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N.Y.-Atlantic City casino train service running behind schedule
By THOMAS BARLAS Staff Writer, 609-272-7201
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008
ATLANTIC CITY - Plans for express rail service that will whisk gamblers between New York and Atlantic City at high speeds and in high style are crawling along slower than a rickety old freight train.

Originally scheduled to start in December, the Atlantic City Express service will not begin running until this summer, officials confirmed Thursday during a board meeting of NJ Transit, the state bus and rail agency.

NJ Transit is still negotiating key details of the agreements with the three casinos that are financing the weekend service, known by the gambling-friendly "ACE" moniker. Still to be determined is whether there will be one or more stops between New York and Atlantic City, NJ Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles said.

The Friday-Saturday-Sunday runs would bring casino visitors from Manhattan to the resort in well-appointed rail cars designed to get them in an Atlantic City state of mind. One issue still unresolved is the interior design of the trains, Sarles said.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah's Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City formed the ACE partnership in 2006 to fund a weekend-only, dedicated line between New York and the gambling resort. NJ Transit and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, a state agency funded by gaming revenue, are also part of the operations.

The casinos will spend $15 million to buy eight bi-level, luxury rail cars and are splitting the $4 million in operating costs with the CRDA. The CRDA also will spend $4.5 million to lease three diesel locomotives during a three-year test run.

NJ Transit will operate the service. Sarles noted that locomotives are undergoing tests to prepare for the rail line's start-up, whenever that will be. Word that the service will not begin until this summer is the second delay announced in recent months. Acknowledging that the original December launch date would not be met, the casinos said in late October that they hoped to begin service in the spring.

A statement issued Thursday by the ACE partnership did not explain the reasons for the latest delay. It did note, though, that the casinos are still negotiating ticketing and reservation services with Amtrak, the national passenger rail line that controls the Northeast Corridor tracks serving New York.

"As we are currently in the development and planning stages for ACE, it is premature to discuss specific details regarding the train routes, ticket pricing and any other aspect involving the new service," the statement said.

Rob Stillwell, a spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corp., Borgata's parent company, said as far as he knows, there are no plans to kill the train service.

"It's not as if there's anything wrong. It's just taking a little longer than we thought," Stillwell said.

The Atlantic City-New York train trip would take about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Although fares have not been announced yet, early estimates suggest riders would pay about $100, a rate competitive with one-way ticket prices for Amtrak's high-speed Acela service between New York and Philadelphia.

Casino officials say the train service would target well-heeled New York City residents who enjoy visiting the gaming halls but want an easier way to get to and from Atlantic City than driving. The gaming industry is searching for new customers after suffering a 5.7 percent revenue drop in 2007, the first time in Atlantic City's 30-year history of casino gambling that the annual "win" has declined.

A dedicated rail line between Atlantic City and New York was tried before, but Amtrak ditched the six-year trial in 1995 after concluding the little-used "Gambler's Express" was a financial failure.

To e-mail Donald Wittkowski at The Press:

DWittkowski@pressofac.com

To e-mail Thomas Barlas at The Press:

TBarlas@pressofac.com

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