Amtrak Tracking for My Commute Between New York City and Philadelphia

Monday, October 31, 2005

COMMUTE: Mon Oct 31, 2005; #642 and #137

My commute for Monday October 31, 2005.

Morning leg - I took Amtrak Train #642 (PHL-NYC):
  • PHL 9:20, +36
  • TRE 9:55, +45
  • NWK 10:27, +45
  • NYC 10:41, +41
Long delay again this morning. I did check via the train status before I left and the site said it was only 1 minute late. At about 8:45 at 30th Street Station they posted the train would depart 15 minutes late, then upped it to 20, then finally to 30. Apparently there was an 'equipment' problem that came up when the train pulled into the station. So I sat around again for a while at 30th Street Station. Had an empty seat next to me, this train a little over half full by my estimation.

Evening leg - I took Amtrak Train #137 (NYC-PHL):
  • NYC 6:33, +13
  • NWK 6:50, +13
  • TRE 7:35, +21
  • PHL 8:04, +20 noted the train was expected to depart 20 minutes late, so left later. The site was wrong as #137 left about 13 minutes late, but I got to Penn Station in time to make this train. Had empty seat next to me on this leg, though train more than half full.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Amtrak Guest Rewards, a must for regular Amtrak commuters and how it will save me $800+ the next two months

I am an Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR) member. You can check out the site here: I suggest that any Amtrak customer create an account, as getting to free travel via this program can happen pretty quickly. Becoming an AGR member is a must for any regular Amtrak commuter. The benefits of free Amtrak travel via AGR can mean substantial commuting cost savings over the course of a year which I will go over below.

To rack up the maximum number of AGR points I also have a Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum Plus® MasterCard®. I don't know if the " are necessary but I included them, better safe than sorry I suppose. This card is like any airline points credit card but the card is tied to Amtrak instead of an airline. The AGR credit card point plan is simple, you get 1 AGR point for every dollar you spend; and 2 points when you use it for any Amtrak purchase. You are eligible for a free NEC coach ticket for 2,500 points. The Amtrak Guest Rewards site goes over this too:

When you spend a certain amount of $ on Amtrak over the course of a year (any regular commuter will hit the AGR numbers) and you're an AGR member, you get a special status, which means you can receive additional bonus points. They're called the Select and Select Plus status respectively: Select Status, Select Plus Status.

2,500 AGR points = Amtrak coach ticket for the NEC. So if you spend $2,500 in a month on a Amtrak MasterCard, you can get a free ticket (since I blogged this the point amount needed has increased to either 3,000 or 5,500 points - see my blog post here). Since the normal fare to NYC Penn Station from Philadelphia is about $50, this is maps to about 2% cash back point program. It's not real cash of course but does represent potential cash savings. This is actually a pretty good points program deal when compared to what other credit cards offer. Other cards give you airline miles, offer a lower APR, or provide cash back. Let me go over why these are worthless to me:

1) Cards linked to airline points programs - Typically for 25,000 points you can get a free flight to anywhere in the US. But flights are cheap now, and you can get just about anywhere in the US for under $300 or so. This translates to about 1% cash back if you will, which is lower than the AGR MasterCard deal. So a card tied to airline miles aren't providing you a good benefit, unless you go far away (Hawaii, Europe), but then this requires way more points, and how often would you do this? For me, not often, and even when I tried to do this and cash in points to Europe, there were no eligible flights available. And the points expire if you don't fly on the airline, and airlines are going under like crazy so who knows if these points are going to be worth anything anyway.

2) Cards with low APR - I pay off my card in full, so this isn't an issue for me. Plus I still get 0% offers in the mail all the time.

3) Cards that give cash back - typically they give you 1% cash back, so the benefit cost evaluation I feel fails for me when compared to the 2% the AGR MasterCard provides.

