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My international flight (inbound, back to the EU) departs from EWR at 17:55 (on a Saturday, December 1).

Taking into account usual train delays as well as time for the AirTrain and security and boarding procedures, which train (not interested in buses) should I take from Philadelphia to the EWR station?

        ETA at EWR station
AMTK82        13:22
AMTK88        14:22
AMTK140       15:22
AMTK194       16:08
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    14:22 only if you trust Amtrak to reach perfectly on time. I would plan to reach EWR at 13:45 so if Amtrak gets delayed by 30 min, I can still make it to the terminal on time. – Bhushan Kale Oct 3 '18 at 19:16
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    Edited to include an earlier train, though more than three and a half hours (minus train delays) seems like quite a lot to me to get from the airport train station onto an airplane … – FDMS Oct 3 '18 at 19:28
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    A little leeway hurt no one. – Bhushan Kale Oct 3 '18 at 19:37
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    Agreed on the 1:22. You want to have 30 minutes in case it’s late and time to hurriedly call an Uber if it’s entirely shut down. I love Amtrak but it’s a holey (sic) mess. – RoboKaren Oct 3 '18 at 19:44
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It is a short walk and escalator ride from the Amtrak/NJ Transit platform to the AirTrain platform. The AirTrain ride from the rail station to the terminal is listed as 9 minutes to Terminal B, and between 5:00am and midnight, they should run every 3 minutes. If you want to be conservative and arrive at the terminal three hours before scheduled departure, this would mean arriving at the EWR rail station by about 14:40. Saturday evening is not an especially busy time and December 1 is not an especially busy weekend.

The problem is that Amtrak reliability is hit-and-miss. The Northeast Corridor is a very old and heavily used part of the network, and there is frequent congestion rippling out from the tunnels going into New York.

There are a couple of resources available for tracking historical performance; my current favorite is the Amtrak Status Maps Archive Database (ASMAD) which includes a searchable database. The database is not comprehensive—for example, it does not have arrival information for EWR—so I tracked departure delays from Metropark/Iselin, the previous station; as the distance between MET and EWR is short, it is not a stretch where trains can "make up" time for delays.

  • Looking up Saturday train 88 departures from MET for the last two months shows a delay for every single trip, with a median of 19 minutes and a range from 5 minutes to 1 hr 33 minutes (although the latter is an outlier).

  • I ran the same query for October–December 2017, which again returns delays for every single trip, but within the range of 3 to 42 minutes, with a median delay of 14 minutes. The longest delays did not occur on the Thanksgiving holiday, as I might have expected.

Another resource is provided by DixieLand Software, which provides status maps based on information posted to Amtrak's website. You can look up the Northeast Corridor map to see its status, or find historical train status by service name and train number.

Given this, the train arriving 13:22 is a safer option than the train arriving 14:22, especially if you have heavy bags. You may be able to get something arriving in between on SEPTA and NJ Transit, but these trains are commuter-oriented and so make are slower and make more stops, and require a transfer in Trenton, and when there is congestion, the Amtrak trains have priority.

  • This might sound strange, but I might actually indeed consider SEPTA+NJT (my goal is to spend as little time as possible waiting at an airport, I don't mind spending it on a train, also curious since it would be my first time riding NJT) – would you consider SEPTA713+NJT7836 (ETA EWR 14:04) relatively "safe" or should I rather take the SEPTA+NJT connection one hour earlier? – FDMS Oct 3 '18 at 21:10
  • @FDMS I can't fault you; EWR is no one's idea of a great airport, even by the standards of US transportation infrastructure—but it might still be preferable to Trenton's forgettable train station. The trouble is that most delays are not caused by equipment or staffing problems on Amtrak's part, but on construction/repairs or congestion, which affect the commuter lines as well. Also, while current SEPTA train information is now available in real time (trainview.septa.org), historical data is hard to come by. – choster Oct 3 '18 at 21:37

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