Former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis and Cape Cod Central Railroad President and CEO John Kennedy have each proposed ideas to connect Middleboro to the Cape at a fraction of the cost of extending MBTA service from Boston to New Bedford and Fall River.
Train advocates are hoping to re-connect Cape Cod and Boston through Middleboro, saying two proposed solutions would cost a fraction of other rail plans.
Former governor Michael Dukakis, a professor at Northeastern University and champion of public transportation, met with Gov. Deval Patrick Wednesday.
Dukakis said he had a dozen topics he hoped to broach, including the idea of using state-owned railroad tracks between Bourne and Middleboro to relieve traffic congestion on Cape Cod.
In Bourne, riders could board the Cape Cod Central Railroad, which currently offers dinner trains and scenic rides to Hyannis.
At the least, Dukakis sees it as a temporary solution before a proposed permanent rail line would be built between Boston and New Bedford and Fall River.
"I want people to be able to get to the Cape without leaving at midnight," Dukakis said.
He estimated that extending the MBTA rail line from Middleboro to Bourne and Wareham would cost about $75 million - a far cry from the $1.4 billion proposal to build a permanent rail extension to New Bedford and Fall River.
That project, if approved, has an estimated completion date of 2017. "I might not be around by then," said Dukakis, 73.
The new trains would connect the privately owned Cape Cod Central Railroad to the Middleboro commuter rail station, using 18 miles of railroad tracks that have been relatively well-maintained since they received a $60 million upgrade in the 1970s from the Dukakis administration.
The Old Colony commuter rail line travels from Middleboro through Bridgewater, Brockton and Holbrook on its way to South Station in Boston.
Cape Cod Central Railroad President and CEO John Kennedy has proposed an even less expensive plan that wouldn't extend the MBTA line, but just connect to it in Middleboro using smaller trains on unused railbed between the end of the Cape Cod Central Railroad in Bourne and the MBTA station in Middleboro.
He describes the proposed "Mass Coaster" line, as a "feeder rail" for the Cape that would have less of an impact on the environment than new construction and large trains.
Kennedy estimated the project would cost between $3 million and $5 million to launch, and less than $2 million a year to maintain.
"There is an enormous appetite for more modal choice, not just to New Bedford and Fall River, but all through southeastern Massachusetts," Kennedy said.
Kennedy has informally proposed the plan to several regional and local transportation-oriented and civic groups, and said he's heard nothing but positive responses.
"The problem is that the state is suffering from one heck of a shortfall," Kennedy said.
Since Patrick took office, political support for railroad improvements is on the rise, but the amount of money available is not.
State Rep. Susan Williams Gifford, R-Wareham, said a study completed early this year documents "not only a significant increase in commuters who would utilize this line since the time of the last study but also numbers substantial enough to warrant the pursuit of the Wareham-Buzzards Bay extension."
Steve Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), said he's not sure if a rail line that ultimately connects to Boston from the Cape would preclude any rail extensions to Fall River or New Bedford - or if they would exacerbate congestion issues between Brockton and Boston.
But SRPEDD has supported the idea since it was first proposed in 2000, he said, and in May state Reps. Gifford and William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, and state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, sent the governor a letter supporting a rail connection between Middleboro and Buzzards Bay.
Gifford said the connection between Wareham and Buzzards Bay appears to be the wild card in determining the project's cost.
"There are concerns with the available land for adequate parking, which would lead to cost increases and some environmental concerns that could cause delays, possibly even long term," she said.
Taking that into account, she estimates the project cost at between $40 million and $50 million.
A railway connection from Bourne or Wareham to Middleboro could also reduce the potential automobile traffic from the Cape to a casino in Middleboro, if one is put there.
Dukakis said he's "not a fan" of the proposed casino, and felt the environmental benefits of the extended railway speak for themselves.
Rebecca Starcevic of The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.