Atlantic City Express Service (ACES)
February 14, 2009
with additional commentary in blue by
Photos by Jishnu Mukerji, Stephen Montero
and Alan Burden
Click small photos to see larger
There was a whole day of riding the rails with AlanB; I will get to the rest of that day’s activities at some other point. I thought I would take the moment now to write (as best I can) a report about ACES on its second weekend of operation since there is a lot of interest.
Stephen and I met just outside the Club Acela entrance in New York's Penn Station and then used my Select Plus status to gain us entry for a bit, while we waited for our departure time to get closer. After enjoying some refreshments and relaxing for a bit, we headed out of the lounge to await the posting of the track number.
Alan and I boarded ACES Train 7171 at around 9:10 AM on track #2. Down on the platform we met up with Jishnu Mukerji (jis). He would soon be seated in First Class which was the last car on the train. We tried to board in the coach section of seats closest to first class, but were sent back down the platform to board at the first car. Whatever, the guy at the door could have just said walk left into a coach instead.
When we walked onto the car we found a pair of seats, and noted that upstairs there are several large luggage racks. For most people they were needed to store their bags. We however were only planning to be in Atlantic City for 40 minutes; so no large bags with us.
First impression of the new leather seats: very nice in terms of cushioning, not so much in the leg room department though. There was the same amount of space as the regular NJT Multi-Level cars, which was a little disappointing. Then we began to look through the things in the seat back in front of us.
This part surprised me, as it showed that there was a marketing team that thought things through pretty well. The rules were written in a comical way; see the photo to the left and transcribed text at the bottom of the report. The menu also had clever gambling and railroad related items.
There was a fold down tray table in the seat back. With the lack of leg room I have a feeling larger customers would have trouble getting the tray table down and using it comfortably.
After a brief hiccup getting out, a problem with the controls in the P40 diesel engine, ACES Train number 7171 was rolling away toward Atlantic City. At its one stop in Newark Penn Station, I was surprised to see a good number of people boarding.
This is also where we switched to Diesel power. Since apparently the P40’s that NJT got from Amtrak are not the best and they want to be sure they can get them going before the trains get stuck somewhere else. Eventually the power came back on and the switch from our electric motor to the diesel motor was complete. It was now time to rip down the Northeast Corridor.
An announcement was made that we were doing the corridor at about 100 M.P.H. and in the multilevel cars there was some sway but not too much. We were zipping right along. It was quite pleasant as I reclined my seat and saw the commuter stations whiz by.
Somewhere before Jersey Avenue Jishnu came up from First Class to proclaim he had received a free breakfast at the fault of the credit card machine. Alan and I were surprised that the meal was not included in the first class upgrade fee. The only difference from coach was that it was brought to your seat for you. Jishnu, Alan, and I talked various things about NJT and the new Multi-Level cars and such as we continued down the Northeast corridor.
About 20 minutes after crossing the Delaware River and entering Pennsylvania the train slowed for Shore Interlocking, a junction with another rail line, many switches, and a sharp curve right before the interlocking. At this point one is actually within the city limits of Philadelphia, even though downtown is still a good 5 miles away. Amtrak with money provided from NJT recently rebuilt and replaced all the switches and track in this area for the ACES service.
Because of the sharp curve and buildings that are in the way, the train cannot just turn off onto the branch leading to Atlantic City. Instead our train pulled off onto to a rebuilt siding on the right side of the corridor. We sat in that siding for a good 20 minutes, all of which is in the plan. During that time, the engineer moved from the diesel engine at what had been the front of our train, to the electric engine that had been trailing us. Even though it wasn't providing the power, the electric engine would now lead our train to AC.
After coming to rest in the siding we moved to the lower level so we could face the new direction of travel down the Atlantic City Line. As with the typical NJT Multi-Level cars there was no overhead luggage rack on the lower level, just fold down coat hooks. I thought for ACES there might be overhead racks down there. There were more central luggage racks though which was good. No matter, we just put our jackets and bags on the set of seats across from us.