So my Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard is my primary credit card and I use to rack up as many AGR points as I can. And the points do add up quickly when the bonus of being a Select/Select Plus kick in. More points means more free Amtrak tickets which means I can leverage this to keep my commuting expenses to a minimum, as I explain in the next paragraph.

My commute for November and December will consist largely of me cashing in my AGR points for my commute. There's plenty of holidays these next two months and not to mention vacation days I'll be taking around the holidays. So the number of trips to NYC is lowest over these two months. I did buy a 10 trip ticket effective into December (I don't have that many AGR points), so I'll supplement this by cashing in my points for tickets.

The drawback for AGR tickets is that you have to cash in points for tickets on specific trains on specific dates. My commute is pretty dynamic so the monthly pass is great in that it allows me to take nearly any train I want day or night. But the cost savings I'll realize by cashing in my AGR points will make up for this moderate inconvenience. What I'll do is cash in the points for a ticket on a specific morning train (morning is easier to schedule for me). On the leg back in the evening, I'll use the 10 trip pass as I can then choose whichever train I want, and I really like having this flexibility in the evening.

By being an Amtrak Guest Rewars member and diligently accruing points I can now subsidize my commuting costs. So by not buying a monthly pass for November and December (let's even use the lower $633/mo price but minus the $397 on the 10 trip pass I bought) I hope to realize $869 in savings ($1,266 - $397 = $869). The savings is even higher if you use the current montly pass price of $821; using this monthly rate I have a savings of $1,245 ($1,642 - $397 = $1,245).

New Northeast Corridor Amtrak Schedule in effect October 31

On October 31 Amtrak will put in place a new schedule for the Northeast corridor. The only difference I can tell for Phi-NYC is that the midnight train, #639, will be dropped. Which is too bad as this means fewer trains between Phi-NYC, which means fewer options for my commute.

The scedule is here:

On the site you can find this under the 'Schedule' tab as:
"Northeast Corridor 1: New York - Philadelphia - Baltimore - Washington"

Thursday, October 27, 2005

COMMUTE: Thu Oct 27, 2005; #642 and #177

My commute for Thursday October 26, 2005.

Morning leg - I took Amtrak Train #642 (PHL-NYC):
  • PHL ???
  • TRE 9:54, +44
  • NWK 10:59, +77
  • NYC 11:14, +74
Huge delays this morning. Train departed late and I did not check train status before I left. Likely it would have informed me that it was 20+ minutes late. So I sat around for a while at 30th Street Station. I think there was an Amtrak signal problem that further delayed things in NJ. Had an empty seat next to me, this train a little over half full by my estimation.

Evening leg - took Amtrak train #177 (NYC-PHL):
  • NYC 10:43, +38
  • NWK 11:05, 43
  • TRE 11:54, +54
  • PHL 12:23 am, +50
I was planning on getting the 11 so the fact #177 was late allowed me to leave 'earlier' though it still ended up getting in at the same time as the 11 o'clock. Had empty seat next to me but a pretty full train, surprising for how late it was.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

COMMUTE: Wed Oct 26, 2005; #642 and #655

My commute for Wednesday October 26, 2005.

Morning leg - I took Amtrak Train #642 (PHL-NYC):
  • PHL 9:03, +19
  • TRE 9:29, +18
  • NWK 9:59, +17
  • NYC 10:16, +16
Train departed late but I checked train status before I left and it did say #642 would leave late, the estimated departure time was 8:55. Had an empty seat next to me, this train a little over half full by my estimation.

Evening leg - took Amtrak train #655 (NYC-PHL):
  • NYC 6:31, +1
  • NWK ????
  • TRE 7:29, +8
  • PHL 8:04, +9
Had empty seat next to me but a fairly full train.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Amtrak Fare Increase - My Details and Analysis for Buying the Monthly Pass Ongoing for the Philly to NYC Commute

In my prior post "Amtrak Fare Increase - details from" some info on the large fare increase Amtrak is imposing was discussed. The particulars of the fare increase for commuting between Philadelphia and New York ongoing I'll cover here. I'll chat on alternate ticketing options via Amtrak once the fare increases are fully in place by March 2006. I'll start today with reviewing the monthly pass option for Amtrak commuters.

