Jon Melnick, a transportation planner with the New York City Transit Authority, published an article in the NEW YORK TIMES about travel from Delaware to Connecticut. He took two days and 22 buses to travel from Newark, Delaware to Old Saybrook, Connecticut. My memories of bus trips were not that great (unshaven men holding paper bags shaped like bottles and rest stops serving hockey pucks for hamburgers). Just for the fun of it, I decided to give Mr. Melnick, and anybody else, an alternative to flying, Amtrak or driving. The alternative: regional rail systems!
Unfortunately, the trip has to start on either a bus or Amtrak because Newark, Delaware is not served by a regional rail system. While it is on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, it is too far north for the Maryland regional rail system (MARC) and too far south for the Pennsylvania system (SEPTA). My first thought was let’s at least keep this trip all-rail and take a short hop on Amtrak from Newark to Wilmington. Unfortunately, the first and only northbound train isn’t until 4:34 pm with arrival in Wilmington at 4:47 pm.
NOTE: As of 2017, Newark is served by SEPTA
The lateness of Amtrak’s stop at Newark will force us to either take a bus from Newark to Wilmington or else make this a two-day trip (Melnick took two days and stayed over in New Rochelle, New York). If we opt for the bus, we could be in Wilmington in time for the 6:14 am which gets into Philadelphia at 7:03, Trenton at 8:03 and New York at 9:22 am. Going a little later on the first off-peak train, we would leave Wilmington at 9:01 am, arrive in Philadelphia at 9:47 am, Trenton at 10:53 am and New York at 12:11 pm. Amtrak from Newark just misses the 4:41 pm and puts us on the 5:20 pm from Wilmington which gets into Philadelphia at 6:07 pm, Trenton at 7:18 pm and New York at 8:40 pm. While trains run as far as New Haven, the lateness of the hour would cause us to miss the last train to Old Saybrook.
At Wilmington, we can pick up the SEPTA (SouthEastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) “R2” service. Fare to Philadelphia is $4.00 during peak (rush) hours and $3.00 off-peak. Equipment is electric MU coaches.
At 30th Street in downtown Philadelphia we would switch to the R7 line to Trenton, New Jersey. The $11.50 joint fare makes SEPTA-NJTransit the least expensive route between Philadelphia and New York City. Making a convenient change at Trenton, we take New Jersey Transit and go directly into New York’s Penn Station.
As an alternative (and to add more systems to somewhat approach Melnick’s 22 buses), we could get off NJTransit in Newark, New Jersey and take PATH to either midtown or World Trade Center.
Since all Metro-North service to New Haven originates from Grand Central Terminal, we will need to take a subway. From Penn Station, we can take an IRT 1, 2 or 3 to Times Square and then the Shuttle to Grand Central.
Metro-North’s New Haven line has two types of service: local which run as far as Stamford, Connecticut and express which stops only at 125th Street but then becomes local between Stamford and New Haven. Off peak travel from New York to New Haven costs $8.75 and departs at seven minutes past the hour from early morning until after midnight. Rush hour costs $11.75 and can be as often as five minutes apart.
The last leg of the trip will be over the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) “Shore Line East” service which goes as far as Old Saybrook. This line runs over an Amtrak-owned route and is operated by Amtrak, but with equipment owned by Connecticut. This equipment is painted in old New Haven Railroad colors. Trains make five stops between New Haven and Old Saybrook and take about 50 minutes for the trip. The cost is $4.00. There are convenient connections with Metro-North trains at New Haven, but service is mostly rush hour.
Regional rail systems have seen growth and modernization in the last few years because of increased demand for their services. At the start of our trip, nearby Maryland has built a new system in just a few years. Riding Amtrak between Baltimore and Washington and riding Washington’s METRO “Red” line, I have seen it grow steadily. SEPTA and New Jersey Transit have both modernized and expanded their services. For example, SEPTA service to Wilmington only began in 1989. Metro-North has added new equipment to the New Haven line to such an extent that many trains cannot platform all cars in the stations. The Shore Line East is a brand new service.
A few years ago, we wrote a story on going up the Northeast Corridor from Delaware to Old Saybrook using commuter lines. Here’s a PARTIAL update
There is a gap between Perryville, MD and Newark, DE (about 33 miles). From there you can ride commuter lines along the NEC as far north as New London, CT. MBTA service starts at Providence.
You can also go south of DC to Fredericksburg, VA (about halfway between DC and Richmond) on Virginia Railway Express (VRE). There is commuter rail in the Boston area on MBTA north of Boston on Amtrak’s Downeaster corridor, but I don’t know which line that is or how far it goes.