Also during that time we watched a few Amtrak trains go by, as well a SEPTA train. Addtionally we saw a sister ACES train come off the AC line and pull up next to us and stop on what is the normal southbound local track to Philly. Just like our crew changed ends, the northbound ACES train crew changed ends before heading north to NYC.
A local Atlantic City train went first and we thought wow that’s stupid now we will have to ride on his heels for the entire ride. Turns out it didn't matter as we sat for another 10 or so minutes to let an Acela go past. Giving the local train a good head start, and assuming nothing happened to him, we would not be slowed down by him.
Shortly after that Acela Express went by, we pulled out of the siding, crossed over the 4 mainline tracks of the Northeast Corridor on the new switches, and onto the Atlantic City line. Within minutes we were once again crossing the Delaware River on the Delair Bridge heading back into New Jersey, having spent less than 45 minutes in PA. The bridge provides some very nice views of downtown Philly.
The Atlantic City line is a mix of almost all things, some industries around Philly, then wooded areas, and in some places subdivisions. It was a nice run either way.
The station is pretty basic with a one store "food court" and some seats for waiting. Not really an issue since we would not be there for very long. Jishnu, Alan, and I chatted until our train was called. Jishnu, waiting for the next ACES train back to NY, parted with us here to go find some lunch.
My thoughts on ACES, well if I was one who could gamble maybe it would have more meaning to me. To me it was just a great excuse to spend a day rail fanning. The cars were well done, but I was surprised that there was not an increase in foot room over the usual Multi-Level cars. Being able to recline a little made up for that. The offerings in terms of food looked pretty good, although I did not have anything. They do serve Coke, which is interesting. I hope that it lasts as a way for people to go down to Atlantic City.
I agree with Stephen, in that I felt that NJT should have put a bit more pitch into the seating plan. It probably would have resulted in 8 fewer seats per car, but it would have been a good idea for these cars as the ride is a bit long and the extra leg room would have been appreciated. Otherwise, at least in my humble opinion, ACES is a much better alternative to the buses that run to AC or driving. It will cost more than the buses, but one can get up and walk around, one has food nearby, several roomy bathrooms close at hand, and the ride is far more relaxing.
Also for those considering the service, it should be noted that shuttle buses meet the train to carry you the last few blocks from the train station to the casinos that help to sponsor the ACES service. If you're not heading to one of those casinos, then you'll have to ride to the closest casino and then walk. When you're finished for the day, or the weekend, shuttle buses will carry you back to the station to meet the next train back to NYC.
1) Trafficking bad vibes into to AC is strictly prohibited
2) It's illegal to travel with an ice cream cone in your pocket.
3) While it's normal to have grand affinity for ACES, proposing marriage to a conductor is strictly prohibited.
4) Deposit your beverage container in the proper receptacle. Failure to do so will result in passerby filling your cup with pennies and pocket lint.
5) When speaking into a cellular device, be aware that there could potentially be other passengers on the train, some of which may not want to hear the details of your love life projected at 25 decibels.
6) Eat by chewing [move jaw up and down in a repetitive motion]. But be sensitive to other passengers – they have nasal passages, so please avoid pungent foods such as hardboiled eggs.
7) Read at your leisure, but it’s best that you not read aloud. “Harken thy beauty”, is one phrase, amongst a great many, that is probably best left echoing in your head.
8) Monkeys: interesting mammal, lousy travel partners.
9) Although you may possess supreme card-playing abilities, it’s customary to let others in your party win as well [until you arrive at the casinos of course].
10) If you are the best storyteller in your group, please remember it is good social protocol to pause occasionally – breathe [important] and give others the opportunity to speak.
11) While the term lounge implies, “a relaxed environment,” let’s not forget proper posture and recede into a “bum-like slouch.”
12) Staring at a newspaper is a great way to prove your literacy to others. But to really give others the impression of refinement, dispose of the newspaper properly. Otherwise, you’d be littering.
13) This is America so go ahead and chew gum. But after the gum loses flavor, do not squish it under your armrest. Despite what you may have heard, that method of disposal is still not cool and is generally insensitive.
14) Casually sipping an alcoholic beverage shows maturity. But do not imbibe to excess: you will lose your wits, the respect of others and your privilege to ride.