View Full Version : Airtrain Newark, two years and still growing

October 16th, 2003, 05:17 PM
Although ridership has not been keeping up with projections since the Airtrain connection opened shortly after 9-11 and during the economic downturn.


'Plane to train' service in Newark earns praise

Alternative to costly cabs and traffic jams marks 2nd year

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

Chris Bolan sat with his bags at the far end of Newark Liberty International Airport's rail platform, looking relaxed as he soaked up the sun one warm afternoon last week after a business trip to Grand Rapids, Mich.

Normally, Bolan, who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., would be shelling out cash for a cab to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to catch the Metro-North Railroad or sitting in traffic on Interstate 95 if his wife picked him up. Now, for the first time, he took an Amtrak train home from the airport.

"It makes the commuting -- be it by train or plane -- so much more efficient," Bolan said. "It's convenient now."

Newark airport's $417 million AirTrain service -- with connections to both Amtrak and NJ Transit lines -- marks its second anniversary this month, still the only "train to the plane" service among the region's three major airports. AirTrain is expected at John F. Kennedy International Airport later this year, at a cost of $1.9 billion.

Bolan is one of 3,200 average daily users of AirTrain Newark's railroad connection, which generally wins plaudits for service even as ridership lags at only two-thirds of original predictions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the economic downturn.

Officials with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign say the price of using AirTrain Newark is too high, especially for families.

For example, a one-way ticket anytime between Manhattan and the Newark airport station costs $11.55, even though a round-trip, off-peak NJ Transit ticket between Newark Penn Station and Manhattan costs $5. A one-way ticket anytime between New Brunswick and the airport station costs $10.80, whereas a round-trip, off-peak NJ Transit ticket between New Brunswick and Newark Penn Station costs just $13.

"If they dropped the cost a little bit, maybe they can get their ridership up," said Kate Slevin, a Tri-State spokeswoman. "I think the service is good."

The airport station -- a still gleaming but utilitarian mix of concrete, metal and glass -- connects Amtrak and NJ Transit riders to the monorail that stops at parking areas and terminals A, B and C. So far, rail passengers make up a little more than 10 percent of the 30,000 average daily riders on the monorail, which opened in 1996.

"I think it has brought this airport a major step forward in providing access to our customers," said Susan Baer, the airport's general manager, of the rail connections. "It reduces vehicle traffic to and from the airport. ... It really complements all the work we have done on the roadways."

Baer defended the relatively high ticket costs as necessary to offset the investment and operating costs by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In 2002, the Port Authority spent $19.7 million to run AirTrain Newark, with approximately half that covering the contract with Bombardier Transportation of Canada, the system's operator. The agency pays $3.9 million, which comes from its share of the rail ticket revenues. The $15.8 million difference is paid from fees on airlines and rental car companies.

Tickets for AirTrain Newark are slightly below typical bus fares, said Baer, noting use of the rails also eliminates parking costs for those who would otherwise drive and leave their cars in long-term lots.

"And it's considerably less than a cab," said Baer, who said a fledgling discount program for frequent users may be expanded. "And you have the advantage of reliability."

There is no fee to ride the monorail between terminals and parking lots.

European travelers in particular have taken to the airport's rail link, Port Authority officials have found.

Per Lundahl, visiting from Sweden, said he opted to use AirTrain Newark to get to Manhattan last week when he couldn't find a hotel shuttle.

"Most (foreign) airports have got trains -- Amsterdam, Paris, Stockholm and London, of course," said Lundahl.

While most comments about service are favorable, there are some minor gripes about poor directional signs and high-decibel announcements on the monorail cars.

Then there are aesthetics.

The sleek, space-age looking trains, offer quite a view.

The monorail from the station to the airport curves past the huge Budweiser brewery, over Routes 1&9 and its spaghetti-like access roads and ramps, before approaching the airport with the new 325-foot air traffic control tower dominating the scene.

Tourists kill time before flights on the monorail and some of the area's homeless spend time aboard as well, according to authorities.

Eventually, Port Authority officials want to see baggage service resumed at the airport station when airline revenues improve. In the longer term, the agency hopes to connect PATH service to the station, which was built to accommodate it.

Even with the present service levels, Richard Halpern, a Massachusetts resident, was impressed with his first use of the system.

"It was very smooth," said Halpern. "I felt like the Jetsons or something."

October 16th, 2003, 05:27 PM
ALP-44 entering Newark Airport rail link station


Amtrak Regional approaching South (West) bound platform


Fare gates between Amtrak/NJ Transit platforms and Newark Airport Airtrain (Monorail).


Newark Airtrain (Monorail) entering Rail link station, as seen from North (East) bound Amtrak/NJ Transit platform.




TLOZ Link5
October 24th, 2003, 03:42 PM
And when AirTrain JFK is finished, we'll also be doing much better. Not to mention that come 2004 the ride from Penn to JFK will become a helluva lot cheaper. The MTA is doing a pilot project that will reduce intracity trips on commuter railroads to $2.50.

October 24th, 2003, 05:09 PM
I think that will not effect JFK Airtrain, there's a parity clause which keeps the fares at the same levels for trips from NY Penn.

For instance the surcharge to use Newark Airtrain from any point in NJ is $5, for trips to Newark Airport from NY Penn is $7.

The NJ Transit fare from Newark Penn to NY Penn is only about $3.50, which is the fare to Newark Airport plus $7.50 for the surcharge.

If MTA lowers it's prices the PA will have to raise the surcharge.

TLOZ Link5
October 24th, 2003, 06:03 PM
Why? Aren't the PA and the MTA separate entities?

October 26th, 2003, 11:04 PM
The MTA and Port Authority are indeed separate entities, but if the MTA were to lower their fares to make traveling from NY Penn to JFK cheaper than traveling from NY Penn to EWR than NJ's Port Authority Represenatives would push for a fare increase on the JFK Airtrain to keep them in line with each others fares.

If NJ Transit were to lower their fares to make travel from NY Penn to EWR cheaper NY Port Authority Represenatives would push the PA to raise EWR's Airtrain fares.

TLOZ Link5
October 26th, 2003, 11:32 PM
I think the PA brass would be smarter than to start a price war like that. It would be like cutting off its nose to spite its face.

October 27th, 2003, 11:48 AM
The PA brass would raise JFK Airtrain rates to prevent a bi-State price War, in all fairness the Newark Airtrain should be much cheaper than the JFK Airtrain since the Newark Air Train cost $600 Million, while JFK's cost $2 Billion to construct.

October 27th, 2003, 10:17 PM
How much do (will) they cost to operate on a daily basis though? I thought the capital costs of both AirTrains were paid for by the PFC's that air passengers pay on every ticket, so any different in the cost of initial construction should be irrelevant as far as setting the fare goes.