April 30, 2014

President of Camden & Amboy Historians Comments on Decline in Dinky Ridership

To the Editor:

The Milepost 3 (MP 3) marker of the Princeton branch stands alone on the University campus near Blair Arch, a lone perhaps forgotten testament to the former length of the rail line built in 1865 by the Camden & Amboy Railroad. That marker is now over one-half mile from the end of active NJ Transit service, the latest truncation and one of four undertaken by the University over the years, each with common themes — University expansion, student safety, and greater inconvenience to the daily commuter.

As president of the Camden & Amboy Railroad Historians, with a 34-year railroading career that followed graduate work in transportation management, I have a special interest in the Princeton Branch. The branch was created when the Camden & Amboy Railroad realigned its route between Trenton and New Brunswick in the 1860s to handle Civil War traffic. I have written about the subject for a national publication, and led several tours to MP 3 over the past five years for rail historians from around the country.

Recently I read that Dinky ridership has declined 10 percent since the relocation of Princeton’s station 1200 feet away from the convenient 1920s-built structure. The NJ Transit report also states that, “The ‘Dinky’ decline appears to correspond with the start of free shuttle buses operated by Princeton University between Princeton and Princeton Junction.” The decline came at the same time as Northeast Corridor ridership was record-setting with a 10 percent increase in ridership for the same reporting period.

I must conclude the station relocation and this free bus service are the major reasons for the decline in Dinky ridership. A January 9 article in Planet Princeton reported that in October of 2013, the free bus made 2,288 trips and averaged just over 4 passengers per bus trip. In addition, the bus’s time-keeping during the winter mouths was pitiful. These are hardy positive developments for Princeton mass transportation.

The reasons for the station relocation have been well-reported, including our governor’s public role. His private role is suspect, given the multi-hats he wears with both the University and NJ Transit. (His handling of a more recent scandal involving another transportation link crossing a river casts suspicion on the administration’s involvement in the Dinky’s latest service cut!)

John Kilbride

West Windsor