ATLANTIC CITY — Luxury train service that carried gamblers from New York to the Atlantic City casinos has ended after an unprofitable three-year run.
“In the end, it was not financially viable to continue operations,” said Katie Dougherty, a spokeswoman for Caesars Entertainment Corp., one of the gaming companies involved in the rail line’s funding.
The Atlantic City Express Service — dubbed ACES — was marketed as luxury transportation, featuring double-decker train cars, first-class and coach fares, leather seats, extra leg room and bar service. The idea was to attract upscale New York gamblers who preferred the ease of train travel instead of buses or the hassles of driving to Atlantic City on crowded highways.
Harrah’s Resort, Caesars Atlantic City and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa launched the service in February 2009, connecting Manhattan’s Penn Station to Atlantic City, with a stop in Newark.
Ridership counts were never disclosed by the casinos. In late 2009, it became clear that ridership was struggling when the route was cut to 11 trips per week after originally starting at 18. As part of an “All Afford!” promotion, fares were slashed to as low as $29 in hopes of attracting more riders.
“What I can tell you is that ridership during the summer peak season met projections and averaged up to 90 percent capacity on peak trains. The winter off-season has, expectedly, seen a decrease,” Dougherty said in a statement Friday.
ACES trains had to share the tracks with other rail lines on the busy Northeast Corridor, hurting their schedules. Dougherty indicated it was difficult to run the trains while operating “at the mercy of several factors, such as Northeast Corridor track availability and tunnel time.”
“The inability to offer riders consistent and convenient train schedules as well as the overall expenses to do so was becoming increasingly challenging,” she said.
Scheduling and travel time were complicated by the need for ACES trains to switch from electric to diesel locomotives once they crossed over the Delaware River into New Jersey. The trains took between 21/2 hours and 2 hours and 45 minutes to make the trip — sometimes slower than car or bus travel.
Last year, rail service was suspended twice, most recently in September for the fall and winter season. During September’s shutdown, the casinos had said there were plans to resume service this May.
The line’s operating deficit for the full three years was not divulged, but the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority revealed in 2009 there was a $5.9 million loss during the first year. The authority, which approved an extra $2 million in subsidies in December 2009 to keep rail service alive, also contributed $4.5 million to lease the locomotives used on the line.
“The ACES train project was a unique initiative that fell victim to the timing of increased gaming competition in surrounding states and the economy,” CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri said in a statement.
Despite the ACES setback, Palmieri said ridership on the commuter trains and buses operated by NJ Transit and other carriers demonstrates a need for accessible mass transportation to Atlantic City.
“Given the proven demand, other opportunities for comfortable, convenient and affordable transportation to Atlantic City, perhaps from origination points within New Jersey, should continue to be explored,” he said.
This was the second time that gambling-oriented train service failed in Atlantic City. Amtrak began the “Gamblers’ Express” line in 1989 from cities throughout the Northeast, only to shut it down six years later due to poor ridership and millions in losses.
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