Gotta Hava Waway out...
January 25, 2008 7:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm in somewhat-central New Jersey on business. I just found out that I will be stranded in a hotel all weekend and would much rather get to Manhattan, Atlantic City, anywhere but here (there is literally nothing here, the nearest Wawa is like a five-minute drive). I know the region in general has great train service, but have a couple of questions about it.

First off, I'm the Cranbury-Jamesburg area (Monroe Twp to be exact) if that helps.

I didn't realise until last night that when my travel partner said that she wasn't a tourist, she meant it: she plans to spend literally all weekend at the hotel, eat each meal at the attached restaurant and everything.

I don't know how to drive.

She is willing to take me to/pick me up from the train station, and I know that Princeton Jct is like 12 miles or so away. So far so good.

My only experience with trains is Amtrak and CalTrain (between San Franciso and San Jose). How difficult is the system to use for a total outsider? Ideally I'd like to get to Manhattan at least. Atlantic City or Philadelphia would be nice but aren't critical. I could do one tomorrow and another the next day, after work, whenever. I'm here until next Thursday.

The important thing is that I am able to get back to my area the same day. I know NYC is about an hour by train; how far is everwhere else of interest?

Additional bonus points: I'm really not a "tourist" either...the statue of Liberty and 42nd street are great and all, but the main reason I want to go to Manhattan, believe it or not, is the Virgin Megastore(s), if still there. Last time I was here there was one in Union Square and one in Times Square. Any other worthwhile CD shops in the area? Used options are great, too. If Amoeba, Streetlight or Dimple mean anything to you, that's basically where I spend almost all of my free cash.
posted by geckoinpdx to Travel & Transportation around New Jersey (24 answers total)
Princeton Junction will be NJTransit - you can take that all the way into Penn Station in one direction, or into Philly in the other. Dead simple to use.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:06 PM on January 25, 2008

How difficult is the system to use for a total outsider?

Really, really easy. I've always thought the NJ system was among the best state-run rail systems in the country. All the information you need - schedules, stations, PDF map, connections - is at the NJ Transit website. I wanted to look up the route for you, but the PDF is making my browser hang. Anyway, you can look it up easily yourself. It's a clear schematic map.

When you arrive at a station, there will be rail maps posted. You can use them to trace your route and confirm your station stops.

You can buy tickets on the train, if the station is not open. If the station is open, you're charged a premium for buying on the train; so if you can get inside, buy a ticket in the station or from an automated kiosk.

The conductors are very helpful. If at any time you're unsure what's what, just ask. They walk through the cars at least once between stops.

As someone who spent her adolescence traveling all around the state on NJT, I can share one key piece of advice: pay attention to the lines. The state runs several different train lines, and many of them have overlapping station stops. When you arrive in a major city, take note of the train line you used coming in. And when you're ready to return, make sure, when you look at the BIg Board for your train information, that you identify the correct line you want, and look for the track number. Board the train that's parked at that track number. Then listen for the announcement at the beginning of the trip that states the train line and lists the station stops. If you don't hear your station stop listed, ask a conductor, or if really in doubt, get off. The North Jersey Coast Line and the Northeast Corridor line, for instance, stop at the same 4 or 5 stations first before branching far away from one another. If you aren't paying attention and end up on the wrong one, you can go far out of your way. BUt it's very easy to check just by paying attention.

If you're traveling through Newark (you probably will), you have the option of switching at Newark Penn Station to a PATH train. These are aboveground subway-like trains. They are better for destinations downtown, say below Canal Street. Anything midtown or up, you're better staying on NJT.

Oh, also, don't be confused by the fact that there are several Penn Stations. 30th Street in Philadelphia, Newark Penn Station, and New York Penn Station, are all sometimes known as "Penn." That's because they're all located on the old Pennsylvania Railroad line. So where you're asking questions, don't ask about getting to "Penn Station," ask about the specific city name you're headed for.

Either Philly or NY is a reasonable day trip on the train. No problem. Bring things to read.

And don't knock WaWa! Those Shortis and Tastykakes are like Proust's madeleines to some of us.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on January 25, 2008

Yeah, I was going to say the same thing as Tomorrowful. The website is:

Atlantic City is a dump, but if you want to gamble, it's the only place around. I suggest you head to NYC instead! You'll have a blast-- museums, shows, the works.

posted by jstef at 8:10 PM on January 25, 2008

Oh, and NYPenn station is at 34th and 8th, for reference.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on January 25, 2008

From Princeton Junction, it's dead simple to get to Manhattan using New Jersey Transit*; there's one platform for trains to New York and they don't go anywhere else. Coming back is more confusing since trains from Penn Station go all sorts of other places, but you'll want to get a train to Trenton (which is two stops further than PJC) on the Northeast Corridor line. Every NJT train going as far as Trenton stops at Princeton Junction.