It’s possible, but one delay, and you’re done.
Schedules effective Oct 30…
MBTA LV South Station 06:25, AR Providence 07:25
Amtrak LV Providence 09:01, AR New Haven 10:41
Metro-North LV New Haven 10:57, AR Grand Central 13:09
(Subway Connection from Grand Central to Penn Station)
NJ Transit LV New York Penn 14:07, AR Trenton 15:33
SEPTA R7 LV Trenton 15:45, Arrive 30th Street Philadelphia 16:36
SEPTA R2 LV 30th Street 17:15, AR Wilmington 17:54
Amtrak LV Wilmington 18:10, AR Baltimore Penn Sta. 19:05
MARC LV Baltimore Penn 19:25, AR Union Station 20:25
Going northbound lines up better, and you can travel further:
VRE LV Fredericksburg 05:15, AR Union Station 06:43
MARC LV Union Station 07:12, AR Baltimore Penn 08:00
Amtrak LV Baltimore Penn 08:12, AR Wilmington 08:59
SEPTA R2 LV Wilmington 09:17, AR 30th Street 10:08
SEPTA R7 LV 30th Street 11:01, AR Trenton 11:53
NJ Transit LV Trenton 12:00, AR NY Penn 13:27
NYC Subway to Grand Central
Metro-North LV Grand Central 14:33, AR New Haven 16:17
Shore Line East LV New Haven 16:27, AR Old Saybrook 17:17
Amtrak LV Old Saybrook 17:59, AR Providence 19:17
MBTA LV Providence 20:18, AR Boston South Station 21:13
MBTA T connection to North Station
Downeaster LV Boston North Station 23:20, AR Portland, ME 01:50
I can’t believe that the Downeaster has a late train like that M-F, but that’s what the schedule says online. Bring a good book for the trip.
Is it cheaper? A resounding NO! (Although if there were no Amtrak-only segments, it would be.)
Using the eastbound trip from Fredricksburg, I checked the fares on the various commuter carriers and Amtrak. (Although I only ran it from Fredricksburg up to Boston. Who really wants to go to Portland, ME at 2 a.m.?
An Amtrak ticket Fredricksburg to Boston is $111 for a 9.5 hour ride on Train 86.
Going the commuter route, the total fare is $137.05 for a 16 hour ride. But $75 of that is to Amtrak for the Baltimore-Wilmington and OldSaybrook-Providence legs, meaning a total of only $62.05 to the various commuter carriers — for a lot more mileage. (And yes, that includes 2 bucks for the NYC subway )
Here’s the breakdown:
Interesting to note the variation in commuter carrier fares, from a low of 12¢ a mile on SEPTA to a high of 20¢ on NJTransit. (Obviously the NYC subway flat fare is meaningless on a per-mile basis. NYP-GCT happens to be just about a mile. But a hypothetical “per-mile fare” could reasonably range from 10 bucks for a very short trip between two stations just a few blocks apart, just to get out of the rain, to a mere nickel for a 38 mile journey from the north Bronx to Far Rockaway. But for our purposes here, one mile really doesn’t affect the averages!)
The per-mile fare on Amtrak, of course, varies dramatically, based on both total distance travelled and where that distance is travelled. Notice the last two lines I threw in: the incremental Amtrak fare for Fredericksburg to Boston, as compared to DC-Boston, is just $3.00 – only a third of the VRE fare and a mere 6¢ per mile. But an Amtrak ticket for just Fredericksburg to DC will set you back $27, or triple the VRE fare. Notice also the difference between the MD-DE segment and the CT-RI segment on Amtrak.
But still, Amtrak fares are generally higher than commuter rail fares. If the two “missing links” had commuter service so we could avoid Amtrak, using the average commuter cost of 17¢ per mile, the entire 509 mile journey would cost $87.50 – significantly less than the journey as now possible with the 2 Amtrak segments, and somewhat less than an end-to-end Amtrak trip.
Not a proponent of busses, but Greyhound gets $20.75 from Baltimore to Wilmington and $24.00 from New Haven to Providence (Old Saybrook is not on their schedule). Not all that cheap.
2017 Update: Still no connection between Shore Line East and Providence, Rhode Island!
news article: “Feds drop Old Saybrook-to-Rhode Island bypass from final rail plan”
Not sure how, but only AMTRAK can have “capacity problems” on a 4-track line.
There used to be a great line from New York to Waterbury to Hartford to Boston……but it got “wiped out” in the 1955 flood.