July 16, 2014

Save the Dinky Continues Fight Despite Latest Court Setback

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision last week quashing an attempt to keep NJ Transit from transferring the Dinky train easement to Princeton University has not deterred members of Save the Dinky, Inc. from continuing its litigation and advocacy.

Preserving the Dinky rail link to Princeton Junction is the goal of the citizens’ group, which asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the transfer should have been subject to a federal review. The court decided to not review the case, affirming a ruling last March by the appellate court that no federal review was needed.

Attorney Virginia Kerr, who filed the petition with Morristown lawyer Phil Rosenbach, said the case was a long shot, but worth pursuing.

“It really was disappointing that the Supreme Court didn’t take this, because they’ve never taken a case under the Register of Historic Places Act, which was placed in 1970,” she said. “Our case is unprecedented, because the agency [NJ Transit] is doing this to accommodate Princeton University, which is private. It sets a dangerous kind of precedence. For people who care about preservation law, it’s troublesome. The Register of Historic Places Act is supposed to impose some constraints. This one is quite over the line.”

Ever since the University announced its plans for the $330 million project, Save the Dinky has been opposed to the move and transformation of the Dinky depot, from which trains run to and from Princeton Junction station on the Northeast Corridor line. The former station buildings, which are 460 feet north of the station under construction, are to be turned into a restaurant and cafe.

The group has two other pending state court cases related to the issue. One is an appeal from the ruling that the 1984 contract with NJ Transit permitted a second move of the train station. The other challenges a decision made last month by NJ Transit’s Board of Directors authorizing its staff to transfer the easement covering the Dinky property to the University in exchange for an easement of lesser value. The group argues that state law required NJ Transit to hold a public hearing on the environmental, transportation, and financial aspects of the station move before turning it over to a private owner.

Save the Dinky also contends that Governor Chris Christie, who has veto power over all NJ Transit board decisions, should have recused himself because he is a Princeton University trustee and an advocate of its Arts & Transit project. In addition, there is a petition filed last year before the Surface Transportation Board by the National Association of Railroad Passengers and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. The petition seeks a ruling that the shortening of the Dinky line requires federal review and approval.

Anita Garoniak, president of Save the Dinky, said in a press release that “it is sad that in this time when we are dealing with the effects of climate change a major university is persisting in a plan that will degrade pedestrian access to mass transit.”