Judge Tosses Out Princeton Dinky Station Lawsuit

DinkyA judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by some Princeton residents and the group Save the Dinky challenging the Dinky train station move.

The group Save the Dinky argued that Princeton University and NJ Transit lacked the power and authority to move the Princeton branch terminus of the train under the 1984 contract in which NJ Transit sold the station land and buildings to Princeton University.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Paul Innes approved Princeton University’s request for summary judgment in the lawsuit, saying nothing in the 1984 agreement or a 1996 amendment prohibited the station move.

“The court finds that the terms of the agreements are clear,” Innes wrote in his Dec. 23 decision. “Under the terms of the 1984 sales agreement as amended by the 1996 agreement, Princeton University is permitted to propose, and NJ Transit is permitted to approve, a plan to relocate the train station and rail terminus 460 feet south within the Dinky Station property.”

Residents argued the station move 460 feet south of the University Place station was contrary to the sales agreement, and that the 1984 agreement created a public transportation easement. But Innes said NJ Transit has not objected to the school’s plans to relocate the station and that representatives from NJ Transit have said the move is within the scope of the 1984 contract.

“It is undisputed by the parties that the 1984 agreement governs Princeton University and NJ Transit’s actions with respect to the Dinky station property,” Innes wrote. “Furthermore, there is no dispute that the agreement was amended in 1996 after a previous move off the station facilities. By the terms of the 1984 agreement, NJ Transit conveyed the Dinky station property to Princeton University subject to an easement retained by NJ Transit. By the language of that easement and by express reservation of rights in the 1984 sales agreement, NJ Transit has the sole power `to expand, reduce, terminate or alter the type of passenger-related services within or serving the station parcel’, if in its opinion, conditions warrant it. The easement expressly reserves the right of NJ Transit to approve any alterations to the improvements located or constructed in the station property.”

NJ Transit did not delegate its authority to alter the easement to Princeton University, and the school has the authority to move the station subject to the approval of NJ Transit, Innes wrote in his decision.

“(The contract) simply granted Princeton University the right to propose any such alteration, he wrote. “Upon approval of NJ Transit, Princeton University has the authority to move the existing terminus of the rail line within the Dinky Station property, given that any move allows for a minimum reservation of platform space.”

Save the Dinky has argued that NJ Transit is abandoning passenger train service with the move, and thus needs state and federal regulatory approvals. Innes said the station move is not an abandonment of rail passenger service, just a move.

“The station will remain on the Dinky Station property,” Innes wrote. “Therefore the agreements remain in effect and the easement continues in full force…There is no termination or abandonment of passenger train service, just a relocation of the station by 460 feet. Plaintiffs never raised the issue of the need for federal or state regulatory approval in its pleading. This is not to say plaintiffs are foreclosed from pursuing such a position in an appropriate action.”

University officials applauded the judge’s decision.

“As we and New Jersey Transit said on many occasions, the University had the right to relocate the station under the terms of the agreement,” Princeton University Spokesman Martin Mbugua wrote in a statement on the court case. “We are gratified that the court affirmed that the agreement clearly says this, and that it dismissed the lawsuit. ”

Save the Dinky is considering appealing the judge’s decision.

“While we are disappointed with the bottom line of the ruling there is a silver lining,” Save the Dinky President Anita Garoniak said. “Judge Innes agreed with our assertion that 1984 contract did not give the University the right to move the terminus.  Instead, he said that that NJ Transit retained the power to approve or not approve plans. Basically, the Judge said the buck stops with NJ Transit on the plans to move the Dinky.”

The lawsuit filed by Save the Dinky and several residents is one of a a handful lawsuits filed by residents opposing the station move that is part of the university’s $300 million arts an transit project.