Monthly Pass Option Ongoing - The Numbers, The Details
Currently (November 2005) a monthly pass between Philly and NYC Penn Station is $821. The monthly pass starting in March 2006 will be $1,008. This is up from $633 in October 2005, from $597 in January 2005, and from $569 in 2004. So up nearly 60% from Oct '05 to March '06 and nearly doubling from 2004 to Mar 2006. Pretty ridiculous. Amtrak based the new price on taking 36 one way trips per month at the max fare and cutting that in half; that makes it $28 per trip with the Amtrak math.

The most week days (M-F) in a month in is 23 (for 2006: March, May, August), or 46 total one way trips max (really 44 in May as there is a holiday that month). The number of week days per month breakdown for 2006:
  • Jan - 22
  • Feb - 20
  • Mar - 23
  • Apr - 20
  • May - 23
  • Jun - 22
  • Jul - 21
  • Aug - 23
  • Sep - 21
  • Oct - 22
  • Nov - 22
  • Dec - 21
Average: 21.67 working days/month

Assuming you go up and back every day in March, May, and August 2006 (going with the 46 number), that would make the price about $22 per trip at the monthly pass rate of $1,008 (and who knows, Amtrak may raise the price again sometime in 2006). But on average let's say there's 20 working days in a month (makes the math easy) for a possible of 40 total one way trips/month. This makes the price about $25 per trip with the $1,008 price. But how often would someone do this? Between company holidays, vacation days, sick days, work at home days, and company business travel away from the office, it's unlikely that a person would consistently average anywhere near 40 trips a month between Philly and NYC. And how often would someone even take 36 one way trips using the Amtrak math? And how did Amtrak come up with this number? Did they do any market research on regular commuters who use Amtrak? Does Amtrak no longer want to be in the commuter business and are trying to price commuters out of Amtrak?

A more likely monthly average for the Philly to NYC commuter based on my experience is between 20 and 30 one way trips total (or between 10 and 15 round trips). The cost at the low end, 20 total one way trips/month, is an average of about $50 per trip; at the high end, 30 one way trips/mo, is $33.60 per trip. That's a decent spread in the average, let's split the difference and say if you get a monthly pass you'll pay an average of $42 per trip assuming you commute at an average of 25 total one way trips in a month. At the October 2005 monthly pass price of $633 this was about $25 per trip.

At the start of a given month, only if you know you'll be taking over 30 one way trips between Philly and NYC, and you put a premium on the convenience of having the monthly pass (and you have money to burn), then the monthly pass is still a viable option.

My analysis - folks buying monthly passes between PHI-NYC will plummet to near zero and we'll find other options. I have no idea how Amtrak revenue for travel between PHI and NYC will play out. I've heard estimates that 700 to over 2,000 monthly passes (oringially I linked here but page since taken down, the article is "Amtrak Revives Plan for Fare Increases" published Wednesday, 28 September 2005, by Larry King, The Philadelphia Inquirer) between Philly and NYC are sold each month. Amtrak will lose this revenue only if these folks no longer commute on Amtrak (an option). Commuters will have to pursue other ticketing options besides a monthly pass (but likely still choosing Amtrak), so we're still giving them money. But we're not going to buy the new high price monthly passes so Amtrak revenue won't dramatically increase either. Again, what's Amtrak's motivation here? They're not going to convert all these monthly pass buyers to the new higher price, they'll lose cash flow with no large up front cash payments at the start of the month, so it's not clear what they hope to achieve.

