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Vol. LXV, No. 41
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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Group Files Lawsuit To Stop University From Moving Dinky

Anne Levin

A lawsuit filed last week by members of the citizen group Save the Dinky to stop Princeton University from moving the train station further from town may be amended to include some additional plaintiffs. Bruce Afran, lawyer for the group, said he intends to serve papers this week and add some names to the list of plaintiffs, who currently include Borough residents Anne Waldron Neumann, Walter Neumann, Rodney Fisk, and Republican Borough Council candidate Peter Marks.

The complaint was filed in Superior Court on Monday, October 3, against the University and New Jersey Transit. The suit states that the University does not have the authority to shift the station any further than it was moved in 1984. It was then that the University bought the Dinky line, which connects Princeton and Princeton Junction station, from the transit agency. Three years later, the terminus was moved from the northern end to the southern end of the existing platform. The 1984 sale contract said that the University could move the terminus “coincident with the location of the minimum reservation of platform space.”

“The agreement gave the University the right to move it as long as they left 170 feet on the platform,” Mr. Afran said. “They did that, so they’ve done what the contract said they could do.”

The suit asks for a permanent injunction barring the University from moving the Dinky, and a “declaratory judgement” that the public has acquired an easement to access and exit the station at its existing platform.

Save the Dinky members have argued for months that relocating the Dinky station 460 feet further from the center of town would cause hardship for many people, consequently decreasing ridership. The University wants to move the station to make room for a $300 million arts complex and provide an additional roadway to their parking garage.

The Dinky station has been moved several times in its 147-year history, each time further away from the town. During an appearance at a Borough Council meeting a few months ago, New Jersey Transit representatives said repeatedly that the University had the right to move the Dinky.

“They’re interpreting their own contract incorrectly,” Mr. Afran said. “Lawyers do that all the time. They’re simply wrong, and I think New Jersey Transit is simply looking to get along with the University. Our group is looking at the contract the way it was written.”

In addition to causing inconvenience to commuters, moving the Dinky would bring riders “to someplace people don’t want to be, in the middle of a traffic circle,” Mr. Afran said. “Every time we move it hundreds of feet further away from town, we weaken its usefulness.”

Mr. Afran added that the University’s plans for an arts center are mostly for classroom space rather than public use. “The major venue is still going to be McCarter, which is where the train lets people off now,” he said.

University Vice President Bob Durkee says that based on a second agreement with New Jersey Transit, the University does have the right to move the station. “There was a second agreement in 1996 that reaffirms what is said in the 1984 agreement, which is that at any point we can move the terminus, and there is no limitation on where, how far, and how many times we move it, as long as we do two things: that we provide a platform that has to be 170 feet, and that we pay for it,” he said.

Mr. Durkee added that he doesn’t think the lawsuit will get to the point of judgment. “We’ve been advised by counsel that the plaintiffs actually don’t have the standing to bring the lawsuit, since they are not parties to the agreement,” he said. “The argument is that they don’t have the standing to challenge the agreement.”

Mr. Afran said he is confident that the lawsuit will succeed. “Reading this contract, I am convinced that the University does not have the right to move the station, and I think the court will have to rule that way. Some people have suggested that New Jersey Transit could decide on its own to move it, but that’s not true. It is a state agency and it can only do that through public hearings. So I’m very confident that we have the right to do what we’re doing and the contract is very clear.”

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