Going to Atlantic City is more complicated and probably not worth it; there are a couple of different ways to make the trip but none are quick or convenient. Philadelphia is easier than Atlantic City but you'd have to take Amtrak (infrequent/expensive) or change from New Jersey Transit to SEPTA at Trenton.

* There are also a couple of Amtrak trains that stop at Princeton Junction, but 1) they're more expensive and 2) they're much less frequent. New Jersey Transit (NJT) has hourly service at worst.
posted by Godbert at 8:12 PM on January 25, 2008

You are about mid-way between Princeton Junction station and New Brunswick's. Both are off US 1. From whichever station is more convenient, you can take Amtrak ( or New Jersey Transit (schedule at trains. There are more scheduled New Jersey transit options than there are Amtrak, and NJ Transit is cheaper. Both run on the same line and will take you to Penn Station in NYC. Very simple and easy to use. Both will probably have humans on hand to sell tickets, if not, there are credit card machines. Philadelphia is a few minutes closer, and you can use the same stations. Both cities are easy to get into and back to your hotel that evening.

It's easier to get to Atlantic City if you have a car than by train.

Both Virgin stores are still there. Can't help w/ Amoeba or Dimple
posted by mmf at 8:16 PM on January 25, 2008

You should have no problem getting to NYC or Philly from Princeton Junction. It is not difficult. They have an information booth in the station. It's upstairs.

I used to live in Princeton and have made the trip both ways (NYC and Philly) from that station.

If you're not a tourist, why not just head into Princeton. There's a nice used (and new) CD store in Princeton ( From the train station, you would go west - back toward Route 1 and then just cross Route 1 (Washington Ave) past the Gulf station. It will take you right through the campus and then into the middle of town. From the CD store you can walk a couple of blocks and have lunch at Mediterra ( It's the best Italian restaurant in town.

Hope that helps a little.

Sorry, I've never been to Atlantic City so I can't help you there.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 8:18 PM on January 25, 2008

If you do make it to Manhattan, Academy Records is a great place for used classical and jazz cds and not so bad for rock and such. (A friend of mine who makes his living selling obscure music on ebay frequents Academy.) Also, they have a dinosaur diorama in the window. And City Bakery is nearby, with the best hot chocolate ever.

You know what, though -- I'd love to have a Wawa 5 minutes away! I miss 'em.
posted by moonmilk at 8:25 PM on January 25, 2008

Buy your ticket from a vending machine at the station otherwise there is a $5 surcharge for buying the ticket on the train. Also the roundtrip tickets are a little cheaper. The only thing to really watch out for is the last train from penn station back is at 1:40am or so. Its not fun to miss it and get stranded at penn.
posted by blueyellow at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2008

Amtrak also runs on Princeton Junction (more expensive, fewer stops.)

You can get to atlantic city by taking amtrak to Philadelphia 30th street station, then taking NJT to Atlantic City. It's probably 2 hours of trains plus whatever delay is involved in the transfer. From the AC train station, take a taxi to Borgata. The other casinos aren't as nice, but they have more shops if you're more of a shopper than a gambler.

You can take NJT or Amtrak into the city, just beware that the stop before New York Penn Station is "Newark Penn Station" which sounds a hell of a lot like New York to a tourist.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 10:00 PM on January 25, 2008

Oh, and obviously you can stop in Philadelphia instead of proceeding on to Atlantic City.

Center city is to the east, olde city is even further east (philly's numbered streets start at 1 and get higher as they go west. the train station you'll end up at is at 30th.) Don't go west unless you first go south onto a university campus.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 10:03 PM on January 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the help - keep 'em coming if you have them, I'm probably not going anywhere before noon Saturday.

Looks like I might be overcomplicating things, but I get a bit ...squirrely when I'm in a foreign place.

I know I'm on the NE corridor and the train is at Princeton Junction but that's about it; is that enough? If I'm at Penn Station (NYC, and I know to exit the 7th street exit for Herald(?) Square where there's apparently a used CD store) by, say, 11 or midnight and know to look for the NE Corridor line, will that get me back?

BTW, I am absolutely not knocking Wawa! There's nothing else like it and they've saved my (touchscreen) bacon on numerous occasions. It was just all I could think of at the time.
posted by geckoinpdx at 10:14 PM on January 25, 2008

Yeah, to get back look for the NJ Transit trains to Trenton (NE Corridor).

