January 23, 2019

Dinky’s Continued Closure “Beyond Frustrating”

By Anne Levin

Following a phone call to NJ Transit Tuesday morning to find out when service on the Dinky train that connects Princeton with Princeton Junction would be restored, Mayor Liz Lempert was “extremely frustrated.”

“They’re aware of the upcoming road closures on Alexander Street, but I haven’t gotten a date of when they are going to resume service,” she said. “It was important in the beginning of this closure that they finish, and now it’s critical.”

NJ Transit closed down the Dinky line in October in order to meet federal deadlines for Positive Train Control (PTC) throughout the state by the end of December. It was estimated that service would be restored by January 15. The train link has been replaced by bus service between the two stations, which many commuters have criticized because of rush hour delays and other factors.

New Jersey Assemblyman Roy Freiman and Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson, who chairs the Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, have been working with Lempert on getting the line up and running again. The situation is becoming increasingly urgent as PSE&G is planning to fully close Alexander Street on February 14 on weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., for work. Currently, alternating lanes of the road are closed. After PSE&G completes work, Comcast and Verizon have to replace their lines, which could cause further closures.

Lempert said she has received multiple reasons from NJ Transit for the delay in resuming the service. “Essentially, we were told that in order to meet this critical deadline for Positive Train Control, the Dinky service was going to be closed because they needed the engineers to help with other parts of the line since they were facing shortages in staff,” she said. “Then, we heard the great news that they had met the deadline for PTC. But then, because they had been focusing so much on PTC, they had fallen behind on regular maintenance.”

That meant keeping the Dinky closed with no restart date in sight. “This is horribly unfair,” Lempert said. “And then I was told that even though they had met the federal deadline for PTC, they hadn’t been able to get confirmation of that because of the federal government shutdown.”

According to figures from NJ Transit, about 470,000 people traveled on the Dinky last year prior to the suspension in service. The trip between Princeton and Princeton Junction, which is on the Northeast Corridor line, takes approximately five minutes. Travel times on the replacement buses are at least 15 minutes, with longer times during rush hours.

“At this point, this is beyond frustrating,” Lempert said. “People in Princeton rely on this service. The bus is not an adequate substitute. Everyone understands that in emergency situations, the buses are the alternative. But to have this drag on for months is untenable. People have been complaining to me, and I have been complaining to NJ Transit.”