The Cape Cod Commission’s Cape Rail Study Advisory Group held its second meeting on the prospect of extending commuter rail to the Cape. Bourne town officials and residents expressed optimism and appreciation over continued efforts by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to bring commuter rail to Buzzards Bay.
Views and ideas were expressed during a public meeting of the advisory group, held remotely on Wednesday, June 9. It was the second meeting of the advisory group following its initial meeting last November.
The Cape Rail Study is led by MassDOT and assisted by a consultant team. The study is designed to evaluate the potential for extending year-round passenger rail service to Cape Cod with connections to the communities of Middleborough and Wareham.
Benjamin Muller is the regional planning coordinator and study manager for MassDOT. Mr. Muller said the goals of extending commuter rail down to Buzzards Bay are multifaceted. He said those goals range from providing safe and reliable public transportation options to the Cape to reducing motor vehicle usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
Two different plans have been proposed by MassDOT. Alternative 1 provides service with connections from Buzzards Bay to Middleborough and Wareham. Alternative 2 would also provide a round trip in the middle of the day from Boston to Buzzards Bay and back as well as services that cross the canal to the platform under the Bourne Bridge.
Mr. Muller said that studies show Alternative 1 would reduce more than 3,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, while Alternative 2 would save more than 5,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was widely lauded by town officials, including Assistant Town Administrator Glenn D. Cannon.
“I’m very excited about the emission reductions,” Mr. Cannon said. “I think that’s a very positive thing for Cape Cod.”
Bourne Selectwoman Judith M. Froman also serves as a member of the Cape Cod Metropolitan Planning Organization. Ms. Froman also highlighted the decrease in auto emissions as a positive aspect of plans for commuter rail to the Cape.
“Just noticing how much emission is cut back, I think, is just tremendous,” she said. “I know that Cape-wide there’s been a lot of discussion about that, so I applaud that number, and anything we can do to quantify it even more would be great.”
The number of riders varies depending on each option, Mr. Muller said. Under Alternative 1, approximately 1,710 people are estimated, with a corresponding reduction in vehicle trips of 800 per day. Alternative 2 goes even higher with estimates of 2,540 riders and nearly 1,200 fewer vehicle trips daily.
The anticipated travel time from Boston to Buzzards Bay would be 93 minutes. Reaching Middleborough would take 31 minutes. Bourne Selectwoman Mary Jane Mastrangelo said she has driven to Middleboro and Kingston for commutes into Boston. While the travel time from Buzzards Bay may seem longer, she said, drive time and potential traffic issues getting to Middleboro are a great equalizer.
“I would much rather drive to south of the Canal or Buzzards Bay,” she said, as opposed to Middleborough. “I think I would definitely choose that alternative.”
Mr. Muller said the intent of commuter rail to the Cape is also to strengthen the local economy and encourage a transit-oriented community by providing access to employment in the Boston area.
Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority director Thomas S. Cahir concurred. Mr. Cahir called Buzzards Bay “a perfect example of a transit-oriented development community” and complimented the town’s leadership for bringing new restaurants, hotels and senior facilities to the downtown business district.
“The village of Buzzards Bay is small,” he said, “but there are a lot of facilities within walking distance of the rail station that folks could use to get to Boston and back.”
Costs associated with Alternative 1 include $56 million for installation of signal systems; $16.5 million for track and right-of-way expenses; and $6.5 million for a new Middleborough station. The total cost under Alternative 1 comes to $79 million.
The cost is higher for Alternative 2 at $87 million in total. The increased expense is due to more track segments, system upgrades and interfacing the service with the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge.
Criticism has been lobbed at town officials for joining the MBTA at an annual cost of $40,000, assessed on the town’s cherry sheet. Some residents have chided the town for paying thousands of dollars for nothing in return, specifically the arrival of commuter rail in Buzzards Bay.
Bourne Board of Selectmen chairman Peter J. Meier said the membership in the MBTA, which is necessary for the extension of commuter rail to the Cape, is an investment in Bourne’s future. Mr. Meier also noted that commuter rail will be crucial to providing alternative transportation means when construction begins of the new Cape Cod Canal bridges and access to the current bridges becomes limited.
“Hopefully, if possible, any sort of south coast rail service can be offered as the construction’s going on, so we can get those people’s cars off the road, and get up to Boston and back safely.”
Clint Richmond of the Massachusetts Sierra Club said his group has been advocating for connecting all of Massachusetts via passenger rail. Mr. Richmond commended MassDOT for its efforts at extending south coast rail. He added that usage of commuter rail and the expected resulting decrease in auto emissions, while presented that night in annual numbers, could have an even greater seasonal effect.
“The benefits in reductions from auto traffic during the summer season will be much higher,” he said, “and, I think, more welcome.”
David J. McPherson is chairman of the Bourne Town Administrator’s Pedestrian Bicycle Pathway Advisory Committee. Mr. McPherson’s group is tasked with extending the Shining Sea Bikeway from North Falmouth to the Cape Canal Canal.
Mr. McPherson said the results presented in the study make it clear that extending commuter rail to the Cape is “definitely feasible and financially viable.” He also suggested that, rather than referring to the options as Alternatives 1 and 2, they should be looked upon as Phases 1 and 2.
“Rather than one or the other,” he said, “let’s do one first and then the other.”
The Cape Rail Study’s next steps involve exploring system-wide changes within the MBTA. That could include a focus on commuter patterns and the preference for working at home in the aftermath of the pandemic. The advisory group will also be scheduling future meetings for additional public input.