BTW, if you're in Herald Square you could walk one block to Korea town and have excellent Korean food.
posted by blueyellow at 10:29 PM on January 25, 2008

Amtrak runs the following services from Princeton Junction to Philadelphia:

Keystone Service

Take a look at the schedules. Notice they are pretty commuter based (to Philadelphia in the morning, back in the early evening, and mostly Mon-Fri)

Also note that you can take NJ Transit to Trenton and transfer to frequent Amtrak or SEPTA service to Philadelphia. Connecting SEPTA R7 service is even shown on the NJ Transit schedule below.

NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor line.

(Speaking as a transit nerd. I have not ridden these services.)
posted by ALongDecember at 10:47 PM on January 25, 2008

The Virgin Megastore is huge and entertaining in its way, but if you want more specialized, Ameoba-like CD/record shopping, check out Other Music, sort of downtown (the nearest subway is Astor Place on the 6, or maybe 8th Street on the N/R ... just get to that general area and you'll have fun walking around). There's also Mondo Kim's on St. Mark's Place between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, also close to the Astor Place subway. (I haven't lived there in a few years, but I think they're both still there! The Tower's gone, though.)
posted by lisa g at 10:56 PM on January 25, 2008

It will be cold so you may want to take in a museum; I recommend MoMa or the Met. If you can handle the cold wander downtown to the Village and wander. There is much to see.
posted by caddis at 6:05 AM on January 26, 2008

Princeton Junction will be NJTransit - you can take that all the way into Penn Station in one direction, or into Philly in the other. Dead simple to use.

NJ Transit does not go from Princeton Junction to Philadelphia. In order to go past Trenton, you must change to a SEPTA R7 train.
posted by oaf at 7:29 AM on January 26, 2008

Sorry, messed up my two Amtrak links:

Keystone Service
posted by ALongDecember at 10:00 AM on January 26, 2008

I'm trying to imagine an easier train system than NJ Transit and it's not working. Just go. Get on the train. Don't worry.
posted by willpie at 10:40 AM on January 26, 2008

I get from Philly to NYC frequently via SEPTA and NJ Transit. It's easy. Go south on NJ Transit until Trenton. Disembark. It's likely that you will be able to follow the crowd onto the waiting SEPTA train, which is usually on the adjacent track or just ahead of the train you were just on. Double-check with the conductor that the train goes to Philly and relax. You can pay on the train. Yeah, there's a surcharge, but it's less stressful than pounding up the stairs, finding the ticket machine, buying a ticket, and getting back on the train in fewer than ten minutes.

When you get to 30th St. Station in Philly, do yourself a favor and buy your return tickets right away. The NJ Transit machine will let you buy your entire return trip, no need to mess with both a SEPTA and NJ Transit machine.

NOTE: if there is a wait for the next SEPTA into Philly when you get Trenton go upstairs, check the arrival time and track number. Since you have time, buy your SEPTA ticket from the SEPTA machine, and your whole return-journey tickets from the NJ Transit machine.

Once you're in Philly, you can either tool around the UPenn area or head into Center City via the Market Street El (blue line).

Amtrak is one hell of a lot more expensive.

Also, Princeton is a nice place to spend the day as well.
posted by desuetude at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2008

geckoinpdx: and I know to exit the 7th street exit for Herald(?) Square

It's 7th AVENUE not Street (and Penn Station is the last stop for NJ Transit in NYC). Two *very* different locations in Manhattan, btw.

Have fun, stay warm. Don't forget your cell.
posted by dancinglamb at 8:22 PM on January 26, 2008

Be sure not to confuse NEWARK Penn Station with NEW YORK Penn Station. They can sound the same over the loudspeaker. Hint - Newark Penn Station is aboveground and has big signs saying "Newark Penn Station". New York Penn Station is underground.

To get to Herald Square, head for the 7th avenue exit. Keep walking down 31st street one block to the east, and you will be there. Or you can turn left and walk up 7th avenue to the Virgin Megastore, which is around 46th street.

To get back take a Northeast Corridor NJ Transit train back to Princeton Junction. They run very often during rush hour, and every hour up until 1:30 AM or so. You will need to use one-way tickets if you are traveling during rush hour either in the morning or in the evening. Some of the rush hour ones are express, so make sure the one you're getting on stops at Princeton Junction.
posted by lsemel at 10:01 PM on January 26, 2008

Also, if you want to get to Union Square, take the Q subway from Herald Square one stop downtown, to 14th street, and when you get out, you will be right at the Union Square Virgin Megastore. There are lots of other interesting places to stroll around in the Union Square / Greenwich Village area.
posted by lsemel at 10:05 PM on January 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the help! I made it and back in one piece. I didn't get nearly enough done but made it to Times and Union Squares, at least. I'll be here throughout the week so there are other chances.

The transit system here is remarkably easy to use; I was very surprised.
posted by geckoinpdx at 10:16 PM on January 26, 2008

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