The drive between Boston and Cape Cod can be 60-plus miles of nightmare, depending on the time of day and road conditions, as surprised commuters discovered on Mother’s Day, when construction allowed only limited access to the Sagamore Bridge. That work should wind down by the end of the month, but seasonal slowdowns await. So it’s disappointing that a plan to extend weekend service on the MBTA’s Middleboro commuter rail line to Hyannis this summer has been shelved for now. The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority’s decision to wait until next year seems reasonable, based on the need to make the service as reliable as possible at the outset. But the sooner the Cape tourist train arrives, the better.
Of the more than 230,000 commuters to the Cape every summer weekend, many don’t need cars, as they often meet up with friends or family, or head off on ferries to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. But right now, the only mass-transit options to the Cape are buses, which make the trek alongside all the other cars, and the popular Boston-Provincetown ferry. A train ride to Hyannis would be more convenient for many. And any travel option that takes vehicles off the roads during peak tourist season has benefits for the environment, for other drivers, and for everyone’s sanity.
The regional transit authority’s plan, floating around since last year, is modest: It calls for one or two MBTA trains to leave South Station on Friday evening for Hyannis, a round-trip train on Saturday, and one or two trains coming back to Boston on Sunday. Despite all the concerns about the MBTA’s budget woes, it’s unlikely to add to the debt. The regional transit authority claims the new line would be cost-neutral. In fact, it could ease the debt by increasing ridership. The demand seems to be there; a March report by the Transportation Planning and Resource Group says the service would increase tourism revenue for the Cape as a whole by $1 million. Some of that would come back to the two transit agencies.
Launching the line requires some capital investments. Tracks need to be updated to ensure they could handle a commuter rail train. (The only trains now running regularly are dinner trains and a train that hauls away the Cape’s trash.) And the T, which just announced cuts to weekend service for three commuter lines but spared Middleboro’s, wants more assurances that an expansion wouldn’t worsen its fiscal problems. Given these uncertainties and the fast-approaching tourist season, delaying the train launch probably makes sense. But there’s no good reason it shouldn’t be up and running next year.