February 22, 2012

Historic Sites Council Tables Application For Dinky Track Move

After listening to two hours of testimony last week from representatives of NJ Transit, Princeton University, the citizens’ group Save the Dinky, and the public, New Jersey’s Historic Sites Council opted to table an application filed by NJ Transit. The transportation agency is looking for a resolution that would grant conditional approval to remove 460 feet of historic train tracks leading to the Dinky train station.

The Historic Sites Council advises the Department of Environmental Protection about matters of historic significance.

As a private body, Princeton University, which owns the Dinky station buildings and rider platform, is not subject to the panel’s recommendations. But NJ Transit needs the approval in order to remove the public transportation easement to the site. The University wants to build a new terminal 460 feet south of the current buildings, which would be turned into a restaurant and cafe as part of its $300 million arts/transit project.

Bob Durkee, University Vice President and Secretary, told the panel that historic preservation is a priority and that the station buildings would be treated with respect. “Our goal is to maintain these buildings and repurpose them to serve as a cafe and a restaurant,” he said. “They are gorgeous buildings and we’re excited to make use of them in new ways.”

But Save the Dinky, a not-profit group made up of local residents opposed to the relocation of the station, is currently suing the University, saying it does not have the legal right to move the station. “There are feasible alternatives to this,” Virginia Kerr, a member of Save the Dinky and an attorney, told the panel. “The application is premature.”

Borough Mayor Yina Moore and Borough Council members Jenny Crumiller and Jo Butler were among the others who spoke out against the relocation plan. Also testifying against the proposed move were three officers from the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. Borough resident Chip Creider was the only member of the public to urge the Council to approve the application. “This is a contentious political issue and I urge you not to get sucked into the whirlpool,” he said of the opposition.

Council member Margaret Nordstrom was puzzled by the contentious situation. “What would possess you to move this forward without the support of the mayor and Council?” she asked. Fellow panelist Constance Greiff said that since the matter is under litigation, the Council should wait until legal matters are resolved before recommending action.

The Dinky train tracks have linked Princeton Junction with Princeton Borough since 1865. The current station dates from 1918. It is considered historically significant not only because of its design, high quality materials and construction, but also because it continues to function in its original form.