January 8, 2014

After Dismissal of Save the Dinky Suit, Residents Continue to Challenge Move

In late December of last year, a civil suit by the non-profit Save the Dinky (SDKY) group championed by local residents Anne Waldron Neumann, Peter Marks, Rodney Fisk, Walter Neumann, Christopher Hedges, and others, was heard in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County Chancery Division. 

The lawsuit claimed that Princeton University and New Jersey Transit lacked “the power and authority to move the Princeton branch terminus of the Dinky train,” citing a 1984 contract in which NJ Transit sold the station land and buildings to Princeton University, retaining an easement over the property for public transportation purposes.

Judge Paul Innes dismissed the suit on the grounds that nothing in the 1984 agreement or in a 1996 amendment prohibited the station move. “Princeton University is permitted to propose, and NJ Transit is permitted to approve, a plan to relocate the train station and rail terminus 460 feet south within the Dinky Station property,” stated his December 23 decision.

Although their suit was dismissed, opponents of the Dinky move have been heartened by at least one of Judge Innes’s pronouncements, his statement that approval of any Dinky station move resides with NJ Transit and not Princeton University.

According to Judge Innes, the easement granted to NJ Transit in 1984 means that “NJ Transit has the sole power ‘to expand, reduce, terminate or alter the type of passenger-related services within or serving the station parcel,’ if in its opinion, conditions warrant it. The easement expressly reserves the right of NJ Transit to approve any alterations to the improvements located or constructed in the station property.”

“Judge Innes agreed with our assertion that the 1984 contract did not give the University the right to move the terminus. Instead, he said that that NJ Transit retained the power to approve or not approve plans. Basically, the judge said the buck stops with NJ Transit on the plans to move the Dinky,” said Save the Dinky President Anita Garoniak.

NJ Transit has not objected to the University’s plan to relocate the station. Its representatives have said that the move is within the scope of the 1984 contract.

Save the Dinky, which describes itself as a “rail passenger advocacy group,” claimed in a recent press advisory that “NJ Transit has said again and again that the contract obligated it to agree to the University plan to move the terminus, and the University has said again and again that the contract gave it the ‘right’ to make [the move].” According to Ms. Garoniak, the court ruling is clear. “The judge said that the buck stops with NJ Transit,” she said.

According to Save the Dinky, Judge Innes made it clear that NJ transit did not have to agree to the station move, as it has claimed. Nor did NJ Transit delegate its power to the University.

The aforementioned SDKY press advisory also states that Judge Innes’s ruling was important because “it affirms that the cutback of rail service to Princeton to benefit Princeton University was in fact a decision by New Jersey Transit. “The Judge may not have agreed with the entirety of our position, but he put to rest the pretense that NJ Transit had a contractual obligation to agree to the University’s plan to shorten the Dinky line to facilitate an additional road to a campus parking garage,” said Ms. Garoniak, citing the court’s statement that “Princeton University has no authority to act unilaterally” and “no right to alter the service to the Dinky in any way without the express approval of NJ Transit.”

The SDKY group hopes to make a decision on whether or not to appeal Judge Innes’s decision by the end of this month after consultation with their attorney.

Meanwhile, the group is pursuing another line of offense against the Dinky move. Today, in Trenton, one of their attorneys will present an appeal based on the Dinky Station status as a historic site and as an operating railroad, one of two pending state appellate court challenges by SDKY to the station relocation.

The Princeton Railroad Station on University Place was added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1984 as an “Operating Passenger Railroad Station.” As such, permission for any change would have been needed from state authorities. Did the Department of Environmental Protection do its job in protecting the historic integrity of the site? This lawsuit is one of several filed by residents opposing the station move as part of the University’s $300 million Arts & Transit project.