The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers and the National Association of Railroad Passengers jointly filed a petition with the United States Surface Transportation Board yesterday afternoon to halt New Jersey Transit and Princeton University from cutting back the Princeton Branch, also known as the Dinky, from its current location.
The two groups contend that the station move usurps the jurisdiction of the federal agency over abandonments of railroad lines in interstate commerce. The petition calls on the Surface Transportation Board to declare its jurisdiction over the Princeton Branch, and to require that any reduction in its length be undertaken only with the federal body’s express approval.
The Dinky station is slated to be moved about 460 feet from its current location as part of Princeton University’s $320 million arts and transit project. The two existing station buildings will be converted into a cafe and restaurant.
“Much more is involved than cutting back the track by 460 feet, which is what the University has asked the public to believe.” said Phil Craig, a director of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. Craig says while the current station is approximately 1,300 feet from downtown Princeton, the new location would be 2,000 feet by foot from Nassau Street and a half-mile from Palmer Square, Princeton’s focal point.
“Moving the Princeton Station downhill and away from the population center would be to the detriment of NJ Transit’s passengers, most particularly the disabled, senior citizens and – because of isolation of the proposed new station location – people who use the train at night,” Craig said. “The longer uphill walk will be especially difficult during inclement weather, when many passengers have to slog through snow, ice or rain.”
The group fears the station move to a less convenient location will result in a loss of passengers, which would then reduce the economic viability of the rail service and would also inhibit its future extension directly to Princeton’s Central Business District.
“The University and the railroad grew up together. There is no reason why the University cannot accomplish its goals while preserving the Princeton Station in its current, accessible location,” said Jack May, vice president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. “New Jersey Transit is the guardian of the interests of New Jersey’s traveling public. It should not be attempting to hand Princeton University this valuable public transportation asset.”
University officials have repeatedly said the station move is necessary to accomplish the University’s goals, one of which is to create a second access road to its large parking garage that is currently only accessible via Faculty Road. Train advocates have proposed an at-grade crossing so that vehicles can access the garage via University Place, but school officials have argued it would not be feasible or desirable.
The petition asks New Jersey Transit and Princeton University to immediately cease all actions related to the abandonment of a portion of the Princeton Branch until they have obtained authority from the Surface Transportation Board and all litigation is settled. The petition is one of several legal actions filed to try to stop the station move. A handful of lawsuits filed by residents are still working their way through the court system.