The $633 price point for a monthly pass was a good number I felt. I don't have a car so I translate theoretical car payments (plus parking, insurance, gas, maintenance) into commuting costs. So I feel it's a push here, even at $700/month or a little higher would still be a push. Commuting cost at $633/month translates to a ~$7,500 in commuting expenses per year. But there are a few months during the year where I do not need to get a monthly pass and commute via cheaper options (I'll discuss these later), so in reality I'm spending under $7,000 a year to commute to NYC.

So this is my price point for commuting expenses over they course of a year: $7,000. If I can come in around that price then I'm OK. Buying a monthly pass at $1,008 would pretty much kill making this target. Now I don't yet know how to make this budget number as this is what I'm working on, but I do know that the Amtrak monthly pass will no longer be in the equation for commuting to NYC. When I have a plan of attack, I'll update the blog with details.

Amtrak Fare Increase - details from

From the Amtrak site:

Amtrak To Modify Fare Increase

WASHINGTON - Amtrak today announced it has made modifications to its previously announced fare increases and will implement them in stages beginning Tuesday, October 4.

The fare plan is an important component of Amtrak's FY06 budget. The challenge for Amtrak, as for any business, is to cover its increases in current and anticipated expenses across the board, including the cost of fuel which has risen 40% in the past year. Amtrak's FY06 budget has been reviewed in detail and approved by the railroad's board of directors and senior management. The fiscal year begins October 1, 2005.

Three changes will take place beginning next month: a general fare increase will be implemented on most trains; discounts on Northeast commuter tickets will be reduced and standardized in stages; and some trains in the Northeast will begin to be revenue managed, in part to provide passengers with reduced-fare options for off-peak travel.

The first change will take place on October 4, when a general fare increase averaging $3 to $4 will be implemented. As such, fares across the country will increase 5-7% on most trains, including Acela Express (7%), Regionals (5%), long-distance coach (7%) and long-distance sleeper (5%) charges.

The second change, which applies to commuter tickets, will begin on October 16. In response to suggestions and comments received over the last few weeks, Amtrak will reduce the discounts on the commuter tickets in two steps with the first half of the change on October 16 and the second half in February 2006. The changes are going into effect on October 16 to provide passengers with sufficient prior notification. Amtrak serves about 2,000 Smart Pass monthly passengers in the Northeast Corridor, most of whom commute between Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

The current monthly fare is discounted at approximately 70% for commuters - the deepest discount in the industry. It will be adjusted to allow passengers to enjoy approximately a 60% discount starting October 16, reducing the previously announced fare increase in half. In February 2006, the monthly discount will be adjusted to 50%. At both a 50% and a 60% discount, the monthly Smart Pass fare will remain the largest offered to commuters by any railroad.

Smart Pass 10-trip tickets will be adjusted on October 16 to provide passengers with a 20% discount.

The third overall change will take place on October 4, when Amtrak will begin to revenue manage some trains in the Northeast Corridor to better match fares to demand periods. Those trains include Regionals, Empire Service, The Vermonter, The Adirondack, the Springfield/Hartford Shuttles, and Keystones between Philadelphia and New York. While the standard fares for these trains will increase 5% (as stated above), passengers with flexibility to travel at off-peak times will be able to take advantage of lower fares.

Monday, October 24, 2005

COMMUTE: Mon Oct 24, 2005; #642 and #137

My commute for Monday October 24, 2005.

Morning leg - I took Amtrak Train #642 (PHL-NYC):
  • PHL 9:00, +16
  • TRE 9:57, +46
  • NWK 10:28, +46
  • NYC 10:45, +45
In addition to departing quite late, there was announcement on the train before we even got over the Schuylkill stating that they were 'single tracking' through North Philadelphia, hence the delay. Had empty seat next to me on this leg, train at most half full by my estimation.

