October 10, 2018

Plenty of Opposition To NJ Transit Plan For Dinky Hiatus

By Anne Levin

NJ Transit’s plan for a three-month halt of the Dinky train that connects Princeton with Princeton Junction on the Northeast Corridor line is not going over well with commuters and members of the town’s governing body.

At Princeton Council’s meeting Monday night, October 8, several residents and Council members spoke in opposition to the plan, which NJ Transit representatives attending the meeting said is necessary so that all NJ Transit equipment and personnel can be utilized during the installation of federally mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) in other parts of the system. The train’s two cars would be replaced by buses.

Anita Garoniak, head of the citizen group Save the Dinky, read a letter she has written to NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett asking that the decision to temporarily shut down the line be reconsidered. Some 1,500 people have signed petitions, some of them online, in opposition to the plan. The Dinky is “an economic lifeline for Princeton and the region,” Garoniak read from the letter. “The service that the Princeton Branch performs for commuters, occasional users, and students is a critical feature of our community’s commitment to sustainable transit and support for mobility options that reduce reliance on the automobile.”

Princeton University has also been in conversations with NJ Transit, and has offered to make Tiger Transit buses available should they be needed during the stoppage.

Tom Clarke of NJ Transit said that buses on a regular schedule would ferry commuters to and from the two stations while the trains are out of commission, estimating that the trip would take 15 minutes. The Dinky trip is approximately 5 minutes long. Eve Niedergang, who is a candidate for Council, asked Clarke who came up with the 15-minute figure, since it can take up to 45 minutes to make the trip across US 1 during rush hours.

Clarke also said that riders will get a 10 percent discount during the shutdown. “It’s a small way to compensate you, but we’re doing our best,” he said.

New Jersey Assemblyman Roy Freiman and Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson, who chairs the Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, spoke in opposition to the plan. Freiman cited added traffic and burning of fossil fuels as major issues. One compromise suggested keeping one of the two trains for the Dinky trip, while the other one is used for PTC. A woman who commutes daily proposed that the Dinky be maintained for rush hours during the installation, making it available on other parts of the train system during the remainder of the time.

While Clarke said he would take the suggestions and the community’s concerns back to NJ Transit, he reiterated that every car and conductor are needed for the installation. The deadline is December 31, and daily fines will be placed on NJ Transit if it is not in compliance by then.

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller told Clarke it was troubling to learn, after the initial announcement of the stoppage was made, that the Dinky line is not among those that are having PTC installed. “It really made things worse to feel a little bit like we’ve been hoodwinked,” she said. Councilwoman Heather Howard commented that Princeton is “pitching in to help” as the PTC is being put in elsewhere. “Are there any times others have pitched in to help us?” she asked Clarke. He responded, “All I can tell you is we’re going all out to meet the deadline,” adding that there will be customer service representatives on hand with printed schedules the first few days of the changeover.

The town has reached out to NJ Transit and the office of Gov. Phil Murphy about the issue. There are concerns that the stoppage will not only have an immediate negative effect, but will have long-term implications on Dinky ridership.

Mayor Liz Lempert thanked Clarke and others for attending the meeting, saying that while the town understands the looming deadline, it is hard to imagine how two cars that are critical to local commuters will make a huge difference in the overall installation program. “We all just implore you to take another look at this,” she said.