One of the most interesting locations that railroads have been built to is Cape Cod. The road that operated to CapeCod was part of the New York, New Haven & Hartford. Any D&H fan who objects to stories about the New Haven in a Delaware & Hudson magazine had very quickly review the history of the two roads to understand the close financial relationship and the many interlocking directors.
The railroad era came to Cape Cod in 1848 when a road was built from Middleboro on the mainland to Sandwich on the Cape. It was built primarily to serve the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. The Cape Cod Railroad extended itself to Hyannis in 1854 and after the Civil War the Cape Cod Central Railroad went on to Orleans and Wellfleet. It was taken over by the Old Colony RR in 1872 which extended the line to Provincetown in 1873 and pushed tracks into Woods Hole. The New Haven Railroad leased the Old Colony in 1893. The glass company only lasted until the 1880’s, but other industry supported freight service. Passenger service became important by the end of the 19th Century as the Cape became a resort area.
Provincetown tracks ended in the center of town at a large wharf. There was also a freight shed at the front of the wharf. Fish trains were loaded there and cars went all over the country. Double tracks went to the shed and a single track to the end of the wharf. The station and some storage tracks were in the center of town and a spur track about a mile away served to turn locomotives. The wharf is gone and the tracks paved over, but some traces of the yard can still be found. A spur at North Truro went right onto the sand dunes and was used to load sand cars for several glass factories.
After the Civil War, two trains a day ran to Middleboro where there were connections to Boston. Until 1918, there was a summer weekend train called the “Dude Train”. It left Boston’s South Station and ran to Woods Hole where it connected with the Martha’s Vineyard steamer. By World War I, there were ten daily trains from Boston. Trains also ran from Fall River and there were several shuttle trains on the Cape. Engine changes at Buzzards Bay were common. From Buzzards Bay, trains went to either Provincetown or Woods Hole.
Through the 1920’s, rail was the main form of transportation on the Cape. Even during the winter, there were two trains from Boston to Provincetown. Hyannis had two trains and Woods Hole three. Shuttle activity included trains to Chatham over a branch constructed by the Chatham Railroad. Good passenger traffic continued right into the Depression with the only changes being more Hyannis and less Provincetown trains. Strong rail service resulted in the demand for a better rail bridge to the Cape.
Is there a more majestic train bridge than the one that spans the Cape Cod canal? It was built during the Depression by a powerful railway which served a popular and growing Cape Cod. Even so, the bridge was late in the history of Cape Cod rail travel.
By 1938, air-conditioned trains to Cape Cod were introduced but service beyond Yarmouth was shuttle-only. The branch from Harwich to Chatham was abandoned and through trains to Woods Hole were dropped in favor of connections from Buzzards Bay. Trains to Provincetown became an on again off again service. By 1951, Budd RDC’s took over winter duties with such trains as the “Cranberry Special” (led by a bright red diesel) summer-only.
Specials to Cape Cod ran from New York also. The “Cape Codder” and the “Neptune” became even more popular when Fall River steamers to Manhattan ended in 1938. The “Neptune” went to Hyannis but dropped cars for Woods Hole at Buzzards Bay. The “Cape Codder” began in 1926 and was an overnighter.
The late 1950’s saw a sharp decline in passenger travel as automobiles became more popular (the Bourne and Sagamore bridges to Cape Cod were no where as overloaded as they are today). Specials from New York were dropped in 1959 but revived out of Grand Central until 1964. Boston service was dropped when the Neponset River Bridge burned in 1960.
Tracks from Eastham to Provincetown were removed in 1960 and then cut back to South Dennis in 1966. Much of this line is a bike path. The Hyannis roundhouse is a nightclub. Track from Falmouth to Woods Hole were abandoned and the rail yard turned into a ferry parking lot. Both freight and passenger service continue to the Cape. Even Amtrak runs weekend specials.
Penney Vanderbilt covers the new Cape Code rail service starting in 2013
Getting to the Cape
No, you couldn’t take a train to Cape Cod for quite a while, but see 2013 story above
Yes, you used to be able to take a train to Cape Cod for a lot of years and now it is back
Even Amtrak used to run to Cape Cod
Now you will be able to take a train to Cape Cod
Sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? Mapquest will show you in a minute. Only problem is there are only two bridges and they both get flooded with cars in the summer. Even the roads on the Cape get choked. Why spoil your weekend/vacation with that aggrevation?
Cape Cod Web has a flight planner.
or see the companies below:
Cape Cod Rails
Remains of the New Haven’s activities on Cape Cod past South Dennis are not too evident any more. One piece of evidence I have seen of the railroad is at the Truro General Store, where a cement post with ‘W’ inscribed in it still stands. The track through Wellfleet and Truro was abandoned in 1960, when the New Haven cut back to North Eastham. The right of way used to be visible in many places, including just north and south of Wellfleet center. In the late 1960’s in Truro-Wellfleet it was a long rural walk and railroad artifacts still existed (ties, crossing signs, etc). In Provincetown the ROW was still very evident and a favorite area for wandering people to take a stroll with a sleeping bag and sleep overnight. From Provincetown southbound the ROW went through ‘shifting sand dune” territory so it disappeared quickly. You can still trace the ROW through Wellfleet. From the crossing at Rte 6, near Bay Sales, it goes northwest towards town and you can see the remnants of the old bridge near the long gone oyster houses. From there it goes through the parking lot of the Lobster Pot restaurant, crosses Commercial St. and curves right round the back of the Bradford Apartments building. The cut there is pretty well filled in but traces of the ROW are still visible from the back road to the landfill. It crosses the highway a number of times all the way to Truro and at Pamet Harbor the remnants of the old bridge as well as the ROW are still visible. The track between South Dennis and North Eastham (called Hastings by the NH) lasted until 1965. Sand was the main business, and a train ran a couple times a week. Orleans had a freight station staffed by an agent right up to the end. The abandoned ROW from present end of track at South Dennis (Rt. 134 crossing) as far as South Wellfleet (Lecount Hollow Rd. crossing)— about 25 miles! — is a paved bikeway. Beyond there it is overgrown. It is, and has been for a while, the dream of a number of Cape Cod individuals and organizations to finish the bikeway the remaining distance to Provincetown. This is easy to do in some places, but not in others, as there are some encroachments on the ROW.
To put some of these places in perspective: Yarmouth mileage 0.00; South Dennis 5.61; Hastings 24.11; Provincetown 44.23.
For more information on Cape Cod, visit Cape Cod Rails.
Here’s a picture of the Cape Cod Bridge at Buzzards Bay.
This is Woods Hole in the early 1900’s