September 26, 2018

Council Wants NJ Transit to Address Dinky Suspension

By Anne Levin

Princeton Council has asked New Jersey Transit to send a representative to the next meeting of the governing body to address concerns about a halt in Dinky train service between Princeton and Princeton Junction, planned to take place between October 14 and mid-January.

The transit agency announced last week that the suspension is necessary in order to meet federal deadlines for an automated braking system, known as Positive Train Control (PTC), throughout the state by the end of December. The Dinky train service will be replaced by buses during the three months.

“We are concerned about the length of this closure,” said Mayor Liz Lempert at the Council meeting on Monday, September 24. “We have reached out to [Regional Manager] Tom Clark at New Jersey Transit and have invited a representative to come to the October 8 Council meeting. Princeton University is also concerned and hopefully we can work together both locally and with New Jersey Transit.”

East Windsor resident John Kilbride, the treasurer for the organization Save the Dinky, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. “I’m not here to question the need or efficacy of PTC,” he said. “But I question shutting down the Dinky for three months.” Kilbride added that the hardware involved doesn’t involve intensive work on the tracks and the project could be completed in a much shorter time frame.

Other train lines have had PTC installed without so much disruption, Kilbride said. “This community deserves an explanation. The hiatus poses a serious threat to long-term visibility of our Dinky line, on which ridership has already decreased since 2013. Council should write to New Jersey Transit and the governor and Assembly and ask for an explanation; ask them to reconsider minimizing the stoppage to weeks, not months. And New Jersey Transit should reassure that this doesn’t preclude abandonment of the Dinky service altogether.”

Resident Kip Cherry said October 8 is too long to wait to have a meeting with a New Jersey Transit representative, urging Council to “step it up.” Cherry said ridership for 2017 was 482,000 on the Dinky, with about 40,000 rides per month. “Those are a lot of folks to put on the road or in buses,” she said. “Congestion is a big problem we have, and the Dinky has been a tremendously valued partner.”

Councilman David Cohen said the stoppage will save money for New Jersey Transit, which is a major factor. Lempert agreed, adding, “Nonetheless, the impact on Princeton is concerning and it is important for us to communicate with them.”