In the past five years, I have found myself in Atlantic City quite a lot, although not for the reasons most people are in Atlantic City. I doubt that in my life I have gambled even $50. No, my reasons for being in Atlantic City is that my significant other, Mary, has family in the area. (Yes, people actually live down there) As we visit there several times a year, we are always on the quest for an agreeable way to get down there. As car-free New Yorkers, driving is out of the question, so until recently we were limited to the bus. Atlantic City does not lack for bus service, and it's cheap. The downside is that much of the bus service is subsidized by the casinos. The standard practice of the bus service is to refund a portion of the bus fare upon arrival to the designated casino, but you don't get that refund until you walk through the casino floor and cash in your refund. In addition, the buses are overworked, overcrowded, and in many cases, filthy. This makes our travel down to Atlantic City not always pleasant. As someone who particularly enjoys traveling by train, I welcomed the addition of the new ACES (Atlantic City Express Service) train. For our most recent trip to the Atlantic City area, my significant other and I decided to use it. First of all, at $29 each way, the fares are very competitive. To give you an idea, Amtrak Service to Philadelphia is almost twice that much. Ditto Amtrak Service to Albany. And while it is more expensive than the busses the casinos operate, the ride is exponentially more pleasant. Although it is a joint venture between New Jersey Department of Transportation, and one of the casinos, booking and reservations are done through the Amtrak website. Because it is not an Amtrak train per se, Amtrak discounts (military discounts, AAA discounts etc) are not honored. Although there is a blank for the Amtrak Guest Rewards number (and as a member of the Amtrak Guest Rewards program, I entered it), whether rewards points will be awarded remains to be seen. The ACES train leaves from New York Penn Station, makes one stop in Newark, NJ, then runs express the rest of the way to Atlantic City. It runs two trains on Friday, three on Saturday, and two on Sunday. At this time, there is no weekday service. This means that when my significant other and I travel to or from Atlantic City on a weekday, we will still need to use the bus. The train uses bi-level (double decker) cars made by Bombardier. These are similar to the new commuter equipment that New Jersey transit uses on it's Capitol Line and its NJ Coast line. The big difference, however is that these coaches have been fitted with comfortable leather reclining seats with drop-down trays, similar to that of an airline. Two of the cars have first class seating on the upper level, two have standard seating on both levels. Entrance is at platform level to a mezzanine, and one can choose to sit on the upper level, or the lower level. However, one of the benefits of a double decker train is the view one gets from the top level. This is not lost on most passengers, so the upper level fills up first. Each car is equipped with a restroom on the mezzanine level, which is clean, but somewhat utilitarian. Also on the mezzanine level is a snack and beverage service, where one can purchase high quality snacks, sandwiches and (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) beverages. The prices are very reasonable; around $7 for a sandwich, $7 for a beer or wine, snacks vary. No cash is accepted at the snack bar, credit/debit cards only. The communication from the credit card machine to the server has not been perfected, so it is quite slow, however there was not much of a line, and there were at least three of these snack bars on the train. The quality of the sandwiches and the snacks were quite good (we chose pita chips and hummus) and a very good value. I was under the impression that the route the ACES train would take was down the New Jersey coast, all the way to Atlantic City. However, if follows the route of the Capitol Line, through Trenton and almost to Philadelphia. It wyes into North Philadelphia, then goes in reverse for the remainder of the trip. For myself and Mary, this is problematic. While I can ride in either direction, Mary can get motion sick riding backwards. For this reason we always choose forward facing seats. On this train, there are an equal number of seats facing in either direction. However, changing seats on a fully booked train is not possible, so we did have to ride backwards from North Philly to Atlantic City. Mary, however handled it gallantly. There are, however, seats at the end of each car which face each other, so if you have this issue, and are lucky enough to board the train early you might be lucky enough to score these seats, and do a "trade" when the train switches direction. Because of the indirect route it takes, the ride is almost three hours. However, it goes fast, especially if you avail yourself of the on board amenities (food, beverage service). I would like to see service going down the coast, as it would likely shave an hour off the trip. Weekday service would also be nice. However, both of these ideas may not be realistic. I am not sure whether there are even tracks all the way down the coast and even if there were if NJ transit would be able to get the right to use them. Weekday service may not happen any time soon either, because the Capitol line is already so congested. One can only hope. One idea that is actually doable is to have some mechanism to reserve seats. This way, there is no "jockeying" for seats at boarding, and one can board the train with the knowledge that their seat is safe. This would make boarding more safe and orderly. This is very good service and it has a lot of potential. This would also be a good business model for other rail service as well. From what I could see, ridership was strong; the train we were on was fully booked. Amtrak could take a few pointers from this service. I hope this service continues to grow and improve.
New York, NY