I recently wrote about my plans to take the airport train from Jamaica, New York to JFK airport (https://capitolview.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/second-trips/); here is the promised follow-up. On my outbound trip, upon arriving at the mezzanine in Penn Station (the level from which Long Island Railroad trains run), I saw a ticket machine, and I purchased a one-way off-peak ticket to Jamaica for $6.25 with a credit card. A nearby monitor showed the next train leaving in a few minutes; knowing that most if not all LIRR trains stop at Jamaica, I quickly found the departure gate, where a sign confirmed that the train did indeed stop there. Within a half-hour from the time my Amtrak train arrived in Penn Station (late, of course, and, by the way, the onboard wi fi worked very poorly), I was in Jamaica. Getting to the airport train required going up an escalator and buying a $5.00 Metrocard. People were leaving the train through the same turnstiles those entering were using, creating a few stand-offs. Although airport trains were supposed to be running every 10 minutes, I waited longer, but the train eventually came and the short ride to the airport was uneventful. Signage was good, and, as long as you know the terminal you are looking for, you should be able to navigate the system with the information provided, at least if you speak English. As I predicted, the worst part of this service is the need to change in Jamaica, where you must go to a different level platform, and where there are no porters to help the disabled or overwhelmed. I was travelling light and am relatively able-bodied, so it worked out well for me. I was at my terminal well within an hour after leaving Penn Station.
Coming back, the trip also worked out well, except that I had to walk outside a little bit (in the rain) to reach the train station serving my JFK terminal..
Overall, I give this service a B-. The cost is very reasonable ($5.00, plus subway or LIRR fare) and service seems frequent and reliable. The combined trip, at least the two times I took it, was quick, and being out of traffic and the delays it can cause in the New York City area is a huge advantage. The big knock, as I anticipated, is the hassle of changing trains, buying two tickets, and having to navigate two separate transportation systems. However, if your circumstances allow you to manage the logistical and physical challenges, this is a very nice way to get to the airport.
My destination airport, Arlanda in Stockholm, Sweden, offered a much nicer option – the Arlanda Express, a first-class train that travels directly from the terminal to the downtown Central Station in about 20 minutes (it’s a 30 mile trip). It was expensive (almost $40 each way, though those traveling with companions could take advantage of a 2-for-1 summer offer). Direct bus service for $15 also was available. Arlanda is a relatively new airport, and the railroad link was not added as an afterthought, so direct comparison may not be fair. Better to compare the train to JFK with some of the direct airport to center city transit links in this country, where the need to change trains leaves it wanting, though still worth considering.