When the first CapeFlyer left the station on Memorial Day weekend, there wasn't a doubt in Thomas Cahir's mind that the weekend train service to Cape Cod would prove successful in its first summer.
But as the passenger totals came in and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey was inspired to extend the service past Labor Day to Columbus Day weekend, the train became almost too successful for Cahir, administrator of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority.
"Quite frankly, we didn't want to do that," Cahir said Friday, at the beginning of the final weekend of the CapeFlyer's inaugural season. "We said to the secretary that we wanted to run a pilot program for 15 weeks. We knew that, after Labor Day, the ridership would go down."
The CapeFlyer made its last run of the season on Monday, leaving Hyannis for Boston at 6:30 p.m.
At 11:10 a.m. Monday, the last inbound CapeFlyer train of the season pulled into the Hyannis Transportation Center. Among the 35 passengers were Barbara and Glenn Shadduck, who live in a suburb of Seattle, Wash. The couple had picked up the train in Braintree. They were a little confused about the schedule for Columbus Day and what time the train would depart from Braintree for the Cape. Still, the ride down had made them very happy, seeing the cranberry bogs and Cape houses and more.
"It was just delightful," Barbara Shadduck said. They were headed to Mashpee for a four-day visit, after a one-day stop in the Boston area. "We're thrilled to be here," Shadduck said.
The Shadducks didn't have as much company on the CapeFlyer as they would have in midsummer.
Ridership slipped from a high of about 2,300 on Fourth of July weekend to about 1,000 per weekend the rest of July and August, Cahir said. Just as he predicted, it dipped below 1,000 passengers — to between 300 and 500 — per weekend since Labor Day.
But the drop-off has done little to sour a summer that generated nearly $300,000 in revenue — about $100,000 more than what was necessary to break even on the service's approximately $200,000 annual operating cost. (The annual operating cost was previously estimated at between $180,000 and $190,000, but expanded service accounted for the increase, Cahir said.)
By Monday, about 17,000 passengers had ridden the CapeFlyer.
"It was still such a success that it didn't matter," Cahir said. "Even if nobody rode it in the fall, it would have been fine."
While hesitant to expand the service too quickly, Cahir said the lessons from this summer have led him to believe a third stop could be called for on the Cape's side of the Cape Cod Canal.
About 25 percent of CapeFlyer passengers were bound either for Falmouth or the Islands. And while buses were ready to transport passengers off to destinations such as the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority docks, Cahir said a third train stop near the Bourne Bridge could shave 20 minutes off the trip to Falmouth.
"We have to talk to the secretary and governor about that stuff," Cahir said.
The additional stop is the only "significant tweak" he's suggesting for 2014.
But Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the Cape's Regional Transit Authority considers a Thursday evening run from South Station, or perhaps an earlier trip on Fridays. That would allow even more passengers to enjoy the stunning Cape Cod Canal vistas over a glass of wine rather than sitting in summer traffic, she said.
"I think we could bump it up an extra day at least," Northcross said. "The second season will be easier to market because people will say, 'Oh yeah, I kind of heard about it last year.' It's not a commuter train; it's really an excursion, a part of a getaway experience. I think a Thursday evening train would be profitable."
Cahir said a discussion has already started in Boston about bringing other kinds of train service to the Cape.
Cahir, a former House co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, said the legislator currently holding that post, Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, has discussed bringing commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay.