-Holbrook station due to nearby police activity.  The delay was minimal and we breezed past the MBTA station at 8:35.  The view outside the windows alternated between suburban homes and churches and wooded terrain where autumn leaves gently fell as the train sped past.  At Bridgewater we rolled past the Bridgewater State University campus and a couple minutes later a CSX freight engine and a couple of MBTA train sets were noted in a small yard on the west side of our line.  A minute later we made our next stop, Middleboro/Lakeville which serves as the southern terminus of one of the MBTA commuter lines.  The Cape Flyer actually honors MBTA tickets as far south as this stop and a few regulars detrained at this stop.


The view at the Braintree stop


CSX freight engines in a small yard near Middleboro

    Shortly we passed the first of many cranberry bogs that would appear beside the railroad right-of-way, one of the novelties of this region as southeastern Massachusetts relies upon cranberry harvesting, tourism, and the fishing industry as mainstays of its economy.  Old Cape Cod Central passenger cars, including some rail diesel cars, appeared on the left side of our train at 9:16am and a few minutes later the historic Nantucket light ship appeared on the right docked in a harbor.  This ship was once used to guide marine vessels into port as it looks like a floating lighthouse. 


A pond between Middleboro and Buzzards Bay


A historic lightship (center left) in the harbor near Buzzards Bay


Pleasure boats in the harbor at Buzzards Bay

    The Cape Flyer’s next stop, Buzzards Bay, produced a couple more passengers as well as a couple of detraining passengers.  The old depot on the left still serves as a stop for the Cape Flyer.  Immediately after leaving Buzzards Bay the Cape Flyer traversed a classic bridge with gothic towers on either end as it crossed the Cape Cod Canal.  After crossing the bridge we curved left, away from the old line to Woods Hole, and paralleled the canal and a popular bicycle and jogging trail along the canal’s bank.  The Highway 28 bridge towered above us at 9:41am and we passed below the soaring Highway 3 bridge seven minutes later.  Compared to the MBTA line from Boston to Middleboro, this part of the Cape Flyer route travels at a leisurely pace of approximately 40 mph.


The gothic rail bridge over the Cape Cod Canal


A lobster restaurant at Buzzards Bay


Docked boats at Buzzards Bay


The Buzzards Bay station


The Cape Cod Canal seen from the railway bridge


A fishing boat plies the waters of the Cape Cod Canal


One of the two highway bridges crossing Buzzards Bay and a bicycle path along the canal

    After bearing away from the Cape Cod Canal, the railway passed several attractive homes, wooded street crossings, and numerous cranberry bogs as it traveled through the villages of Sandwich and West Barnstable.  Commercial development soon appeared as we made our way toward the end of the run and at 10:32am we pulled into Hyannis.  The Cape Cod Visitors Bureau building serves as the terminus for the Cape Flyer and several tourism personnel waited at trackside the assist passengers with their plans.  A few busses stood by to take passengers to the nearby ferry terminals linking the Cape with Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.  An Avis car rental office at one of the ferry terminals offers convenient pickup for rentals that facilitate sightseeing on Cape Cod.  Having visited the Cape previously, my destination was a bit different as I would drive to Connecticut to enjoy beautiful autumn scenery and ride commuter trains.  Many of my fellow passengers would enjoy a night or two on the Cape or on the nearby islands then catch the train back to Boston at the end of their visit.  Others were making a one-day visit and would return home on the same evening about eight hours after arriving in Hyannis.


An attractive Cape Cod home near Sandwich


One of the ponds seen along the Cape Flyer route


Cranberry bogs appear often along the Cape Flyer line

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