December 14, 2022

NJ Transit Study Envisions Multi-Modal Dinky Corridor

By Anne Levin

A concept plan to upgrade the Dinky train line that runs between Princeton station and Princeton Junction, and enhance service on and around the line, has inspired more than 300 signatures on a petition urging NJ Transit, and the municipality, to go forward with the idea.

“The upgraded Dinky transitway will reduce car traffic. It will cut down commuting times to the Northeast Corridor. It will draw more visitors to our local stores and restaurants,” reads the petition, which is on the website “We believe in transit infrastructure that helps build community. So here’s our message to NJ Transit and local elected officials: let’s get this project on the fast track.”

NJ Transit’s recently released Princeton Transitway Study identifies four alternatives for upgrading the 2.7-mile rail line and developing new mobility opportunities in the corridor. Three involve building; the fourth option is “no build.” The study recommends the first alternative, which is for a “dedicated transit roadway with embedded light rail.”

This would involve electric light-rail cars running on a rail track between the two stations, much like the current Dinky; electric buses on rubber wheels that use both lanes of the corridor but can also leave it to go beyond the stations; on-board WiFi on the vehicles, all of which will be electric; and a bike-and-walk path along the corridor to allow safe crossing over U.S. 1 at the D&R Canal towpath and the Dinky Line trail.

This mixed-use option expands the line past the current terminus on the edge of the Princeton University campus into town; and could possibly extend, in the other direction, past Princeton Junction into West Windsor. Potential new stations would include six in town, and two in the transitway segment at Canal Pointe Boulevard and Roszel Road.

Said to be the shortest rail line in the world, the Dinky has been in use for more than 150 years. The location of the Princeton station has moved twice. It has endured budget cuts, and been threatened with extinction. The trains in use today date from the 1970s, and contain parts that are difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

Surveys and input from stakeholders were taken into account when coming up with the recommendation, the study reports. Virtual public meetings were held. The goal was not only to improve service along the Princeton Branch line, but also to enhance connectivity, utilize new and emerging transportation technology, and “provide a flexible and scalable system that can respond to changing demand that results from events, as well as from short-term and long-term travel trends,” reads the study.

The enhancements would reduce automobile traffic between Princeton and Princeton Junction, as well as in the town. Bus stops and rail platforms that are level with the floor in the bus or train would allow those with mobility challenges to board easily and independently.

The next step in the process would be to advance the recommended alternative to preliminary design, along with the required environmental documentation.

“We have a unique opportunity to revitalize transit in the Princeton region,” reads the Friends of the Dinky website. “This is no longer about the shortest and quaintest commuter line. It’s about taking pride in a faster, more reliable, and comprehensive system — one that extends all the way into Princeton’s central business district and community hubs, and also includes bicycle and pedestrian access.”