Monday, February 2, 2009

Riding the Rails on ACES

On Friday, I took a test ride on ACES, the new Atlantic City to New York City luxury train that starts operating this Friday. It was a media ride, meaning the only folks on the train were those writing about it and promoting it. I'd like to test it when it's in full swing to see what passengers think -- but after hours on the train, I give it a thumbs up.

The train, which is being subsidized by Harrah's, Caesar's and the Borgata, is nice. VERY nice. They took an NJ Transit car and tricked it out with plush leather seats (even in coach), bar cars, and even lounges that you can reserve if you're coming on the train with more than four people.

I took a few pictures but can't find the little do hickey that lets me upload the photos, so here's the press pictures (which are better than mine anyway). Here's first class:



And coach:



I tested the first class and coach seats -- even the coach seats are better than coach on Amtrak, and about the kinds of seats you'd find on an Acela train.

Here's that lounge:



It's meant to be a mini party area -- you can hook up your ipod to play tunes for your group.

The concept makes sense. If you live in New York, the only way to get to Atlantic City is by car, bus or limo -- for someone who relies on public transit to get around, making that trip in the dead of summer traffic is a nightmare (it's not much better from Philadelphia, but we're more likely to have cars, and NJ Transit already runs a train to Atlantic City). ACES is supposed to help people jump over that hurdle. The train times give a clear indication of the demographic they're going after: trains leave from Atlantic City at 2:32 a.m. so you could go out and come home without having to stay over (if I could pick one train ride to test while the train's in operation, that would be it...)

The question is: are people going to pay for it? Coach tickets are $50 one way; first class $75. The casino officials who mixed and mingled with the reporters said that they're not necessarily looking to turn a profit on the train -- they want to get more people to the casino so that they spend money there. It's a way of getting more bodies (and cash) into town. And if you're paying $100 to get to and from Atlantic City, you're most likely a cash customer -- someone who doesn't expect to be comped everything in exchange for playing the nickel slots. It's also a weekend only service.

You can read more at acestrain.com, or buy tickets at amtrak.com. If you do go, I offer you two pieces of advice:

1. Read the "safety" manual. It's not really a safety manual but a very fun and creative spoof of one.
2. GET THE BROWNIE. Oh, dear Lord, that's one good brownie they serve on board.

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1 comment:

Angela Walker said...

The regular service on the new ACES train sounds like it will be quite an experience! (Departure at 2:30 a.m. to Atlantic City--I can only imagine!) I love to hear about new trains running in the U.S.; our country needs to be more supportive of this convenient and comfortable means of travel.

While the ACES train is considered a luxury service for Amtrak, it cannot compare with the extravagantly luxurious touring trains operating in other countries. Trains such as the Royal Scotsman (Scotland), Royal Canadian Pacific (Canada) and Deccan Odyssey (India) boast large private compartments with en-suite bathrooms and comfy lounges with full bars; one luxury train in South Africa (Rovos Rail's Pride of Africa) offers some cabins complete with full bathtub!

The only comparable U.S. counterpart to these luxury trains was the Colorado-based GrandLuxe Express, which unfortunately folded in 2008 due to the economy. Hopefully, it will be purchased and put back on the rails so passengers can travel around America in such comfort.

For more information on these private trains and more: www.irtsociety.com