Evening leg - I took Amtrak Train #137 (NYC-PHL):
  • NYC 6:20, 0
  • NWK 6:36, -1
  • TRE 7:23, +9
  • PHL 7:51, +7
Had empty seat next to me on this leg, though train more than half full.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Amtrak fare specials and monthly passes

Amtrak fare increases went into effect Oct 16. The $633 Philadelphia to New York Penn Station monthly rate is now gone. I believe the monthly pass fare between the cities is now around $820 and will go to $1,008 in mid February or so. I'm reviewing options for the commute ongoing, no grand plan yet, though I did buy a few monthly passes in advance at the $633 rate to tide me over through March. That's a lot of upfront money, I had to get one of those 0% credit cards, it may be cheaper to move to Manhattan.

Some pages on getting better Amtrak fares:

Amtrak Codes Cool Down for Fall

Weekly Specials Fare Finder

Friday, October 21, 2005

Annual Amtrak Ridership of 25.4 Million Marks Third Straight Year of Record Increases

According to Amtrak: "Ridership on all trains in the Northeast Corridor was 8 percent higher in September 2005 than it was in September 2004", see Amtrak's press release:
Annual Amtrak Ridership of 25.4 Million Marks Third Straight Year of Record Increases

Report from Travel Weekly: "Northeast Corridor service was up 8%, despite the fact the Acela Express was out of service for several months. Ridership on Amtrak’s regional service on the corridor was up 9.5%"
Amtrak posts year-end ridership increases. Rise comes despite hurricanes, loss of Acela

COMMUTE: Thu Oct 20, 2005; #642 and #639

My commute for Thursday October 20, 2005.

Morning leg - I took Amtrak train #642 (PHL-NYC):
  • PHL 8:47, +3
  • TRE 9:17, +6
  • NWK 9:49, +7
  • NYC 10:06, +6
Train #639 (NYC-PHL), late evening:
  • NYC 11:59, 0
  • NWK 12:16 (am), +1
  • TRE 1:03, +10
  • PHL 1:39, +14
Had an empty seat both ways, though way home there were crying children. Not sure why somone would take toddlers on a midnght train but there they were.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

COMMUTE: Tue Oct 18, 2005; #642 and #655

My commute for Tuesday October 18, 2005.

Morning leg - took Amtrak train #642 (PHL-NYC):
  • PHL 8:48, +4
  • TRE 9:14, +3
  • NWK 9:47, +5
  • NYC 10:05, +5
Evening leg - took Amtrak train #655 (NYC-PHL):
  • NYC ????
  • NWK ????
  • TRE 7:20, -1
  • PHL 7:58, +3
Had empty seat next to me in the AM, full train in the PM so no empty seat on the way back. Fire on the Queensboro Bridge affected some trains coming from North of NYC, train #137 was quite late.

Monday, October 17, 2005

COMMUTE: Mon Oct 17, 2005; #642 and #137

My commute for Monday October 17, 2005.

Train #642 (PHL-NYC), morning:
  • PHL 8:50, +6
  • TRE 9:17, +6
  • NWK 9:52, +10
  • NYC 10:10, +10
Train #137 (NYC-PHL), afternoon:
  • NYC 6:27, +7
  • NWK 6:40, +3
  • TRE 7:24, +10
  • PHL 7:53, +9

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Amtrak's Northeast Corridor being spun off as a separate company?

I'm actively keeping an eye on Amtrak stories in the news. Plenty of recent stories about spinning off the Northeast Corridor of the Amtrak line into its own entity/company and shift more cost burden to the states. I don't have a feeling if this would be good, bad or indifferent yet. I do feel Amtrak must continue to receive government funding as any public transportation service needs financial support.

Some articles on this subject I found interesting and/or informative:

Amtrak Breakup Advances
Published: October 13, 2005

Manufactured Hysteria Is Flying
United Rail Passenger Alliance
Published: October 14, 2005

NARP (National Association of Railroad Passengers) Responds to NEC Infrastructure Subsidiary Creation
Published: October 12, 2005

Amtrak spinoff a first step
Published: October 15, 2005

Amtrak is derailed by the profit myth
Published: October 24, 2005

Talking Transportation: Breaking Up Amtrak

By Jim Cameron

Published: October 24, 2005

Friday, October 14, 2005

COMMUTE: Fri Oct 14, 2005; #130 and #639

My commute for Friday October 14, 2005.

