Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 22
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
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Princeton Alumnus With Deep Pockets Proposes Plan to Purchase the Dinky

Anne Levin

A Princeton University alumnus who heads a privately held railway investment and management firm wants to buy the Dinky rail line. Henry Posner III, chairman and founding principal of Railroad Development Corporation (RDC), presented his proposal to Princeton Borough Council at its meeting last week.

The Princeton Community Rail Authority (PCRA) would be a joint venture between Mr. Posner’s company and Princeton Borough “… to preserve the Dinky in a way that is useful to the Princeton community and would avoid relocating the station,” he said. “The Borough contributes the power of condemnation, and we contribute the financing.”

Under Mr. Posner’s proposed arrangement, RDC would buy the land for fair market value, and pay for administration costs, insurance, and any legal costs that would be incurred. The funding would come from a private investment fund. Mr. Posner said that the interest and principal on the loan would accumulate, and then be paid off when the Borough either buys out RDC’s interest by paying off the loan, or opts to exit the partnership.

Princeton University wants to move the Dinky station approximately 460 feet south of its present location to make room for its proposed arts and transit neighborhood and an access road to its parking garage.

Questioned repeatedly by council member David Goldfarb about how the proposed partnership would be attractive to Mr. Posner from a business standpoint, Mr. Posner replied, “You mean other than doing the right thing?” That remark, along with several others he made during the presentation and the ensuing question-and-answer sessions with council members and the public, drew applause from supporters of his plan.

Mr. Posner added that the railroad business is an emerging one that is becoming profitable. “I’m a railroad person, and this (moving the Dinky) is bad policy. It’s bad for the community,” he said. “My sensitivity has been heightened by friends in the community, and this just seemed to be something that cried out for a solution. So that’s why I did what I did.”

When asked by council member Roger Martindell if New Jersey Transit could ultimately turn against the partnership, Mr. Posner replied that though he couldn’t totally dismiss that possibility, he does not think it is likely.

“I’m not aware that the Dinky is on anybody’s hit list,” he said. “I’ve heard all this discussion about how it’s in danger and all of that, but I have lots of friends in the industry. The industry is not that big. My understanding is that the Dinky is in the middle of the pack as far as their operations go. And let’s face it. Everything New Jersey Transit does loses money.”

Under the proposed arrangement, New Jersey Transit could continue to operate the Dinky line. If that service was discontinued, the PCRA could hire another entity to operate the train line.

Mr. Martindell commented that Governor Chris Christie and his appointees make up four of the seven directors of New Jersey Transit. Mr. Christie is also an ex officio member of Princeton University’s Board of Trustees and has said he supports the school’s proposed arts and transit project, Mr. Martindell added.

A graduate of Princeton’s class of 1977, Mr. Posner has been a railroad buff since he was a child. He worked for Conrail before starting his own company, and was a member of a Save the Dinky group in the 1970s. Mr. Posner said he decided to apply to Princeton after his father, also an alumnus of the university, showed him an article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly about a new transportation program being offered. “That’s why we are here tonight,” he said.

Some residents asked Mr. Posner about the future of light rail. He responded that while it is one of several options, he is more concerned at present with preserving the Dinky.

Commenting on Posner’s proposal the day after the meeting, Mr. Goldfarb said it is “interesting and perhaps worthy of additional investigation. But we have to make sure it is appropriate from the Borough’s point of view, even if we’re not spending money. We’re using the right of eminent domain, which would also leave us as owner of this little parcel in the middle of the university. Even if we believe the business deal model makes sense for the Borough, that is not the end of the discussion because it revolves around our using the right of eminent domain which is an issue in itself.”

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