On January 26, 1848, the first section of the Cape Cod Branch Railroad opened in southeastern Massachusetts. The 14.7-mile section ran between the towns of Middleborough and Wareham in Plymouth County. By May of that year, an additional 12.9 miles of railroad track had been added, extending the railroad to the town of Sandwich on Cape Cod.
“The main track is now completed, and in good running order, and well equipped,” noted the Cape Cod Branch Railroad Company in its 1849 annual report to the Massachusetts legislature.
Incorporated in 1846, the railroad was built to connect with the Fall River Railroad, which linked the towns of Fall River in Bristol County and South Braintree in the Boston area via Middleborough. The Old Colony Railroad linked South Braintree and Boston.
Therefore, the Cape Cod Branch Railroad was part of a larger rail network within Massachusetts that provided unimpeded transit service between Cape Cod and the state capital for the first time.
A key proponent of the Cape Cod Branch Railroad was Colonel Richard Borden, who was a prominent businessman and civic leader in Fall River. He viewed the railroad as a way to bring additional traffic and economic opportunities to Fall River.
Further extension and a name change
In 1853 the railroad was extended further into Cape Cod. It reached West Barnstable, a seaside village. Early in 1854 the railroad was renamed the Cape Cod Railroad. During the summer of 1854 the railroad’s rail line was extended to Hyannis, one of Cape Cod’s major commercial hubs. That was followed in the fall by the start of a steamboat service that linked Hyannis and the Cape Cod Railroad with the island of Nantucket.
A merger, a name change and a further extension
In 1872 the Old Colony Railroad acquired the Cape Cod Railroad. It became the Old Colony’s “Cape Cod Division.” In 1873, 25 years after the Cape Cod Railroad was founded, the railroad was extended to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod.
In 1893 the Old Colony Railroad was acquired and became part of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H). The NYNH&H ended daily passenger rail service to Cape Cod in 1959. However, it did offer seasonal rail service to Cape Cod during the summer season between 1960 and 1964.
From 1986-96, Amtrak offered passenger service from Boston to Cape Cod during the summer months. Since 2013, the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority – in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority – has been operating the Cape Flyer passenger rail service between Boston and Cape Cod each summer.