The history of trains on Cape Cod that spans back over 100 years. With approximately 100 miles of track between 2 railroads, running freight and a heritage passenger line, the story of trains of Cape Cod will present you with a living historical connection to the last two centuries. While trains are less prevalent on the Cape than they were, there’s still plenty of opportunity to gain experience about trains in the area and what they were used for, as well as a fun experience rooted in local history. For the person in your life who loves trains or history, or those simply looking for a unique and fun experience, checking out the trains of Cape Cod is a wonderful idea!
A History of Trains on Cape Cod
The history of railroads on Cape Cod begins in the 1840s. A militia Colonel and industrial/business pioneer named Richard Borden started the Cape Cod Branch Railroad in order to bring traffic and economic opportunity to the area. The first section, a 14.7 mile stretch of track between Middleborough and Wareham, was laid in 1848. In May of the same year, another 12.9 miles were added to the railroad to connect Boston and Sandwich. Growth continued throughout the Cape, and Richard Borden went on to be elected as president of Cape Cod Railroad after it was renamed. From the 1890s through the late 1900s, the railroad faced a number of acquisitions, renaming, and expansions (Including closures during World War II) until the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad company that was leasing the Cape Cod division closed operations in 1964. No trains ran on Cape Cod for around 20 years, until Cape Cod and Hyannis Railroad began operations in 1984, though their venture was short-lived, closing in 1988. Amtrak had a summer weekend operation running between New York and Hyannis from 1986-1996. Another slew of attempted heritage operations occurred, and many of the tracks were replaced by “rail trails.” Today, The Cape Cod Central Railroad runs a tourist passenger service, and Massachusetts Central Railroad runs freight rail operations that began in 2007.
Cape Cod Central Railroad
Cape Cod Central Railroad is primarily a tourist operation that runs from May through October. They have five locomotives, and offer a number of fun, exploratory, scenic, and educational outings, including narrated excursions, brunch and dinner trains, and special events like wine tastings and musical events, or holiday celebrations. There are regular departures from Hyannis and select other locations. You’ll travel through Cape Cod, seeing unique views of sand dunes, salt marshes, woodlands, Cape Cod Canal, and the bay. For train lovers and history buffs, there are a number of historic locomotives and cars, including a lounge car from 1917 named the Cape Codder. With choices ranging from a narrated, historic experience to romantic evenings and meals as you travel through Cape Cod, there’s a wonderful option for everyone.
Mass Coastal Railroad
Mass Coastal Railroad runs freight operations in Cape Cod, using about 60 miles of track to provide personalized, integrated freight and logistical
services 5 days a week. Shippers can use a number of climate-controlled warehousing, cross-dock, steel, and lumber reloads, public tracks, and bulk transportation services. They move a number of products, including plastics, chemicals, aggregates, building materials, foods, and more.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail
The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a 27.5-mile trail that was formerly railroads, and is now used for walking, biking, horseback riding, and other enjoyable excursions along this former freight and passenger line. Tracks were removed throughout the 1900s, especially during closures in the 1960s. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation purchased the railroad corridor for preservation in the 1970s following the collapse of Penn Central Railroad. This 27.5-mile portion was converted into trails for public use and historical preservation, and it’s used to this day as a community hub and active space. While trains obviously no longer run on the trail, its roots in Cape Cod’s railway history make it a notable historical space.
Trains on Cape Cod have a long, interesting history, and the tangible nature of it makes it a highlight for any history and train lover in your life. Whether you’re a train enthusiast yourself, or you’re just looking for a unique night out, the trains on Cape Cod and their history offer an option suitable for everyone. The cozy and scenic Cape Cod Central Railroad is a wonderful option for families, dates, or historical excursions, and anyone with shipping needs may find what they’re looking for with the Mass Central Railroad. Point being, whatever your needs, even if you don’t plan to check out the trains and you just want some entertainment, this storied railway area is a deeply interesting story that can be felt when you’re in Cape Cod today.