ATLANTIC CITY — The casino-funded rail line aimed at attracting New York gambling customers is shutting down for the fall and winter, but the operators say it will return next spring.
This will be the last weekend for the Atlantic City Express Service, or ACES, a rail route underwritten by Harrah’s Resort, Caesars Atlantic City and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Harrah’s spokeswoman Katie Dougherty said service will resume in May.
ACES was launched in February 2009 as a way to lure upscale New York gamblers to the Atlantic City casinos. Double-decker trains equipped with plush leather seats whisk passengers between Manhattan and Atlantic City in about 2½ hours, offering an alternative to bus or car trips on crowded highways.
However, the luxury rail line has been unprofitable and has been shadowed by speculation that it would close down for good after this year. Harrah’s, Caesars and Borgata have an agreement with the state rail agency NJ Transit to run the trains for three years.
“My understanding is that they have a three-year contract through February 2012. I suspect they will not renew it,” said Anthony Marino, an Atlantic City transportation analyst.
In a statement Wednesday announcing the seasonal shutdown, Harrah’s, Caesars and Borgata said they remain committed to the rail line, calling it “a valuable marketing tool not only for the partner properties, but for Atlantic City.”
The statement went on to say that the line’s ridership “consistently met or exceeded projections throughout the summer months.” It also noted that the shutdown reflects the traditional dropoff in post-Labor Day travel to Atlantic City.
This is the second time this year service was suspended. Trains were halted between Jan. 14 and May 13 due to a slowdown in travel.
ACES has been marked by scheduling cuts, fare reductions and winter shutdowns throughout its existence, underscoring the difficulties in attracting enough passengers. The casinos have steadfastly refused to release ridership figures. The rail line lost nearly $6 million in its first year, the only time financial figures were publicly disclosed.
Service began in 2009 with 18 trips per week, but was cut to 11 by the end of that year. This summer, a total of 10 per week trips operated between New York’s Penn Station and Atlantic City, including a stop in Newark. Trains ran only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Coach fares range from $29 to $69, with first-class fares costing an extra $20. The ACES website beckons passengers with the slogan “All Afford!” Fares originally cost $50 for coach and $75 for first class, but were reduced later in 2009 to make them more attractive.
Despite the low fares, travelers have been discouraged by delays caused by the rail line’s operating and scheduling problems, Marino said.
Competition for platform and track space in the congested New York rail corridor add to the trains’ travel time. Further delays are encountered when the ACES trains must switch from an electrified line to diesel locomotives once they cross over the Delaware River heading to Atlantic City, Marino said.
“It’s unfortunate they just can’t operate a railroad that serves a useful purpose,” he said.
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