Train #130 (PHL-NYC), morning:
  • PHL 8:26, +4
  • TRE 8:52, +4
  • NWK 9:24, +3
  • NYC 9:45, +5
Train #639 (NYC-PHL), late evening:
  • NYC 11:59, 0
  • NWK 12:13 (am), -2
  • TRE 12:53, -1
  • PHL 1:25, 0

Thursday, October 13, 2005

COMMUTE: Thu Oct 13, 2005; #642 and #137

My commute for Thursday October 13, 2005.

Train #642 (PHL-NYC), morning:
  • PHL 8:49, +5
  • TRE 9:17, +6
  • NWK 9:50, +8
  • NYC 10:09, +9
Train #137 (NYC-PHL), afternoon:
  • NYC 6:20, 0
  • NWK 6:36, -1
  • TRE 7:26, +12
  • PHL 7:55, +11

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

COMMUTE: Tue Oct 11, 2005; #130 and #137

Commute on Tuesday October 11, 2005.

Train #130 (PHL-NYC), morning:
  • PHL 8:22, 0
  • TRE 8:47, -1
  • NWK 9:20, -1
  • NYC 9:38, -2
Train #137 (NYC-PHL), afternoon:
  • NYC ???? (forgot to note departure)
  • NWK 6:38, +1
  • TRE 7:22, +8
  • PHL 7:55, +11

Monday, October 10, 2005

COMMUTE: Mon Oct 10, 2005; #130 and #137

Commute on Monday October 10, 2005.

Train #130 (PHL-NYC), morning:
  • PHL 8:22, 0
  • TRE 8:48, -2
  • NWK 9:22, +1
  • NYC 9:40, 0
Train #137 (NYC-PHL), afternoon:
  • NYC 6:22, +2
  • NWK 6:42, +5
  • TRE 7:31, +17
  • PHL 7:59, +15
Trains nicely on time in the morning and not too busy in the carriages either, had empty seat next to me (both ways), likely due to Columbus day holiday. Not sure what happened on the evening train, train was just slow.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

COMMUTE: Thu Oct 6, 2005; #130 and #177

Commute on Thursday October 6, 2005.

Train #130 (PHL-NYC), morning:
  • PHL 8:35, +13
  • TRE 9:04, +14
  • NWK 9:43, +22
  • NYC 10:01, +21
At 30th Street Station the board had posted a 5 minute delay for train #130.

Train #177 (NYC-PHL), evening (late night at the office):
  • NYC 10:07, +2
  • NWK 10:20, -2
  • TRE 11:05, +5
  • PHL 11:34, +1

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

COMMUTE: Tue Oct 4, 2005; #130 and #137

First posting. This is for my commute on Tuesday October 4, 2005.

Train #130 (PHL-NYC), morning:
  • PHL 8:23, +1
  • TRE 8:50, 0
  • NWK 9:23, +2
  • NYC 9:45, +5
Train #137 (NYC-PHL), afternoon:
  • NYC 6:22, +2
  • EWR 6:41, -1
  • TRE 7:24, +10
  • PHL 7:53, +9
Trains largely on time, not too busy in the carriages either, had empty seat next to me on both legs, likely due to Rosh Hashana?

Details on the Amtrak data I'll track

I'll note the time the Amtrak train first started pulling out of the station for the start of the commute, and the time the train actually stopped at some interim stations. After each actual time I'll note the difference between the Amtrak scheduled times and my time; '+' meaning over and '-' meaning under the scheduled time, both in minutes.

Amtrak Schedule for the Northeast corridor (PDF file) "EFFECTIVE SEPTEMBER 26, 2005"

Abbreviations I'll use:
PHL - Philly
NWK - Newark
EWR - Newark Airport
TRE - Trenton